6 Classy Ways to Serve a Crowd

Throwing a catered dinner party? Here’s what your caterer won’t tell you about putting on an inexpensive and glamorous dinner party. 

1. Check On Your Caterer

You’ve found a catering service that you like, and you are ready to go with it, but there are still some lingering doubts in the back of your mind. After all, this is a very special occasion; otherwise you wouldn’t be hiring a caterer. You can and should always ask for references, but you can’t be sure that you aren’t just getting friends of the caterer, who are not going to bad-mouth him. So how do you make sure this particular caterer can do the job you want? Ask the caterer to arrange for you to visit another function he is handling so that you can observe firsthand how he and his staff perform. Be sure to dress properly for the occasion, as if you were an invited guest, and don’t overstay your welcome. You can pretty much gauge how well the caterer is doing in a half-hour or so.

2. Take a Seat and Save

Most people are under the impression that buffets are cheaper than sit-down dinners, but that is absolutely not the case. Although some catering companies tell their clients otherwise, the buffet actually requires more food and labour. When you have a sit-down dinner chefs are exacting in their quantities. They say, “Okay, there are six ounces of meat, five ounces of potatoes, and four ounces of peas on each plate.” This helps keep food costs under control. When they put buffets together, they have to plan for guests returning again and again, so they have to make a lot more food. Plus, buffets require constant maintenance-servers have to be there to replenish the food, and keep the area tidy. And you also need people to wait tables to serve drinks and such, which requires hiring nearly double the staff.
The cheapest way to go? Have a sit-down dinner-packaged. Every hotel, club, and catering facility offers packages where you can get a sit-down dinner including everything from your appetizer to your salad to your champagne toast. Of course, they vary in price depending on the items you choose, but it is your best value.

3. Serve Surf and Turf

Even though it may sound more expensive to serve each guest a combination plate, chefs say combo platters can cost up to 40 per cent less than dinners at which guests have a choice of seafood, chicken, or beef. The savings come from the planning that goes along with combination platters-the chef knows exactly how much food to buy. No need to get extras in case guests change their minds on site. So go ahead, serve surf and turf-you’ll save money, but your guests will think you just won the lottery.

4. Order Extra Bartenders

Caterers will tell you that one or two bartenders will be enough to staff your event, but unless you want 200 people standing in line for drinks all night, it won’t be. Most catering companies will assign one bartender to every 75 guests, but event planners in the know say that you should specify in your contract that you want one bartender for every 50 guests during the cocktail hour (when guests will do most of their imbibing), with one bartender for every 75 guests during the dinner hour. It will cost a little extra, but it will prevent your event from looking like a cafeteria line.

6. Buy Booze by the Head

Even if most of your guests are nondrinkers, don’t let the caterer talk you into paying by the drink. The secret about teetotalers is that many actually do imbibe when the liquor is free, and what’s free for them costs you about $7.50 per cocktail. It is almost always cheaper to buy liquor by the head. Caterers may charge you $20 per head for a four-hour event where guests can drink as much as they want. With a per-head liquor contract, there will be no surprises when it comes to paying the bill.

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