When you first start planning your party, event or wedding food / catering you want to outline what is of the most importance to you. Think about the space and flow of the event that you envision.
Will your event be at home or an event venue?
If you plan to have your event at a private home venue there are factors involved with getting the location ready such as (having enough bathrooms, having hand washing and sanitation areas, spraying for bugs prior to the event, a level area for a tent to be set up at, setup and clean up of the home prior to event and after, and much more. Check out a previous post about this here)
Are guests mingling the whole time?
For this you may consider stations or buffet.
Do you want to offer a little speech at the event or present the food? This would require guests to be seated at some point.
All of the different ways to have a party or event require different budgets.
Intimate gatherings can of course cost a lot or a little depending on where, when, and what you are serving just like a large gathering, wedding or event.
A gathering for 10 can cost as much as one for 50 if you are serving steak and lobster instead of gourmet pizzas.
TYPES of Food Service
Buffet or Cafeteria Style Service Guests walk up to a table and are served or dish their own food. For cleanliness we recommend a disher. Requires the least amount of servers
Stations - Similar to a buffet a series of small buffets usually incorporating one to two items at each. A disher at each station to serve the food to guests as they come up.
Plated - A meal served to guests once they are seated. Involves you pre-selecting 1,2,or 3 entree items for guests to choose from when they RSVP. This type of service require more service staff to efficiently get food out to your guests while it’s warm.
Tray Passed - Servers walk around with trays of appetizers and one to two bite items and napkins for guests.
Family Style- Similar to a plated option but instead of a plate coming tot eh table with food on it for each guest a few large plates containing a protein (chicken, beef, fish), Vegetables, Starches ( rice potato, pasta), and Salads.
Pot Luck- Guests bring dishes to share with entire party. ( For health and safety we would say this is the riskiest of the options and dont recommend unless it’s immediate family only attending).
What questions to ask yourself.
How many guests will I have?
Remember the more guests the more expensive. Not just with food but with dressing the tables, servers, flatware, glassware, china, etc.. It’s more than just the food, it’s also what it’s served in and how.
How much do I have to spend on food ?
The national average for a catered, plated chicken meal (potentially with an app or two) with a from start to finish with tax and service included is about $100 per guest.
What you can do at home may cut costs in some ways and cost you more in other areas such as having tenting, heaters, food prep areas, cleaning, restrooms, etc..
Unless it's a gathering of 15 or less. Then thinking along the lines of about $35 per person for a simple meal is usually on target.
Whether you end up at that number, above, or below depends greatly on how much digging you do to find what you want and what fits your style. What are you not willing to compromise on?
If you are working with an event or wedding planner often because of relationships where referrals happen often, a caterer will put in a complimentary appetizer or dessert.
Should you try to make food yourself?
For some parties this may be an option. However where you are having the event has to allow or that and almost all of them do not unless it’s a private home or air bnb.
Even if you make food yourself it’s a good idea to pre make food days ahead of time and freeze what you can. Also on the day of think about service and clean up. How can you efficiently do this adn be the host? That is a trade off in financial savings because having someone there to set up and clean up will allow you to enjoy your guests.
Appetizer/ Dessert Receptions or Events
Some think that appetizer receptions are less expensive. They are only less expensive however if you are doing the food service on a non meal time. For example instead of serving the food at 5 pm ( which is dinner time), serve the food at 11, 2 pm, or 7:30 pm or 8 pm. If you select the earlier times then guests will likely leave to go have a meal and won’t stay for any other portion of the event if it continues.
If you are trying to have an appetizer reception or event during dinner time people will expect a full meal or equivalent. Not planning for that will cause you to run out of food. The only way it’s less expensive is if you offer pizzas or soup because those items cost nothing basically to create in large amounts.
Alternatively a dessert only reception or event could be a wonderful option as well if you have your food service at an “off” time but again, if you do it earlier in the day people will likely leave to go have a meal.
Average cost of appetizers and desserts are about $2.50-$5 a piece and each guest typically has 1- 2 of each item offered.
What to look for when interviewing a caterer is you are doing so.
Research the menu they have posted. If you are going to ask for something special that they dont already make ask to taste it before hand adn allow for time in doing so. Otherwise fin a caterer or baker that does what you are asking for specifically.
Be leary of the word “FROM SCRATCH KITCHEN”. This is a term that used by caterers often but it does not really mean they make everything offered from scratch. They still bring in pre made items such as breads, desserts, etc.. It is very common for caterers to order in frozen or premade deserts and breads from a wholesaler. ( even if they say they make everything). Other pre made and not truly from scratch or fresh items caterers often order in from a wholesaler are:
*egg mixture ( eggs mixed with milk)
*pre- cut steaks
* precut frozen vegetable medleys
*amongst many others.
Make sure the chef that is making the food now is the chef that makes the food for the event.
If not and a change occurs. Then meet with the new chef to discuss or taste items they may not be accustomed to making.
Have clear communication about what is included in the serve and read fine print of contracts.
Trends In Food Service and Event or Party Catering/ Food.
Micro Bites- Mini versions of classics served as stations and tray passed items. Potentially even family style on a great display tray. Items such as Mini Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches, Mini Avocado Toasts on really special bread, Mini Wedding Cakes, Mini Pancake Stacks with real Maple Syrup. You could go on and on. The appeal is great because everyone like something Barbie size and cute plus it’s very instagrammable.
Healthy and Eco Friendly food. Locally grown, brightly colored food that has lots of fresh produce and herbs in it are very popular right now. Plus guests appreciate going to an event that is not full of fried food as it so often is the case with parties .
Preparation on site and in front of guests. Making food part of the entertainment. As guests walk into an event seeing the chefs prepare the food that they will soon be enjoying is an exciting element to any event. If you are doing an event in your home you could ask a caterer to do this or if you were doing something yourself you could have guests dress their plates at a table full of small bowls of garnish and ingredients.
Have fun planning your upcoming safe gathering and always check out Adore Magazine for celebration and lifestyle tips and inspiration. Subscribe to receive our newsletter full of more tips and events info.
Also check out the decor and services offered by Adore Magazine Publisher Kat Minks of Kat Minks Design.