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  • Cornel Warren

How to Get a Good Deal on Catering

If you've ever hosted a formal event, you've no doubt had to pore over countless menus to compare the price per plate, hot and cold buffet options per guest and served hors d'oeuvres priced per piece. It can be confusing, not to mention frustrating when you see options like bread baskets listed at $4 per person, knowing full well that you would be able to go out and buy $25 worth of bread to serve your entire party. That's why I am sharing several tips and tricks for getting a great deal on catering services.

When you book through a venue, you have far fewer options. Having worked in marketing for over ten years, and having dabbled in event planning for events with various family members, I have learned many lessons the hard (read: expensive) way. I've also identified some easy ways to cut the cost on events when it comes to getting fabulous catering on a budget.

Step 1: Don't be afraid to ask questions

I learned this lesson when talking with a local catering company. Sure, they had an extensive menu online, but the sales person explained several times that the menu was more of an idea resource, intended to help customers come up with items. In reality, they would be willing to make just about anything you could find on Pinterest! Don't be afraid to make special requests, since your ideas may be more cost-effective than their suggestions. This goes for your venue, too! Most professional venues have a pre-negotiated relationship with a caterer, who offers them something (probably money) to serve as their exclusive caterer. However, there are always loopholes to the restrictive catering contracts. Some venues allow you to bring certain items that their caterer doesn't want to bother with (low margin items). Just ask, and ask some more!

Step 2: Add a little extra

Depending on your venue, you may be allowed to bring your own dishes to supplement the items you are having catered. Pictured to the right is the $7 hummus platter I added as an appetizer to our catered dinner. We didn't need to get the catered hummus platter for $25. I am also very particular about what types of ingredients are used in the food I serve, so I feel much more at ease when I can provide my brand of choice. We avoid preservatives like sodium benzoate, and it's pretty difficult to find a hummus that's all natural.

There are a variety of other add-ons you can provide to cut the cost of catering:

1. Cheese plate

2. Veggie tray

3. Fruit display

4. Drinks (if you can get a good deal somewhere)

When we celebrated my mom's 60th birthday, I organized an outdoor cocktail party since it was June. We shopped around for a great caterer, and were so happy to work with the one we chose. Early in the process I asked them my questions and made sure they would not have a problem with us contributing food to the event as well. Since we hosted at my parents' home, we had no venue to consult. We had a fantastic time, but it turned out to be almost 100% out that day. I made the fruit salad, the hummus platter and.... the cheese plate. Within an hour the cheese literally started melting! We even had it in the shade. I couldn't believe it, but I am certainly making a mental note for our next outdoor party: I won't choose brie.

"Celebrate we will, cause life is short but sweet for certain..."

Step 3: Take care of dessert

Getting a fancy catered desert can definitely rack up a serious bill. That's why we decided to do the dessert on our own. I found a well-decorated cake at a local international grocery store and supplemented it with some seriously delicious gourmet cupcakes. It was an absolute crowd-pleaser! I must say, the mini cupcakes stole the show and were gone before we could even sing happy birthday! No one could resist them...

I hope you find these three easy steps helpful as you organize your next catered event. Please share your own tips and tricks in the comments below! I'd love to hear what you found to be a best practice as you plan events.



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