Contrary to what many people think, event catering does not have to be out of their financial reach. Many caterers will work with budget-conscious event hosts to customize their menus and service parameters, to make them more affordable.

We contacted several local caterers and asked them for advice about ways to put together an event catering plan that would include fresh, tasty food and modest services for a per-person cost of under $25 (as opposed to $50 to $100 per person, which is often thought to be typical). Here is a summary of information we gathered on options that can help make catering your event more affordable.

There are three main areas of catering costs:

  • The physical set-up
  • The style of service (labor)
  • Food and beverages selections

The Physical Set Up. Tables, chairs, linens, etc., make up a big chunk of the cost of catering. Selecting a venue that includes some of these in their pricing – especially the tables and chairs – can reduce costs significantly. Ask your catering rep for other money-saving ideas, such as opting for silver-colored disposable eating utensils instead of metal flatware that will need to be washed after the event, adding to labor costs. Other expenses in this category are delivery and setting up for the event, serving equipment, supplies, dishes, utensils, linen and cleanup.

The Style of Food Service. Instead of a sit-down brunch, lunch or dinner, consider a buffet or reception style of food service that requires a lot less time and fewer personnel. Your caterer will likely have a wide variety of buffet items from which you can choose. A reception style food service with platters of canapés or a variety of small-bites served to standing or milling guests and a minimal amount of seating is another lower-cost option.

Food and Beverage Items. Avoiding high-cost items like steak, salmon or imported foods are obvious ways to keep down the cost. However, you can design a low-cost menu that includes high quality, local produce and seafood that are simply prepared and delicious. If you want to serve a particular cuisine, such as Mediterranean, French, Latin, Asian, etc., ask your caterer about low-cost options with those flavor profiles. Also ask about accommodating any dietary restrictions you may have within your catering budget.

In terms of beverages, keeping it simple will keep down the cost. Think about minimizing bar service by offering only wine or beer, or you can opt out of bar service, depending on the type of event you are catering. Keep in mind that all food and beverage items are subject to Washington state sales tax.

Catering does not have to be high-end or full-service. Be creative and design a wonderful menu that will delight your guests as well as fit your budget. As mentioned earlier, finding a venue that includes some of the equipment and services you’ll need can reduce the cost of the catering. If your venue has a list of “preferred caterers” start with them. It may be more cost-effective to use a caterer who is familiar with your venue’s set-up. If you figure out the per-person cost you can afford before consulting with a caterer it will help the process go more quickly and smoothly.

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