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The importance of numbers in catering – And what you need to count


The importance of numbers in catering – And what you need to count

Ask any experienced caterer about the importance of numbers when it comes to catering and they’ll tell you it’s one of most important things about catering, if not if not the most important. While this may come as a surprise to some event planners, the catering industry is excessively driven by numbers. Guest and headcounts, portion sizes and delivery dates and times all influence profitability when it comes to food service and even the smallest change could result in a big difference when it comes to catering for a large group of people.

Because of this, event planners need to have a firm grasp on maths, catering numbers and their implications as this will assure the quality of the food as well as avoid any penalty fees. Listed below are the prominent figures and terms you need to be aware of when dealing with caterers.

Estimated count

This is a working number of the projected number of guests that are going be at the event. It is used to initially project costs and staffing needs. This number is determined at the start of the event planning process and there is no obligation to be precise.

Expected count

Usually submitted two or three weeks before the event, this is a more accurate count of the anticipated number of guests. It differs from the estimated count as it’s contractually tied to the final guest count. Every caterer has their own policy regarding expected counts but as a general rule it should not stray from 15% of the final count.

Final count (or guaranteed count)

The official number of guest meals you will pay for and if required the number of places that the catering team will set up in the event space. It is important that the event planner sets an RSVP date before any deadline the catering company sets in order to avoid late fees and penalties for changes in the numbers.

Drop percentage

The drop percentage represents the change in the final count from the expected count. To use a simple example, if the expected count says that 100 people are coming to the event but only 90 people RSVP the drop percentage is 10%.

If the drop percentage is too large caterers may be compelled to charge a penalty fee to cover the cost of staffing and food orders rendered unnecessary by the drop in amount of guests. In order to avoid this happening, event planners themselves will have drop percentage estimates. This is generally around 2% for ticketed events and 5% for free events as people are obviously more likely to show up if they’ve paid for it.

Meal cards

As caterers are likely to offer more than one option for each meal course it’s important to know how much of each they should make. It’s a good idea to get this information from guests when they RSVP so that it can be forwarded to the caterer in good time. To make the system more efficient on the day guests can be presented with meal cards reflecting their choice so servers know straight away what their preference is.

Drink tickets

Drink tickets are sometimes used by caterers to cut the costs of an open bar. It works by giving guests a set number of tickets as they walk into the event which they can exchange for a drink. Beyond the ticket limit should they want to order more drinks then they will have to pay for it. A major consideration when deciding to use a drink ticket system is that most of the time you will be charged the price of the most expensive drink per ticket. Therefore, it’s best to have drink tickets in a bar where all the selections are similarly priced.

After all is said and done it’s the event planner’s responsibility to provide accurate counts to the catering department. Event planners who ignore these counts do so at their own peril and may find themselves paying for it in the form of fees and penalties. In order to avoid this, look at the caterer’s policies before planning the event. Following the above rules will help you plan the event efficiently and pass on the most appropriate cost to your clients and/or guests.

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