Having a good caterer can be the difference in the perception your guests have of your event, but this often comes at a cost. We spoke to the experts and asked for their catering ideas on how to make the most out of your budget when hiring a caterer for your event.
Here are the top 20 catering ideas and tips from the pros.
1. Provide the Caterer All Event Details for Price Negotiation
Andrea Correale, Founder and CEO, Elegant Affairs
Usually a caterer will charge the client a per person price. If you are having an open house type gathering and you are expecting 50 people from 4:00-6:00 pm, specify that all 50 people won’t be there for the entire two hours — that they will be in and out. Sharing this information will mean that the caterer will need to supply less food, which means a savings to the client. If your event is after work but before dinner, meaning between 5:00-8:00 pm, skip the dessert. It’s not necessary and skipping it will save you money. Most people will drop in for a drink and a light bite then make their way home or out to dinner.
2. Follow DIY Advice to Save Money
Alexandria Proko, Owner, Alexandria Catherine Events
If you’re hosting a small meeting, I always recommend getting a few pans of something from a caterer and either renting or purchasing the serving equipment yourself. Oftentimes, the materials for the food itself (food warmers, sternos, serving tools, etc.) quickly mark your bill up because the catering team will usually charge extra for those, and consider it a rental. You can also cut costs by handling your own pickup and drop-off (unless you’re not using their serving pieces, in which case you won’t need to drop anything off to them).
You’ll also be able to save a bit by having a member of your own team or even an intern or two help with serving the food or setting up the buffet. The cost of a catering team member to be on-site handling that is going to cost anywhere from $50-$400 per hour (an on-site chef costs significantly more than a server). The one staffing cost I always recommend that you do splurge on is a professional and certified bartender that carries appropriate liability insurance – that’s one headache you don’t want to deal with, especially as a small business owner.
3. Develop Signature Cocktails for Your Event
Cheryl Rich Heisler, Founder/Proprietor, MixedmetaPours
Want to throw a fantastic event but not break the bank? Signature cocktails are unique, memorable, beautiful, and affordable. Have an expert mixologist create one-of-a-kind cocktail recipes that enhance the theme and the branding of your party. Signature cocktails are developed by making the time up front to get to know the host, the attendees, the theme, and the reason for making the party in the first place. These special cocktails can be designed to incorporate logo colors, desired flavor profiles, and even sometimes utilize client products right in the recipe! So instead of having to purchase enough assorted product to stock a full bar, you can offer beer, wine and a sampling of specialty cocktails for a fraction of the price — and, even better, have everyone talking about your event for weeks to come!
4. Buffet Style Setup Works Best for Any Budget
Mehdi Zarhloul, Owner and Founder, Crazy Pita Rotisserie & Grill
Buffet style catering is best for small business for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it is the best way to increase the level of customization possible leading to the ability to satisfy a variety of palates, allergies, quantity and preferences. With all options out on the table, guests can mix and match however they wish to create their own unique meal. This is cost effective for the business to order items in bulk and allows customers to piece together their own plates as opposed to ordering X number of individual meals. This will also lower the per person cost of the overall catering. In addition, this method also tends to lend itself well to delivery when small business owners are too busy to pick up food.
Organizing the items in a buffet-style manner allows to keep proper temperatures during delivery up until the time guests are ready to eat. There is no need for temperature holding equipment which can be expensive for a small business not specializing in food and beverage catering.
5. Save Money with Drop-Off Catering
Thomas Kuehl, Director of Catering, Bite Squad
Drop-off catering can be an ideal solution for businesses hosting an event of any size — from a simple meeting lunch, to a more elaborate gathering or event. With drop-off catering, the food is delivered ready-to-serve, either on platters or trays, or as individually boxed-meals, along with utensils, napkins and plates for a simple set up, and effortless clean up. And because this type of service does not include a wait staff, event coordinators can save tremendously on labor costs. Be sure to place your order at least 24-48 hours in advance, giving the restaurant preparing the food plenty of time to receive and prep your order. You’ll need to know how many people you’re feeding, consider any special dietary preferences and order enough for 2-5 more people.
