March 19, 2023
Alipio Umiten IV

Catering Menu: 15 Catering Menu Ideas You Can Try Right Now

Hosting a successful event requires careful planning and attention to detail, and one of the most important elements to consider is the catering menu. Whether you're planning a wedding, corporate event, or birthday party, the right catering menu can make all the difference. 

In this blog post, we'll explore what a catering menu is, the benefits of having one, and how to create and price one. We will also provide some catering menu ideas to get your creativity flowing. With these tips and ideas, you can create a unique and delicious catering menu that will leave a lasting impression on your guests.

What Is a Catering Menu?

A catering menu is a comprehensive list of food, beverages, and other items or services a caterer offers. While the specific dishes and services may vary depending on the caterer, typical items on a catering menu include appetizers, salads, entrees, sides, desserts, and beverages. The catering company may also provide pricing information for each item, as well as costs for service staff and rental equipment. 

When selecting items for the menu, it's important to consider guests' tastes and any dietary restrictions that need to be accommodated. The caterer may also suggest combining dishes and drinks or featuring specialty items like a signature cocktail. Before finalizing the menu, all parties should review it carefully to ensure accuracy and consistency in pricing.

In addition to providing details about the food and beverage options, the catering menu should indicate any available vegetarian or vegan choices and any necessary dietary restrictions. Customers can work closely with the caterer to create a customized and delicious menu tailored to the specific event, whether a wedding, corporate function, birthday party, or other occasion.

Catering Menu Benefits

A catering menu is valuable for any restaurant that offers catering services. With a well-designed menu, you can easily showcase your offerings to potential customers and ensure they know exactly what food options they have when they book your services. Here are some benefits of having a catering menu: 

1. Increased Visibility - An up-to-date catering menu makes it easier for potential customers to find your services and make informed decisions for their next event. By displaying all your available food options, you can showcase what you have to offer and give customers a clear idea of what to expect from your restaurant.

2. Streamlined Booking Process - A catering menu allows customers to browse various dishes and decide which ones they would like for their event. This makes booking more efficient and helps customers feel confident in their selection.

3. Increased Profits - A catering menu can help you upsell additional items and special packages, increasing profits. Customers tend to order more when they have a wide selection of options. For instance, you could offer special platters for corporate events or large groups, unique dishes for weddings and other ceremonies, or an all-inclusive party package with drinks, appetizers, and main courses. Creating these packages can be a great way to showcase your catering staff's talents and increase your profits.

4. Flexible Menus - A catering menu allows you to adjust your offerings for each event, catering to the specific needs of your guests. This can help ensure customers have a great experience and are satisfied with your services.

5. Professional Presentation - A well-designed catering menu reflects positively on your business and helps create a professional image. It also makes it easier for customers to see the variety of food options available and make informed decisions based on their tastes.

6. Better Organization - By creating a catering menu, you can organize your offerings and streamline your kitchen/restaurant operations. You can create specific packages or menus for different events or dietary preferences, making it easier for your staff to prepare and deliver orders efficiently.

7. Branding and Marketing - A catering menu can also serve as a marketing tool for your restaurant. By designing a visually appealing menu that showcases your brand and food offerings, you can promote your restaurant and attract new customers. Including your restaurant's logo and contact information on the menu can help customers remember your brand and easily get in touch for future events.

8. Consistency - A catering menu can help ensure consistency in your dishes. By creating a standardized menu that includes all food options available for catering, you can ensure that the dishes are prepared consistently and to the same quality each time they are ordered.

A catering menu is essential to running a successful restaurant catering business. With its powerful benefits, you can draw in new customers and keep them returning for more.

