Catering: Without Breaking your Budget
If you have ever planned any kind of event that involved hosted food and drinks, chances are you’ve experienced a mini heart attack when the bill came. Catering is typically the highest expense incurred in hosting an event. I definitely do not recommend not feeding your guests, but I can offer some advice on how to help with your budgeting and best outside of the box catering ideas!
My first catering idea is to explore caterers and be realistic on who you are interviewing based on your ideal budget per person. For example, paying $20 per person is never going to happen if you are hiring Ruth Chris, so don’t even waste your time. Caterers are notorious for playing the “poker face game” when it comes to divulging their pricing. They want to know what you are willing to spend, when you call and ask what they charge. To give you an idea, it is not uncommon for dinner service to start at about $28 per person. There are ways to bring down the costs and absolutely ways you can rack up the cost from here. If you go into the conversation with a starting price you are comfortable with and an idea of the type of food you would like to serve, chances are they can provide catering ideas and suggestions. You should also know that just because they offer you a standard menu to choose from, does not mean it’s the only thing they can prepare or the lowest price they can go. In my own experience, I have had great luck with asking for specific pricing with an off-menu creation. (Side note: watch out for additional add on costs like service fees, tax, etc. that are not included in the listed per person price)
My second tip, is to consider the style of food service you are offering. An assumption I often hear is that appetizers are cheaper that serving a full meal. Dependent on the time of day of your event, serving appetizers may actually be more spendy. Appetizers are a “bite” of food, and the average person will have 3-4 bites per item. If you are hosting during dinner hours, chances are you will need many more bites and a larger budget than you would need during a short networking reception from 3-4pm. To help curb those with heavy hands, you can opt for passed appetizers; but keep in mind there is usually a higher charge for these as they require more staff to service. Along the same lines, consider a buffet over a served meal. Buffets often are a more economical choice as they too require less staff to service than a served meal would. They also tend to allow for more consistency on the quality of food, as it is continual kept hot.
My third catering idea is to ask your caterer to think outside of the box on the old standby. People eat with their eyes first, so a creative presentation can do wonders for a veggie, cheese, or fruit tray. Ask for grilled veggies with a spiced-up dip, cheese cubes piled high with a pita chip side, or berry fruit kabobs. The same idea can apply to comfort foods like mac and cheese or grilled cheese and tomato soup. These menu selections are lower on the cost scale, but can be amped up to feel more “adult.” Who wouldn’t want mac and cheese served up in a martini glass topped with bacon crumbles?
My last tip is to be mindful of bar service offerings if you are willing to host (pay for) beverages. Narrow down the beer and wine offerings to a preselected menu and negotiate a flat rate per glass. Consider handing out 1-2 drink tickets per person, to help keep tabs on quantity consumed. Host an open bar for a short period of time, say 1 hour, and then transition to a no host bar. Think twice about hosting a full bar, as they are notorious for racking up higher tabs than you would imagine. Speaking from experience, I have had clients tell me their crowd is primarily beer/wine drinkers, so a full bar shouldn’t be a big deal. Only to discover that when the booze is free, people quickly upgrade their drink selection. They also tend to ditch their beverages half way through and return for a second or third because, why not?
Catering can be a bit of a tricky subject. The best advice I can give is set an expectation for what you would like to offer, be realistic about what that expectation will cost, and don’t be afraid to negotiate and ask for creative catering ideas to achieve those goals.
Melissa | Content Creator & Resource Developer | TheFundraisingMethod.com | firstname.lastname@example.org