Planning an event can be a lot of fun, but it can also be daunting, especially when you’re working with a tight budget. Whether you’re hosting a birthday party, a small office gathering, or a casual get-together, catering on a budget is not only possible but is a great way to challenge your (or your caterer’s!) “outside-of-the-box” thinking.  Here are five practical tips to help you cater an event in your home or office without breaking the bank:

String lights and white bunting blurred into a background
Photo by Andrew Knechel on Unsplash
Green party hats and pieces of cake with pink icing and sprinkles makes for a very festive look
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

1. Plan Your Menu Wisely

One of the most significant expenses when catering an event is of course, the food. And if you have been buying food recently (which we can say with certainty is likely a yes!) you know all too well that food costs have skyrocketed over the past 2 years.  To keep your budget lean,  opt for dishes that are simple and that focus on seasonal, more affordable ingredients.  The added bonus?  Seasonal, local foods almost always taste better! 

Plant-based menus also offer not only a colourful array of healthful food options, but a smaller price tag as wekk.  Finally, consider dishes that can be prepared in advance and are easy to serve, such as pasta salads, sandwiches, or finger foods like skewers or mini quiches. This helps eliminate the need for staff and on occasion, rentals.

2. Consider Potluck Style

It might seem counter-intuitive for a caterer to discuss the benefits of pot-luck events but it is indeed one of the simplest ways to save on catering costs.  When every guest brings a dish to share it not only reduces your workload but also creates a diverse spread of food for everyone to enjoy. 
Here are some ways a caterer can fit into your event, even if we are not doing the whole shebang:

  • Have the caterer provide the main proteins and the guests provide starters, salads, sides and desserts.  This model avoids 1 or 2 people having to provide the proteins and the high costs associated with them.
  • Ask your caterer to provide the fiddly hors d’oeuvres and appetizers – guests can provide the rest!
  • Work with your caterer to fill in the blanks.  If you have a potluck ready to go but are missing a few key dishes, your caterer should be willing to help out.   Or ask us about helping with rentals and/or staff to make the non-food pieces of your event run smoothly.

Just remember, regardless of who is providing the  pot-luck foods, be sure to coordinate dishes beforehand. This will ensure a balanced meal, avoid duplicates and ensure a variety of foods.

3. DIY Decor

Decorations can add to the ambiance of your event but can also quickly increase your costs. Get creative and make your own centerpieces using inexpensive materials like candles, greenery vs. florals, balloons or find a local wholesale florist where you can buy seasonal flowers in bulk.  Going for a casual, rustic or Boho vibe? Feel free to mismatch your vessels by hitting your local thrift store and snapping up an assortment of repurposed jars, vases and glasses.

Another option to achieve an elegant look without overspending?  Embrace a minimalistic approach.  As the saying goes, sometimes less is more so embrace a pared-down aesthetic that focuses on quality over quantity.  

4. Rent or Borrow Equipment

If you’re hosting a larger event and need additional equipment you are going to require rentals such as glassware, tables, chairs and dinnerware.  Our suggestion?  Borrow from friends, family, a neighboring office, your local Church and/or School, etc.  And for those items you still need? Many party rental companies offer affordable rates, and most provide delivery and pickup services, making it convenient for you.

5. Timing and Flexibility

Timing can significantly impact your catering costs. Consider hosting your event during off-peak hours or on weekdays when venues are more likely to offer discounts or lower rates.   This could also mean hosting your event at a less traditional time of day.  For instance, try a birthday brunch instead of a dinner party.  Not only do breakfast menus tend to be less costly, you will also save on bar costs as guests generally drink less alcohol at that time of day.  Or perhaps you want to celebrate a company achievement? Have a 3-5 charcuterie & cheese event vs. a traditional lunch.  

Hosting an event on a budget doesn’t always mean sacrificing quality or style. With careful planning, creativity, and a bit of resourcefulness, you can create a memorable and enjoyable experience for your guests without overspending. And with our tips above, you’ll be well on your way to hosting a successful event that leaves both your guests and your wallet happy.