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Catering Feature

Catering: Top 10 Budget Tips

Planning a reception on a budget? Check out our top ten ways to save money on catering.

Photo: Geoff White Photographers

1. The Bar

Instead of hosting a bar stocked with every imaginable liquor, mixer and condiment, choose a soft bar that serves only beer, wine and champagne. If your heart is set on serving a true cocktail, add one signature drink to your beverage menu, such as the wide-appealing Sour Apple Martini, Cosmopolitan, or Gimlet. And don’t forget to dream up a great name for your signature special, like “Sarah and Mike’s Romantic Refresher.” You may also choose to create a semi-soft bar, adding one or two versatile spirits to the drink menu.  We recommend going with vodka or whiskey. Both are extremely flexible, can be enjoyed alone or in a cocktail, and work well with a variety of mixers.

2. The Three Course Meal

After a sampling of hors d’oeuvres and drinks, a three-course meal that includes a soup or salad, entrée, and finishes with wedding cake is plenty of food for your guests. Remember, most people don’t order that much food when they dine at their favorite restaurants, so just say “no” when your caterer asks about including expensive additional courses in your reception menu.

3. Go Easy On The Hors d’oeuvres

Though it’s common for caterers to recommend many more choices, we suggest you select a maximum of three prepared hors d’oeuvres to serve during your cocktail hour. Remember, you’re just giving your guests something to nibble on before introducing the main culinary event, so an abundance of food at this point in the event is really an unnecessary expense.

4. Self-Serve Bites

Skip the passed hors d’oeuvres altogether and pile cocktail tables high with beautiful spreads of crudités and dips, plates of artisan cheeses, baskets of gourmet crackers and fresh breads, and mouth-watering bowls of fruit. You’ll save money by paring down both on food preparation and serving staff.

5. Skip the Delicacies

Forgo expensive entrée ingredients like lobster, filet mignon, Ahi tuna, caviar, and truffles. If you absolutely must include one of these flavors in your event, ask your caterer to create an hors d’oeuvre that celebrates the ingredient, yet uses it sparingly.  A mini blini with a tiny dollop of crème fraiche and a smidge of caviar is a perfect example.

6. Keep It Simple

You may be wild for Beef Wellington or crazy for cassoulet, but these labor intensive dishes take more time and expense than other equally delectable dishes. To keep costs down, choose simple, easy to prepare entrees.

7. Supplement with Stations

Make a budget meal seem sumptuous by adding one or two cost-friendly “stations” to your reception menu. We particularly love self-serve pasta and mashed potato stations, both set with an array of inexpensive but delicious sauces and toppings.

8. Bring Your Own Bottles

Many caterers will allow you to bring your own wine and spirits, charging a nominal corkage fee for wine served during dinner. If possible, choose a wine and spirit supplier who has a “buyback policy,” an agreement to purchase any unopened bottles of alcohol back from you after your event concludes.

9. Limit Entree Choices

There’s no rule that says you must give reception guests their choice of entrees. To stay within your budget, ask your caterer to create one widely appealing main course, like a savory chicken breast with a wonderful sauce, or a fabulous pasta primavera.

10. Educate Yourself

Certain cuts of beef cost much more than others. Farm-raised catfish is far more economical than wild Alaskan salmon. Organic produce is often more expensive than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Work with your caterer ahead of time to determine which corners you’re happy to cut, and which menu elements are non-negotiable.

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