Event Catering on a Budget: How to Save Money on Event Catering

Wine glasses laid out on table filled with white wine

Event catering is likely one of your largest costs, but it’s also where you have the most leeway. Here are 25 surefire ways to save money on event catering.

  1. Snacks and appetizers are cheaper than dinner. Hosting an event in between meals will help you save.
  2. Host a cash bar or eliminate alcohol altogether.
  3. Use in-season fruits and vegetables.
  4. Breakfast is the cheapest meal. Serve it for dinner.
  5. Host your event outside the most popular season, day, and time.
  6. Buffets are cheaper than boxed lunches and food bars are very trendy.
  7. Go for cheaper meat in dishes – like chicken alfredo versus filet.
  8. Select add-ins instead of the main thing—for instance, shrimp and grits versus shrimp cocktail.
  9. Splurge on pairings, not the entire menu. One interesting, upgraded appetizer or treatment will upgrade the whole experience for less.
  10. Ditch the waitstaff (unless you’re using them to control the number of appetizers people eat).
  11. Serve smaller portions with greater attention to display.
  12. Re-evaluate the need for four courses. Instead, spend money on fewer items but ones that impress.
  13. Serve only wine and beer.
  14. Switch your event to the daytime so you don’t feel the need to have a bar. Serve artisanal lemonades instead.
  15. Serve a signature drink or two. A limited selection will save you money.
  16. Shop around for your caterer and pick a venue that allows you to do so.
  17. Host a grazing table with no formal meal and self-serve food.
  18. Use smaller plates to limit what people take. Most people will take less and won’t continue repeatedly going to the buffet.
  19. Understand hidden fees like upgraded linens, glasses etc.
  20. Cut the amount of hors-d’oeuvres choices you’re serving.
  21. Individualized servings ready to eat in cups or bites on cutlery are cute unless you’re paying to use the utensils. Be aware that some caterers price with a certain number of cups in mind.
  22. Remember, set-up equals more money. Whenever you see a staff person set up, you’re paying for it. So, instead of asking them to set up a coffee service in the back of the room for a break, go to an area already set up for the event, like a central break location for all meeting rooms. It’s better to pay for one setup than five.
  23. Provide snacks in the room. Adding a few snacks to your guests’ rooms at night may be less expensive than having your caterer bring out an end-of-day snack tray.
  24. Host a dinner away from the venue if it’s a multi-day event. Renting a restaurant is usually cheaper, and you won’t pay for set-up.
  25. Use one large, impressive decoration on the table instead of many individual pieces that get lost anyway.