Norwitz Notions

Norwitz Notions random header image

Catering Lessons: The Cost of Cooking for 30

May 17th, 2009 · by Cyndi · 3 Comments

I recently had the chance to cook a Shabbat dinner (Friday night ritual) for my synagogue.  You can find all the details at Shabbat Dinner for 20.  Because I’m being reimbursed for ingredients, I kept careful track of my expenses.

You may wonder about the two titles.  Did I cook for 20 or 30?  Well, that’s part of learning to cater meals, judging amounts.  I goofed big time.  Because of late RSVP’s and walk in’s, I wasn’t too sure exactly how many would come, so I planned for 20 (knowing I’d have enough for 25 if need be).  We got 10 adults, one teenager, 5 children age 5 and under, and 2 more adults who weren’t present for the dinner but were given care packages of food.  I’m counting this as the equivalent of 15 adults.

With most of the food, I made twice as much as necessary.  Had I made half as much total, we would have run out of most things, but people would have been able to eat large amounts and been satisfied.  As it was, we all ate very well and took home enormous amounts of leftovers.

Below, I give costs for everything I used.  Some are exact, some are estimated.  Pretty much everything is organic and good quality.  I didn’t skimp.  The savings comes from making things from scratch.  I did one huge Whole Foods run two days before the dinner.  A few items were in my pantry so those say “est” after them.  Soy flour we had to get from a local store.  The strawberries are from the amazing Carstensen Farms here in Petaluma (organic and picked the morning of the dinner).  The masa is organic and made from whole corn in Sonoma by Primavera.  The olive oil for cooking is Star from Costco and the olive oil in the salad dressing is an organic brand I get in 55 gallon drums for my soap business.

Chili Cornbread Casserole

On my blog entry for this recipe, I have a single and a double recipe.  I made a quadruple one here.  We finished the larger of the two pans.  Now, this does save well and is almost as good cold as it is hot.

The big splurge here was the dried tomatoes, which I got to reduce any trace ingredients that might cause problems for people.  They came from the Whole Foods olive bar, but Costco jarred tomatoes are much cheaper and you can also buy plain dried tomatoes in some stores’ bulk sections or from Trader Joe’s.

Note that this recipe fed 30 people with several sides.  If you’re serving it to your family as is, or with a small side salad, count on needing two servings per person.

Dried beans (1/2 black, 1/2 adzuki) 6 cups (2 2/3 lbs) $4.30
Olive oil 4 TB or so $0.25 (est)
Vegetable mix total 8 cups $4.32
– Yellow onion 2 (1.9 lb) ($2.83)
– Carrot 3/8 lb ($0.73 .37)
– Celery .45 lb ($0.76)
Cumin 2 2/3 TB $0.94
Oregano, fresh 4 tsp (from my garden, free)
Chilies, dried 4 large $0.50 (est)
Sun-dried tomatoes pint deli container $8.81
Tofu 24 oz $2.84
Rice wine/vinegar 4 TB $0.25 (est)
Lemon juice 4 TB $0.25 (est)
Soy flour 2 cups $1.80
Brown rice flour 2 cups (.66 lb) $1.18
Xanthan gum 2 tsp $0.10 (est)
Cornmeal 4 cups $2.35
Baking soda 2 tsp $0.10 (est)
Baking powder 2 TB $0.10 (est)
Apple cider vinegar 1 cup $0.85 (est)
Soy milk 2 cups $0.87
Sunflower oil 12 oz $3.80

Grand total: $33.25
Per serving (feeds 30): $1.11

Roasted Vegetables

This is a 14 lb batch.  We ate about half.  Leftovers last a couple of days.

Keep costs down by buying at farmer’s markets or on sale.  You can roast a wide variety of vegetables.  Beets and rutabagas run $2/lb at my local Whole Foods and leeks run $3 with some sales down to $2.  When choosing based on cost, keep in mind waste in preparation (almost none for the root vegetables, quite a bit for the leeks) as well as shrinkage during cooking (moderate for root vegetables or cauliflower, a fair amount for leeks and cabbage).