The timing of the delivery is also important to specify; if it arrives too early, the food may no longer be hot or fresh, and if it’s late, you’ll have hungry guests. Work with a reputable service for on-time delivery and plan to have the food delivered about 15 minutes prior to eating (wait to uncover it until right before it is served).
6. Hire a Versatile Catering Company
Christophe Kubiak, Executive Chef, La Bonne Cuisine Catering
Look for catering companies that have diversified into the corporate lunch delivery space as well. Many high-end caterers have done this in recent years, and the advantage of dealing with a caterer like is that you can combine high and low end for an event using the same vendor. For example, they can provide breakfast and lunch from their corporate lunch menu, which tends to be very affordable, but then they can really go all out with a networking reception or dinner at the end of the day. You will save money for the daytime portion that you can use towards your evening event! Many caterers are able to do full day meetings, but they may not be able to offer these affordable options because they are not set up with the volume that these caterers that have diversified have.
7. Hold Your Event at a Restaurant
Jai Avichal, Events Manager, The ChopHouse
Look beyond food when making a choice. While menus are of utmost importance, choosing a venue that is beautifully decorated with ambiance means you don’t have to spend money on things like flowers and linens. Working with a restaurant with an in-house team can keep costs at a minimum and arm you with a seasoned pro working on your behalf. Lastly, always work with your event planner. The right person can make all the difference in finding a solution to fit any need and budget.
For the ultimate guide on event planning, check out Fit Small Business’ event planning checklist and how-how to guide to help you get started.
8. Try a Family-Style Setup
Arram Sabeti, Founder and CEO, ZeroCater
Depending on the format and audience, consider choosing a family-style meal to encourage communication and team bonding. We serve many small companies and startups, delivering daily office breakfast, lunch and dinner from their cities’ best restaurants, food trucks and caterers. They enjoy the family-style setup, where teams can share a meal and experience allowing teams to get to know one another outside of the desks, talk about new projects and plans for the weekend and form better, more productive, working relationships in the office.
9. Be Mindful of What Is and Isn’t Included
Marcy Blum, President, Marcy Blum Associates
When budgeting for a caterer, be mindful of what is and isn’t included. Items such as rentals of tables and glassware, tax and gratuity, while not always listed on an estimate can add up to large numbers. Be very detailed and up front in your questions, such as how many staff will be at the event, how many hours are included for both set up and break down, what the staff will be wearing, are there credit card fees, charges for overtime, etc.
10. Choose an Experienced Caterer for Formal Events
Michael Pelligra, Owner, Twin oaks Caterers
Your more formal events will require a more experienced caterer, and don’t confuse caterer with your favorite local restaurant. This is a common mistake; just because it’s good in the restaurant doesn’t mean that they have the capability to work past their front doors. Look for a caterer that specializes in off premise catering. They will have the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t specific to your event and venue (rely on their expertise). It is important that you ask the right questions, but it’s equally important that your caterer asks you the right questions too. After all, they are the experts.
11. Turn Leftovers Into Lead Generation
Elias Grouhi, Content Marketing Manager, Social Tables
Instead of letting your leftovers go to waste, use them to your advantage. Find prospective corporate clients in your area and offer free lunch using whatever extra food you have from an event. It’s a great way to show them what your team can do with leftovers, and let your flavors make the pitch. Or, win more clients by letting them know you’ll donate leftovers to a local cause of their choosing. (Hint: Food rescue programs often pick up leftovers free of charge, which means less work for your staff.) Whichever idea you go with, showing a commitment to reducing waste makes it easier to build a value-driven business partnership.
One of the deciding factors when choosing a caterer is their cost of service. The best caterers don’t have to be expensive, but making sure that you hire someone professional who can adapt to your requests easily will require spending. So it’s important that you’re clear about what you want and what your budget is from the start. Professional caterers will be able to help you get the most out of your money with proper communication. At the same time, study their quote before signing a contract, and make sure it covers all the services you both agreed on including set-up, breakdown, and staffing. Quiz the caterer about any potential hidden fees or additional costs before closing the deal.
