When throwing a large-scale party for friends, family and coworkers, it can be hard to know where to cut back and save your money and what items are worth splurging on. Whether you’re planning a wedding, a birthday bash, or a corporate event, here are some affordable catering ideas that will help keep your food and drink costs in line. —Donna Wadsworth
plan for a breakfast or lunch. If you’re looking for a cost-effective way to feed a crowd, consider hosting your event in the morning or midday. Weekend evenings are considered prime time when it comes to private events like weddings and parties, so caterers sometimes provide reduced rates on weekdays and during daytime hours. Breakfast, lunch and Afternoon Tea menus are typically more affordable than evening offerings but still provide a professional and elegant feel. Plus, you’ll also save on alcohol costs with an earlier event as party guests tend to drink less during the day.
keep your event short. You know what they say, time is money. Hosting a lengthy cocktail hour before your main dinner event will increase your catering budget substantially – the longer you wine and dine your guests, the more money you’ll need to spend on food, drinks, and staffing. Reduce your catering costs by limiting your event window to a two-hour period; rather than planning and paying for an all-night affair, opt for an early cocktail reception with passed canapés or a straightforward sit-down dinner – not both.
choose cost-effective menu items. While you might have your heart set on serving a particular cuisine for your big event, switching up your menu selections can cut costs dramatically. Plant-based vegetarian menus and chicken tend to be more affordable than prime rib, seafood, and other premium cuts of meat. You’ll also want to consider the style of service; planning a family-style meal or self-serve buffet rather than a plated dinner can help reduce staffing expenses. Instead of a multi-course meal of individual plates, serve your guests a more casual, cost-effective menu in a format that’s designed to feed a crowd, like an interactive Mexican taco bar or a Southern-inspired barbecue.
avoid costly extras. Caterers offer a wide range of very specific and customizable food and drink options to help clients design a personalized menu of their dreams, but these upgrades and extras can add up. Stay on budget by keeping things as simple and standardized as possible. If you’re planning a plated dinner, limit the number of entrée choices for guests, skip the fancy cheese course, and opt for a basic red and white table wine instead of Sommelier-selected wine pairings with each course. Eliminating the late-night buffet and take-home treats at the end of the night can also help keep your expenses down.
consider open-bar alternatives. Liquor costs are a big part of any event budget, so decide if you want to save or spend at the bar. A cash bar is an economical option for companies planning work get-togethers on a tight budget. For weddings, let your guests know in advance that you’ll have a ‘Toonie Bar’ or similar ‘pay what you can’-style payment system, which will help offset bar costs without making guests feel uncomfortable. If you’re hesitant about asking your guests to pay for their drinks, try controlling your costs by providing drink tickets or limiting the bar hours. Scale back your wine, beer, and liquor offerings to entry-level labels rather than top-shelf bottles and encourage guests to sip on a signature cocktail (or mocktail) featuring a simple mix of affordable ingredients.
reduce the guest list. The more mouths there are to feed, the more you’re going to spend. If you really want to save money on your catering costs, take a good hard look at the list of invitees for your event to decide who should make the cut. Budgeting for your catering costs is all about compromise; if you want to host a big crowd at your event, you’ll need to scale back on your food and drink.
Savoury City Catering owner Donna Wadsworth has seen it all in her decades of experience running catering companies and working as a chef across Canada and internationally. To create perfectly orchestrated events, Donna lives by the motto “fail to prepare then prepare to fail,” paired with a meticulous attention to detail and the ability to perfectly envision the flow of an event from beginning to end.