Red and golden beet 6.83 lbs $13.59
Rutabaga 6.71 lbs $13.35
Leeks 6 large (2.47 lb ($7.39) at WF plus some leftovers from a local farm) $10 (est)
Olive oil & celtic salt $1 (est)
Rosemary free (from my garden, would be $2 in store)

Grand total: $37.94
Per serving (feeds 30): $1.26

Green Salad

The base is 4 heads of romaine lettuce.  This made 2 large bowls.  I only put dressing on one of the bowls since dressing will make salad go limp and gross pretty quickly when leftover.  We ate about half.

Watch the cost of lettuce.  It can vary a lot.  It’s usually sold per head and the size of the head varies even more than the per head cost does.  I was lucky and these were large heads on sale.  You can use any type of lettuce you want, or other greens.

Romaine lettuce 4 heads $6
Cherry tomatoes clamshell container $2.99
Daikon radish .76 lb $0.75
Orange cauliflower 1 head (1.63 lb) $4.87
Carrot 3/8 lb $0.36
Dressing (with salt) 3 cups $6.66
– Olive oil 2 cups ($3.25)
– Balsamic vinegar 3/4 cup (est) ($1.91)
– Amy’s Mustard 3-4 oz (est) ($1.50)

Grand total: $21.63
Per serving (feeds 30): $0.72

Strawberries with Cashew Cream

I got a full flat of strawberries (12 baskets).  The cost is slightly higher if you buy less.  We used 6 baskets.  The cashew cream was a big miscalculation.  We only ate 1/4 of it at best.  The problem with the cashew cream is it’s hard to judge if you’re going to get a thick or a thin batch.  This was thin.  It tasted great but no one wanted to take very much.

Strawberries 1 flat (12 baskets) $28
Cashew (raw) 6 cups (1.97 lb) $15.74
Lemon 2 $1
Vanilla 2 TB $0.50 (est)
Stevia & salt $0.50 (est)

Grand total: $45.74
Per serving (feeds 30): $1.52


I bought 10 lbs of masa and used 5 (on purpose so I’d have some for myself later).  I made two trays of challahs and we ate 1/3 to 1/2 of them.  They weren’t ready until well into the meal.  I suspect we would have eaten far more had they been ready on time (before the meal, just after the blessing for the wine).  Note that the reason for the oatmeal is so they contain one of the 5 grains (the rest have gluten) so we can say the blessing over bread.

Masa 5 lbs $7.50
Oatmeal, sesame, salt 2 cups $3 (est)

Grand total: $10.50
Per serving (feeds 30): $0.35

Total costs for entire meal: $149.06
Per person (30): $4.97

Hours spent on meal, about 10.
8 hours prep work (not counting shopping)
1 hour work on site
1 hour cleanup (which I didn’t do, but my husband did a fair amount)

If I were to charge for my time, I’d tack on $200 to the total.
That would make the total $349.06.
And the per person cost a mere $11.64.
Not bad for an organic gourmet meal (meat doesn’t usually cost more, though organic meat would).
Fortunately, my time is a donation.

The synagogue charges $10 per adult, $5 for ages 5-12, and free for under 5.


Categories: Budgeting · Food · Meals & Events

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Shabbat Dinner for 20 | Norwitz Notions // May 17, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    […] Receive blog posts via email Enter your email address:Delivered by FeedBurner ← Catering Lessons: The Cost of Cooking for 30 […]

  • 2 Anne // May 18, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Great post, love the breakdown of charges. Wow, that in itself was time-consuming. And I think it’s amazing that you fed all these people for under 5 dollars a head. My god, 5 dollars. I havent eaten fast food in 20 years, but isn’t like McD more than $5 a head for garbage? Job well done, Cyndi! Preggers and all!

  • 3 admin // May 18, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks 🙂

    I had to do the breakdowns to get reimbursed anyway. It wasn’t that much more work to put it into a blog.

    And, ya know, I’ve been wanting to do this for ages. Remember all those articles last year about feeding a family on food stamp money? $3 per day per person. And so many writers who couldn’t do it at all because they didn’t understand about buying in bulk and cooking ahead and so forth. And because they didn’t know how to cook from scratch.

    My meal was over budget for that but still was dirt cheap for what it was. And don’t forget to double (or triple) the costs if you’re actually paying for labor and overhead, as in a restaurant. But still, it’s a deal.


Leave a Comment