How Much Money Do Caterers Typically Make?

If you're planning an event, hiring a caterer can help with more than offering guests delicious dishes. A good caterer can reduce stress on the host, offer set up and clean up services, and coordinate logistical concerns with staffing and transportation. These professionals are typically invested in working cleanly, quickly, and cordially, as these are key factors to a caterer's paycheck. 

But what is the amount on that paycheck? The hiring website ZipRecruiter estimates that the average hourly rate caterers charge is around $13 an hour, or approximately $27,300 per year, but in some cases, wages can exceed $20 per hour. As of 2022, there are 144,560 catering businesses in the U.S. and a majority of them are small businesses (via IBISWorld). The Princeton Review estimates that more than 70% of catering companies are owner-run operations, which means that, in addition to cooking skills, caterers need to be business savvy if they want to increase what they make.

Because it takes time to develop a successful catering business, average earnings seem low, however, wages increase after a few years. Factors including location, experience, reputation, celebrity status, and clientele can all boost a caterer's chances of success and help them earn more money in the long run. 

Location and experience matter

A classic real estate adage also applies when discussing how much money caterers can make: Location, location, location. According to Indeed, caterers in cities such as Boston and New York City list their starting rates between $18 and $19 an hour, whereas those in cities like San Antonio, Texas, and Louisville, Ky., start between $12 and $13 an hour. 

Certain cities also have more opportunities, which means caterers can make more money. The city of San Mateo, California — where companies including Sony, GoPro, and the e-commerce company Rakuten have offices  — is one of the highest-paying spots for caterers, with an average annual salary of $32,339 (per ZipRecruiter). The Seattle suburb of Renton, where IKEA and Boeing operate, is also on ZipRecruiter's list of top 10 highest-paying cities for caterers. Even food truck caterers can make big money if the location is right.

Experience can also contribute to caterers earning higher wages. Catering coordinators can net upwards of $20 per hour in cities like Washington D.C. and Denver (per Indeed). And if you rise to the position of director of catering sales, ZipRecruiter estimates you could make upwards of $70,000 per year. Like with most jobs, as caterers gain experience and seniority, they are able to charge more per hour and take home more money.

Reputation is everything as a caterer

Because most caterers are small businesses, developing a respected reputation and brand can help shore up wages. Some caterers can even parlay their success into celebrity status. Before launching her TV and cookbook empire as the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten ran a small specialty foods store and catering business in The Hamptons, New York (via Vox). "Top Chef" alum and "The Chew" co-host Carla Hall got her start in the food world by launching a catering and lunch delivery business (per Delish).

Finding a well-known chef to cater your event can bring the star-power but also a hefty bill, as the household name status allows for higher pricing. If you're wondering how much it costs to hire Martha Stewart to just appear at your event, her fee starts at $100,000. 

Many high-profile events rely on superstar chef caterers. Kim Kardashian's first wedding was catered by the famous chef Wolfgang Puck, who racked up an eye-popping $6 million. However, celebrity status doesn't always land a caterer the job they want. As Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were planning their wedding, "The Naked Chef" Jamie Oliver offered to cater the royal event for free (via Insider). But Oliver was snubbed — the royal family never even got back to him with a reply.

You can work with your caterer on the cost

Even though the amount of money caterers can make will vary depending on many factors, you can work with your caterer on cost. As you're planning the event, there are ways your caterer is ripping you off that you can keep an eye out for. Tactics such as all-inclusive deals, small portion sizes, buffet set-ups, and hidden fees are some ways that caterers can tack on a little more money. 

But not all catering professionals will try to take advantage of you on your big day, in fact, there are plenty of things your caterer wishes you knew. Being prepared with enough alcohol, having the right serving staff, and ensuring enough space for kitchen operations can help things go smoothly without breaking the bank. And giving your caterer an accurate headcount and a list of dietary restrictions can also help reduce stress and avoid any add-on charges. 

In addition, from the caterer's perspective, positive experiences can help them get booked again, which is a great way to keep regular clients and continue to increase their earning potential. Caterers can actually make much more than the average salary depending on their clients, experience, location, and, of course, celebrity status.