Cap your event off with desserts specially created for your company event. Aside from sporting the company logo, make it memorable by choosing the ingredients that best reflect your brand, and add these short information on a little card, as a backdrop for your dessert station, or even have a chef explain it as part of the program. This is also a good concept if your event is for launching a new product. Work with your caterer to come up with a dessert using ingredients that can describe your new product. By associating your new product’s features with good dessert, your audience will find it more appealing and Instagram/Facebook worthy. There’s no better time to market than to a crowd whose spirits are lifted with good food.
Part of knowing your caterer is finding out how they carried out their previous catering events. Don’t hesitate to request for past event photos, as most of them would have a portfolio ready for you to view. These catering photos will give you an idea of their presentation style, how they set everything up, and a general sense of their aesthetic. Take this opportunity to find inspiration for your own upcoming event, ask about the photos that interest you, cost, preparation time, or if it can be adopted to fit your group size. You can then decide if you feel that you would want the same concept for your own. Alternatively, you would also be able to let them know which ones do not work for you. By having a visual, you can make sure that both you and your caterer are on the same page.
Interactive catering is about letting your guests customize their dishes and drinks with DIY garnishes. Unlike made-to-order stations, caterers have now found creative ways to get guests involved in the event at a different level. Try a “customize your bubble bar” to let guests customize their champagne cocktails with herbs, fruits, syrups, or flavored sugar cubes. You can also get a DIY cheese and charcuterie buffet. When hiring your caterer, ask if they have any background in hosting this type of setup. If they do, they would most likely have photos so scrutinize, and don’t be shy to ask all the questions you have including the pricing.
Don’t hesitate to ask for a sampling of your caterer’s food. This is a standard request that all caterers should be ready to accommodate. It’s important that you have an idea of how the food will taste like, and not just rely on presentation. Ask at least 3 different caterers to prepare food samplings and even wine pairings if appropriate. Don’t settle for the generic kind but also be prepared to pay a fee. After an event, part of what your guests will remember is the food, and that will leave a lasting impression on your part as a host.
Looking to get the word out on your upcoming event? Visit our list of event marketing ideas from the pros, and start creating a buzz for your event today.
Before you go looking for a caterer, make sure that you have dealt with some finer points of your event preparation including catering inquiries. Take time to list event information that your potential caterer might need to know such as the date, location, and number of attendees to name a few. You should also make a list of the things you need to know from your caterer as well. This includes deadlines of notifications for menu selections and number of guests, determining what their services include and even the corkage fee if applicable.
If you don’t have a go-to caterer for your business yet, or looking to find more options, start by searching a list of caterers from a well established network online. Leading Caterers of America (LCA) is an organization of 59 peer evaluated, professional caterers all around the country and should be able to provide you with a recommendation no matter the size and type of your event. Their website even hosts a user-friendly feature for you to search for caterers within your area.
When preparing for an event, choosing a caterer can cause a great deal of concern if you are unaware of the most important information you need to know about them. Ask for a sample menu with an accompanying costing once you have your catering concept in mind to give you a quick idea whether the caterer fits in your budget. This article lets you in on the basic questions you need to ask when hiring a potential caterer for your event.
Keep in mind that you will be working with the catering company for at least a couple of weeks, and it won’t benefit your event if there is a breakdown in communication simply because you’re not comfortable with your caterer. It will be a whole lot easier to work if you like the caterer you hired. Caterers are generally focused on giving their best in every contract they sign up for as this also good advertising for them, and they will appreciate an approachable, straightforward client that they can build a friendly and professional relationship with.
The Bottom Line
Great food has the potential of setting the right tone for any company event but can be tricky to prepare without the right help. By developing a great relationship with a caterer that can adopt to your needs, you will find yourself with enough time to focus on other critical points to ensure that your events are always a huge success.
Know of any more useful catering ideas for company events? Share your catering tips with us in the comments!