How to Successfully Negotiate (and Bag) a Catering Deal

The first step to getting hired as a caterer is, of course, to get in touch with a prospective client. It’s even better if the client is the one to approach you – over phone, email or through your website. Once contact is established, it’s important that you respond proactively. Be prepared to answer any question, be straight forward with thoughtful suggestions and present yourself in a professional and pleasant manner.


Be warned though: The first encounter is unlikely to result in an outright sale for a variety of reasons. First, the customer is likely to be shopping around for several caterers. Then, it’s unlikely that the menu will be finalized, so you won’t be able to provide an accurate quote. Finally, you’ll want to visit or inspect the venue before putting together your proposal.

Still, most clients will prod you for an exact estimate during the first phone call. Avoid committing yourself. Even if the customer knows exactly what they want to be served, you cannot be sure you’ve had a chance to go through the above mentioned and arrive at your own estimate.

Even if you put up a quote on the spot, it can either be too high – leading you to lose the job or too low – resulting in a loss for you. Having to revise your quote, later on, isn’t professional. Instead, provide a general price range or a tentative figure with the promise of a final proposal later.

Most clients will be reluctant to disclose their budget for an event, but try to get an idea of how much they are willing to spend or even the type of occasion and the number of people in attendance. Going by these, you can change your menus as per the budget.

There are many cost-cutting options that you can use if the client seems wary of your more expensive suggestions. For one, you can substitute lower-cost ingredients or recommend less preparation intensive dishes that saves on labor.

Following the first telephone conversation, you’ll likely meet the client in person, preferably at the venue where the event will be held. Bring your menus along for customer to review and decide exactly what to serve.

Get a fixed number of the expected guests in writing, and be sure to convey that you’re planning your quote based on that particular number. If the client may is not sure about the number of people in attendance, you should provide a cut-off date by which you will need a definite head count.

Determine the nature of the event -whether buffet, sit-down or cocktail and any specific requirements the client might have. Decide the positioning of the buffet and where the bar will be set up.

Inspect the site’s facilities to see the available equipment for your use and what you’ll need to bring along. Discuss staffing arrangements, and finalize who will provide what to prevent confusion later on. It’s good to also include this information in your price proposal.

Take sufficient time to arrive at the final price, and double check to be sure it covers everything. If the quote is acceptable to the customer, send out a detailed contract that details the costs and outlines mutual responsibilities. Also, request a deposit – typically 50 percent of the total amount on signing.

Once you’ve received the signed contract and deposit, you’re all set to go!