A catering contract describes the services you will provide to a client and the payment terms you require. Catering contracts ensure you and your client are on the same page and reduce the likelihood that you will experience business losses due to a lack of payment or credit card chargebacks. A catering contract should include a list of services and charges, stipulations about party size, and detailed payment and cancellation terms. Using a catering contract template saves you time when writing new contracts.
We’ve included all the relevant sections in our free catering contract template that you can download below:
Who Should Use a Catering Contract
All caterers providing food, beverage, and/or event management services should use contracts. Whether you are catering a single anniversary celebration, agreeing to provide weekday lunch to a nearby office, or donating to a nonprofit event, that transaction should have a contract that fully describes your obligations to the client and the client’s obligations to your business.
How to Use a Catering Contract
Using a catering contract only requires a few basic steps. You want to start with a template and update it for your event before it’s signed by the client. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Start With a Contract Template
Start with a basic catering contract agreement. A catering contract should include the caterer and client’s contract information, the date and time of the event, event price, tax rate, payment terms, refund and cancellation policy, and guest count policy.
A catering contract should have a highly visible signature block for both the client’s and the caterer’s signatures, and you may want to include initial blocks on your most important terms and conditions—like your refund and cancellation policy—to ensure that clients read them.
You can use the free catering contract template I provided above, or use a legal services website like Rocket Lawyer to draft a contract template for you.
We like Rocket Lawyer because it provides a slew of legal services and assistance with documents for a monthly fee that is affordable for small businesses like caterers. Visit Rocket Lawyer.
Step 2: Tailor the Template to Your Event
With your contract template in hand, you’ll next update the contract details to match the event. Take care to update every date and dollar amount throughout the contract. Nothing is more unprofessional than sending a contract to the client with things like “$XX” and “XX%” in it.
Then, you want to attach the relevant documents that you refer to in the contract. These could be a preliminary menu, a beverage service list, a rental list, and a full, itemized invoice that includes staffing costs. Add a field to the bottom of each attachment for the customer to initial and date.
Step 3: Send the Contract to the Client
Send the completed contract to your client in your preferred manner. It is typical to email contracts and request that signed copies be scanned and emailed back to you. You can also use a document signature service like DocuSign to manage signatures and ensure customers sign and initial in all the right places. Most catering management software includes some form of electronic signature tracking tool too.
Whatever strategy you use, make sure you are capturing legitimate signatures. If there is ever a dispute about getting paid for an event, the greatest protection you will have is a signed contract.
Step 4: Sign the Contract
When the customer returns the signed and dated contract, along with their deposit, sign the caterer’s section of the contract. The contract is not fully executed until it has both signatures. It is a best practice not to sign the contract yourself until you have fully received the deposit, meaning the money is in your bank account.
Catering Contract Benefits
Catering contracts ensure you and your clients understand one another. Your contract makes clear what service you are obligated to provide and what amount your client is obligated to pay for these services.
A Contract Helps You Get Paid
A catering contract lays out the payment terms, allowing you to add clauses for late fees or detailed payment schedules. Your catering contract is your opportunity to get the money upfront when you need it to purchase supplies or secure staff ahead of an event. So, you won’t have to dig too deeply into your own pocket to make arrangements for a client.
I have also seen—multiple times—how having a detailed, signed contract helps catering businesses win chargeback disputes. When a client attempts to force a refund for a non-refundable deposit by initiating a chargeback, a signed contract with clear cancellation and payment terms typically always ends the dispute in your favor.
A Contract Communicates Clearly
A catering contract makes it explicitly clear what services you are providing and when you are providing them. When working with catering clients, there are tons of emails, text messages, and off-hand conversations. In those casual conversations, it can be easy for you or the client to misunderstand whether an item is included in the package, or if it is merely a request. If an item is not included in the contract, it is not part of the services you are providing.
A Contract Keeps You Organized
Busy caterers are constantly sending out new proposals, writing new contracts, and working events. It is impossible to keep every event’s details in your head. A catering contract keeps all of an event’s information in a single place. So, you can easily see a client’s contact information along with their requested menu and the price you quoted them.
If you upload your contracts to a cloud-based server like Google Docs or Dropbox, you can access them from any computer or smartphone. This keeps you both organized and nimble, allowing you to refer to the contract whether you are in your office or at an offsite event.
Tips for Using a Catering Contract
Using a catering contract is straightforward, but there are still some best practices to keep in mind. After years of fielding event inquiries and working hundreds of events, these are my top tips for making your catering contract work for you.
Use Your Contract Consistently
If you are ever tempted not to use your catering contract, stop yourself. You should use a contract with every single event or order. Just update the contract to reflect what changes you need to fit the event. Even if you are donating food to a nonprofit event, use your contract so that everyone involved stays on the same page about what you are delivering. For donations, a contract can also help you track the value of the product you donated, which is helpful for tax purposes.
Even with friends and businesses you know, use a contract. Over the years, I ran into many misunderstandings from catering clients who were friends of the chef and thought that certain perks would be included in their event or that they could pay with a check on the day of the event.
When an arrangement is based on handshakes and friendly conversations, it’s easy for these misunderstandings to pop up. Because I used contracts for every single event, I was able to correct any misunderstandings well before the day of the event. Always use your contract—no exceptions.
Update Your Contract Template Regularly
Beyond the everyday updating to make your contract template fit a specific event, take the time at least once a year to assess your overall contract template. If you regularly run into a specific issue (like clients assuming coffee service is included), add a clause to your contract that addresses it. Do you need to update your cancellation and refund policy? Does it make business sense to update your payment cadence or require a larger deposit upfront?
Check for Signatures
Nothing stated in your contract matters unless the thing is signed. So double-check that every signature and initial block are complete before confirming with a client. If the contract is missing signatures or initials, send the contract back to the client with a friendly reminder pointing out the sections they missed.
Catering Contract Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Expand the sections below to learn more about common questions on catering contracts.
Most catering contracts begin with a template that the caterer updates to fit a specific event or ongoing business relationship. Your contract should include payment and cancellation terms, as well as the details of the event location, date, and start and end times. Include detailed information about menus and an itemized invoice as attachments to the contract and request a client’s initials on each attachment to ensure they have read and agreed to the details.
A catering contract should include the caterer and client’s contact information, the date and time of the event, total cost tax rate, payment terms, deposit, refund and cancellation policy, and details of how you count event attendees.
A catering contract also needs a signature block to collect the client’s and the caterer’s signatures. It is standard to include attachments to your contract, like an itemized invoice that details the full charges, a banquet event order (BEO) form that summarizes the full details of the event, and any invoices from subcontractors (like equipment or tent rental companies). Your contract should include a list of any attachments you include.
Most catering contracts are service agreements for a specific, one-off event like a wedding or conference. Different types of catering contracts typically apply to arrangements where a caterer regularly prepares food for a large entity, like a workplace that serves lunch to employees. With an ongoing arrangement like that, there are various ways a caterer and workplace can work together.
In long-term catering arrangements, there are four main contract types: cost-plus, fixed price, profit and loss, and concessions. The first three are common in workplace catering agreements, while a concessions contract is more typical with tourist attractions and sports venues. In many long-term catering arrangements, the client organization may have its own team draft the contract.
Writing catering contracts is an essential part of running a catering business. Using a catering contract template saves you time writing new contracts and helps ensure that you communicate your payment terms and other conditions clearly.