How to Create a Catering Menu

Creating a catering menu requires careful planning, understanding the event, considering guest preferences, and balancing flavors and dietary needs. Follow these steps to create an appealing and well-rounded catering menu:

  1. Assess the event: Gather information about the event, such as the occasion type (e.g., wedding, corporate event, or birthday party), number of guests, event theme, and any specific client requests. This information will help you customize your menu accordingly.
  2. Research and brainstorm: Seek inspiration from cookbooks, food blogs, and other catering business menus. Compile a list of potential dishes and ideas that fit the event and showcase your culinary skills.
  3. Choose a menu format: Decide on a menu format, such as buffet, plated meals, family-style, or a combination. Each format has advantages and disadvantages regarding cost, guest preferences, and logistics.
  4. Accommodate dietary restrictions and preferences: Include options for guests with common dietary restrictions, such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and allergy-friendly dishes. Offer a variety of choices to cater to diverse tastes.
  5. Balance the menu: Create a balanced menu with a mix of appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts. Ensure a combination of hot and cold dishes, as well as various textures and flavors. Incorporate proteins, vegetables, grains, and starches for a well-rounded selection.
  6. Estimate portion sizes: Determine the appropriate size for each dish, considering the type of event and the number of courses. Consult with the client to understand their expectations.
  7. Analyze costs: Calculate the cost of ingredients, labor, and any additional expenses for each dish. This will help you set appropriate prices for your catering services while ensuring profitability.
  8. Test recipes and presentation: Prepare and taste-test each dish to ensure it's delicious and can be executed consistently. Work on the presentation of each dish, aiming for an attractive and visually appealing result.
  9. Design a menu document: Create a professional-looking menu that clearly outlines the dishes, ingredients, and dietary information. Provide this menu to the client and display it during the event.
  10. Stay flexible and receptive to feedback: Be prepared to adjust based on client feedback, changes in guest count, or ingredient availability. Continuously refine your menu based on feedback from clients and guests to improve your offerings.

By following these steps and focusing on creating a visually appealing, delicious, and event-appropriate menu, you'll be well on your way to providing an exceptional catering experience.

How to Price a Catering Menu

Pricing a catering menu requires careful consideration of ingredient costs, labor costs, overhead expenses, and desired profit margins. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you price your catering menu effectively:

1. Calculate food costs: Determine the cost of ingredients for each dish on your menu, including main ingredients, garnishes, and seasonings. Keep track of market prices, as they may fluctuate.

2. Estimate labor costs: Account for the time and effort required to prepare, cook, and serve each dish. Calculate labor costs based on the hourly wages of chefs, cooks, and servers, including prep time, cooking time, and clean-up time.

3. Consider overhead expenses: Factor in the costs associated with running your catering business, such as rent, utilities, insurance, marketing, and equipment maintenance. Divide these costs by the number of events you cater per month to determine the overhead cost per event and allocate a portion to each dish on your menu.

4. Determine portion sizes: Calculate the appropriate portion size for each dish, considering the type of event and the number of courses. This will help you determine the number of ingredients needed and the number of servings you can provide.

5. Calculate cost per serving: Add the food cost, labor cost, and overhead cost for each dish, and divide the sum by the number of servings. This will give you the cost per serving for each menu item.

6. Establish your profit margin: Determine the profit margin you want for each dish. This can vary depending on factors such as your target market, competition, and the perceived value of your offerings. A common profit margin for catering businesses ranges from 25% to 40%.

7. Set your prices: Multiply the cost per serving by (1 + profit margin) to arrive at the final price for each menu item. For example, if the cost per serving is $5 and you want a 30% profit margin, your final price would be $5 * (1 + 0.30) = $6.50.

8. Compare with competitors: Research the pricing of similar catering businesses in your area to ensure your prices are competitive. Adjust your prices if necessary, but avoid underpricing your services, as this can negatively impact your profitability and business image.

9. Offer tiered pricing: Consider offering tiered pricing based on the level of service and menu options. For example, you can provide basic, premium, and deluxe packages with different prices to cater to a wider range of clients and budgets.

10. Review and adjust regularly: Monitor your costs and profit margins regularly to maintain profitability. Adjust your prices as needed in response to changes in ingredient costs, labor costs, or market trends.

By following these steps and carefully considering your costs, desired profit margin, and market competitiveness, you can effectively price your catering menu to ensure a successful and profitable catering business.

