Step 3- Budget Realistically

It’s easy to get out of control when spending during the holidays, but with catering, it’s often a case of getting what you pay for—great food isn’t going to be a bargain-basement scenario. But it doesn’t have to put you in the poorhouse either. Most local caterers start at $10-$15 per person, so if you were planning for a party of 50, your budget would need to be at least $500. That might seem like a lot, but for that amount, you are not just getting food; you are getting a customized menu, fresh ingredients, creative recipes, and usually someone else to refresh platters and keep the food coming while you enjoy your party.

And you will have professional help keeping costs contained. “As chefs, we are supposed to be creative with budgets,” Phillips explains. Don’t be afraid to be upfront and honest with a caterer and see what he or she can do for you with your budget, or compare two price ranges to see what you can get for your money. But do avoid negotiating. “When you negotiate with a caterer, you are lessening your dining experience. We can negotiate with you, but you are doing yourself a disservice,” Phillips says. She also warns that a newbie mistake is negotiating out the labor part, like having fewer wait staff at a party. If a caterer says an event won’t work without some extra hands, it probably won’t. “Trust us—this is what we do.”

“The budget is the easy part,” says Hart. He stresses that there are ways to bring costs down, such as serving small plates or tapas or using protein alternatives. “I give clients an option—what are they willing to pay? What do they want to invest?” He’s done parties starting at $8 per person. But he also says that if your budget is big enough, the caterer can have a lot of fun—including the current trend of hiring several food trucks to show up to your event. That’s the kind of thing that’ll keep ‘em talking all year long about your soiree.

As with most goods and services, getting a great caterer boils down to asking lots of questions and doing research ahead of time. Maximize your time interviewing caterers by being prepared with a list of questions or any themes you’re considering. During that first meeting, you’ll be able to see if it’s a good fit from how they respond.

“Nowadays, clients are way more food savvy than they have ever been,” says Phillips. “The whole point as caterers is to cater to your clients’ needs.” So that means you can have amazing, one-of-a-kind food and a memorable party—one where you sip your Moscato out of an actual glass and not in the solitude of your linen closet.