My Playbook For Putting On a SQLSaturday Part 3: Food

Feed Me Seymour!

Welcome to your number one cost.  Every budget I’ve looked at so far food is the top expense by a wide margin. There are very few rules that come down from PASS to your local event organizers, what you can charge is one of them. The only thing we are allowed to actually charge for is lunch. That is also capped at 10.00 per person.

Note: The maximum allowed to charge for lunch has been increased to 15.00 per person according to the SQLSaturday Wiki 

On the flip side, if you don’t want to eat the lunch you don’t have to pay for the lunch as an attendee, you are free to make your own arrangements.

It’s More Than Lunch

In reality, you aren’t talking just lunch. This is an all day event that starts early for attendees and even earlier for vendors, volunteers and speakers. That usually means some kind of breakfast, a lunch, snacks and drinks all day long.

The Basic Breakdown

Lets take a look at some standard assumptions about how much you need of X for Y people at the event.

1 Gallon of anything(water, coffee, lemonade) usually assumes 16 servings. If you brew the coffee it can be as cheap as $0.60 a gallon. You can usually plan around $1.50 a gallon for a median if you are doing coffee and lemonade. About 10 cents a serving.


Sandwich makings:
1 lb cold cuts serves  4
1/2 lb sliced cheese serves  4
1 head of lettuce 4
2 tomato’s 4
1/2 loaf bread 4

Bag o’ chips $1.50

Total cost: $9.60 serving 4 OR $2.40 a person.

This assumes, all sandwiches are made by you and your volunteers. Everything that can be bought sliced is. You don’t let eaters build their own sandwich.

Wow, we can charge 10 bucks a head and only pay about $2.50 a person? We are going to be RICH! You will have people say something to this effect to you at some point. Ether someone on your team or someone who is attending and has never planned something like this. What they never count is the “extra” food and single serve refreshments like sodas and bottled water.


bagels, muffins or danishes $0.60 per serving, bought in dozens usually so $7.20 per doz.
1 Gallon of anything(water, coffee, lemonade)  $0.10 per serving or $1.50 gal.

Cookies, muffins $0.60 per serving, bought in dozens usually so $7.20 per doz.
Case of 24 “name brand” sodas $13.00 or $0.50 per can

Self serve usually adds 30% to consumption. For example, if a normal person would eat one cookie I will take three and wash it all down with two sodas 🙂

So, you can probably figure another $2.50 for breakfast and snack at break.

Our new total is $5.00 per person. That is still very reasonable, if you are willing to do all the work and can buy everything yourself.

Now, The Truth

You probably won’t do all the leg work to keep the costs down to $5.00 per person. If you do something like subway or a caterer that does box lunches you will be out $8.00 per person usually, not including sodas. Now factor in breakfast and snacks and you can quickly blow past the $10.00 per person you are allowed to charge.

Oh, not everyone pays. Speakers, volunteers and vendors eat for free. You give up your time and money I don’t think it is unreasonable to give you some free grub. That means the rest of the paying public shoulders that cost. Well, technically you write it down as an expense but you could account for it in the cost per paying meal. The money has to come from somewhere in any case.

If you have to deal with an onsite catering service things get much more expensive. A word of advice, when dealing with catering NEVER LOOK AT THE MENU. Instead, put a cost per person and tell them what your budget is. Be up front with them and explain to them the nature of the event and the fact this isn’t put on by a for profit organization in any way. Ask them to include all costs, including gratuity for workers and tax in the per head price. If you are paying for the space you can expect to pay between $15.00 to $25.00 dollars a person for the whole day, minus sodas and bottled water of course. If you are getting the space “for free” and paying onsite catering like at a hotel you can expect $35.00 to $55.00 per person. Again, be careful of all the addon’s like sodas and “premium” coffee. I’ve seen quotes of $55.00 for a gallon of coffee!

Last bit on caterers, you usually don’t have to finalize your order until 72 hours before the event, You can almost always go up in count but never down. Once a meal is made someone has to pay.

This Lunch Sucks!

You will have some people not happy with the food. Listen to every issue, DO NOT DISMISS ANYONE! It is easy to tell people if you don’t like it don’t eat it. Don’t fall back and get defensive. Your first priority is to make sure there isn’t a safety issue with the food, like people are getting sick. Secondly, if someone has paid for lunch and is unhappy try and figure out why they aren’t happy. Do they have a food allergy and there isn’t a suitable meal for them to eat? Is there a religious or cultural issue? Don’t hesitate to refund their money and see if you can get a volunteer to help them hunt down a suitable lunch. Don’t worry about the loss, if $10.00 dollars is that important you are already in trouble.

Finally, does the meal just plain suck? If that is the case you may need to take it up with the caterer or venue. If they won’t fix the food work to get a refund on the part that wasn’t eatable.

If none of these things apply it is never wrong to give them their money back. Again, I don’t want people to be upset over a ten dollar bill, it just isn’t worth ruining your day and theirs arguing over it.


People will sign up for lunch. They may not pay up front. This will cause you to over order. Have you ever been at an event that ran out of coffee or lunches? Wow, you would have thought a crime against humanity had been made. That means you will probably be a bit paranoid and over order just to keep from running out. Have a plan for the food. If it is a boxed lunch you should look around for a local shelter or organization that feeds the less fortunate. Trust me on this one, whom ever gets that meal will be very happy that you did over order a little bit.

Final Thoughts

A Done bun can’t be undone.

Personally I plan to do things a bit differently at our next SQLSaturday. If we haven’t received payment before our cut off with the caterer we won’t order that lunch. We still have to plan for breakfast and snacks but that will cut the cost almost in half per person in most cases. We will still feed the big three and buffer our order around 5%. I know it sounds harsh but this is a cost that is hard to control and can completely kill your budget. Hopefully that will cut down on the leftover food and we will be able to feed everyone who wants to eat.


This isn’t a way to make up budget shortfalls, for a 350 person(including the big three) event 70 or so may eat for free.
If you can do it yourself, $10.00 a person is completely reasonable.
If you can’t, control the cost as much as possible.
Watch out for additional cost items like canned sodas, coffee and bottled water.
If you are stuck with an onsite caterer, fix your per person budget first and work around that number.
You will have leftovers, don’t throw it away, do some good with it.
Some people will complain about the lunch or some aspect of the food. Listen to them, fix it if you can or refund their money.