Key elements of a catering contract

Hiring a caterer for an event? Find out what information should be spelled out in the catering contract before you sign on that dotted line.

by Belle Wong, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

A catering contract plays an important role in the success of an event. Whether you're signing an agreement for a general affair or a more specific event such as a wedding, the purpose of any catering contract is to spell out the responsibilities of each of the parties involved.

Smiling people serving themselves at buffet and chatting

Food and services provided

To pave the way for a successful event, your catering contract should include a detailed section covering menu-related items and other services the caterer is responsible for, including:

  • Menu to be served. The food to be provided by the caterer should be set out in full detail in the contract. This includes not only the main menu but any appetizers or snacks that might be served beforehand as well as any beverages.
  • Substitutions and alternates. The contract should provide for any food substitutions that might be necessary as well as alternate dishes to accommodate those guests who have food allergies or dietary restrictions, such as vegan, vegetarian, or kosher preferences.
  • The type of food service. In most cases, caterers not only provide the food for an event but also the service of that food, such as a sit-down meal or buffet. The catering contract should clearly describe how food and beverages are to be served.
  • Leftover food and beverages. The agreement should include a provision outlining how leftovers are to be handled.
  • Staffing issues. The catering contract should also cover important staffing issues such as the ratio of catering staff to guests and staff dress code requirements or uniforms.
  • Additional items or services supplied. The document should clearly describe any equipment or items the caterer must provide, such as glassware, utensils, and table linens. Additional services to be provided by the caterer—for example, the setup prior to the event and any cleanup afterwards—should be defined in the agreement as well.

Fees and payment schedule

The catering contract should specify in detail the fees for food and services provided by the caterer. For example, in addition to the cost of each course provided for the main meal, the agreement should include provisions for matters such as the hourly rate for any catering staff working the event, fees for additional guests beyond what was expected, fees associated with menu substitutions and other food accommodations required by guests, any overtime or overage charges, and the costs for any extra or additional food or services not included in the base price.

Catering contracts also usually include a payment schedule. Most caterers require a deposit at the time the contract is signed, another installment at a specified time prior to the event date, and a final fee to be paid after the event, when any additional fees for extra services can be calculated.

Other terms and conditions

In addition to menu- and service-related items, the catering contract should include standard contract terms and conditions, including:

  • Basic contract information. The contract should state pertinent, basic information such as the names and contact information of the parties involved, the venue where the event is to take place, and the date and time of the event.
  • Final date for any changes. In order to avoid potential conflicts, the agreement should set out a final date for any changes the event organizer might wish to make for matters such as menu changes and guest count.
  • Insurance. Although the caterer should have liability insurance for the event, they may ask that the event organizer's insurance provide coverage for event-related liability as well.
  • Health and safety requirements. The caterer should accept responsibility for complying with any health and safety regulations. The event organizer may also require that they provide proof of any necessary licenses or permits. For example, a permit might be necessary to serve alcohol.
  • Cancellation policy. The cancellation policy should be stated clearly and include the amount that will be refunded should the event organizer cancel. Refunded amounts usually depend on when cancellation takes place. For example, the organizer can expect to receive more of their deposit back if they cancel six months prior to the date of the event, as opposed to a cancellation made only a week before.
  • Breach of contract. Even with the best intentions, contracts can be breached by one party or the other. The catering contract should include a clause dealing with the eventuality of a breach, including provisions for matters such as who is responsible for legal fees if a breach does occur.

A catering services agreement creates the foundation for the legal relationship between the event organizer and the caterer. Some caterers use their own contract while others draft new ones for each event. Either way, both parties should carefully review the document before signing it.

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Belle Wong, J.D.

About the Author

Belle Wong, J.D.

Belle Wong, is a freelance writer specializing in small business, personal finance, banking, and tech/SAAS. She spends h… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.