Catering Menu Ideas

When it comes to catering, choosing a menu that will impress your guests and leave a lasting impression is important. Here are some ideas for each category of food and beverages:

I. Appetizers

  • International Flavors: Offer a range of appetizers from different cultures, such as mini spring rolls, empanadas, and samosas.
  • Gourmet Cheese and Charcuterie: Create a visually stunning board with various kinds of cheese, cured meats, and accompaniments like dried fruits and nuts.
  • Bite-sized Comfort Food: Serve up mini versions of classic favorites like chicken and waffles, mac and cheese bites, and mini sliders.

II. Salads, Soups, & Sides

  • Build-Your-Own Salad Bar: Offer a variety of greens, toppings, and dressings for guests to create salads.
  • Soup and Bread Buffet: This option is warm and comforting for cold weather events.
  • Seasonal Sides: Use seasonal produce to create sides like roasted root vegetables, Brussels sprouts with bacon, and sweet potato casserole.

III. Entrees

  • Surf and Turf: Offer a combination of steak and seafood, like filet mignon and lobster tail.
  • Build-Your-Own Taco Bar: Provide guests with an array of taco fillings, toppings, and sauces to customize their tacos.
  • Vegetarian and Vegan Options: Include entrees that cater to dietary restrictions, such as a quinoa and vegetable stir-fry or vegan lasagna.

IV. Desserts

  • Mini Dessert Bar: Offer guests a variety of bite-sized treats, like mini cupcakes, macarons, and cheesecake bites.
  • Interactive Dessert Station: Provide a fun and interactive dessert experience, such as a make-your-own sundae bar or a s'mores station.
  • Classic Favorites: Serve traditional desserts like apple pie, chocolate cake, and ice cream sundaes.

V. Beverages

  • Signature Cocktails: Create a signature cocktail that matches the event's theme, such as a lavender gin and tonic for a garden party.
  • Craft Beer and Wine: Offer a selection of local craft beer and wine to showcase the region's flavors.
  • Specialty Coffee and Tea: Provide guests with specialty coffee and tea options, such as cold brew coffee and matcha lattes.

These catering menu ideas and themes are a starting point for creating a memorable event. By using your creativity and knowledge of your guests, you can customize your menu to perfectly fit your event and impress your guests.


Frequently Asked Questions About Catering Menu

Planning a special event or gathering can be overwhelming if you don't know the menu type to choose. Whether you are looking for traditional dishes, buffet-style dining, or something more unique, there are four types of menus to consider when catering an event. We'll also explore some examples of catering options as well as the most common menu type used in events today.

What Are the 4 Types of Menus?

There are four main types of menus most restaurants offer, and they include:

  1. A La Carte Menu

An a la carte menu provides an array of individually priced dishes, allowing diners to create their meal by choosing from various appetizers, entrees, and desserts. This menu type encourages customization, allowing patrons to select dishes based on their preferences and dietary requirements.

  1. Static Menu 

Static menus, also known as fixed menus, present a consistent selection of dishes that remain unchanged over an extended period. This menu type is common in fast food establishments and casual dining restaurants, focusing on maintaining a specific brand identity and streamlining kitchen operations.

  1. Du Jour Menu 

The du jour menu, which translates to "of the day" in French, features daily specials or dishes that change daily. Restaurants with du jour menus often capitalize on seasonal ingredients, enabling the chef to showcase their creativity and expertise by crafting unique, fresh dishes.

  1. Cycle Menu

Cycle menus rotate through a predetermined set of dishes over a specific period, such as a week or a month. This menu type is particularly popular in institutions like schools, hospitals, and corporate cafeterias, where it helps streamline meal planning and food procurement. 

What Are Examples of Catering?

Catering is the business of providing food services for special events and occasions. Examples of catering services can include:

  • Providing meals for a wedding reception.
  • Serving lunch at a corporate event.
  • Providing food for a school function.

Many caterers also offer additional services, such as providing wait staff and bartending, setting up tables and chairs, and decorating for the event.

What Is the Most Common Menu Type?

The most common type of menu is the static menu. This type of menu does not change very often and typically contains items that remain the same for long periods. Static menus are best used for restaurants with limited options and prefer to keep their menu consistent throughout the year.

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