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December 23, 2022 | catering, milestone events, wedding, showers, budget

Budget-Friendly Catering Ideas for Events

"Do not save what is left after spending but spend what is left after saving"
Warren Buffet

It's no secret that we are living through exciting and challenging times! The prices of staples have risen across the board and food is no exception. Challenging times drive innovation. They spur us to pivot and to create new solutions. We asked Caroline's Fine Food owner and CEO, Caroline Arend, for advice on how to keep catering costs down without compromising quality. We'd like to share her clear and practical approach to successfully entertaining on a modest budget. She gave us some great creative tips and menu items she regularly offers her her budget-savvy clients:


There are several broad factors which will determine the overall cost of your event:

  1. Where do you plan to hold your event?
  2. What style of service would you like? (full, buffet, delivery, pick-up)
  3. How many guests are you inviting?
  4. What time of day are you scheduling your event?
  5. What type of menu would you like to serve?
  6. What will your non-food costs be? (lights, rentals, drinks, music, flowers, etc)

Location, Location, Location

Are you planning to rent a venue for your catered event? One of the best ways to slash costs is to entertain at home, at the office, in a private green space or at the beautiful home of a generous friend or relative! Did you know that according to Weddingwire, the average couple spends between $3,000 and $11,000 on their wedding venue? Holding your event (wedding or not!) in more familiar surroundings need not be stressful. You are already saving yourself a considerable sum which you can use to create the occasion you envision.

At Your Service

Caroline stresses that one of the key determinants of pricing is the type of service you choose. The most expensive will always be a full service, seated event where individual plates are served to guests. Other options to consider ranked in descending order of cost are:

  • Buffet-style: guests served by staff
  • Delivery & setup
  • Delivery
  • Pick-up (hot)
  • Pick-up (cold)

It's a good idea to explore the price range of these options with your caterer so that you can appreciate the differences and choose the one that suits you best. Caroline also suggests passed apps without a buffet. Better still, you might consider stationary apps as a less expensive possibility. You can also design a hybrid menu where you provide some of the food yourself and order budget-friendly options from your caterer.

VIP's Only

Another way to stay within your budget is to carefully vet your guest list. Micro-weddings and other "downsized" events are trending right now and we believe this trend is here to stay. People are reimagining what a wedding, shower or celebration of life "looks" like. People seem less concerned with traditional must-haves and must-dos and more concerned with creating meaningful, personalized, smaller get-togethers.

Perfect Timing

This is sort of a sneaky one but you can greatly reduce your menu cost by holding your office party, shower, etc. in the mid-afternoon. The time of day will determine whether your guests will expect a full meal. Serving apps or desserts instead of a full menu is an excellent way to make the most of your budget!

Dollar for Dollar: Delicious

Whether you order them from a caterer or create them yourself, the cheapest dishes will be based on pasta, rice and/or vegetables. If this sounds uninspired, don't lose heart! It all depends on your presentation and imagination! Instead of offering individual servings of protein for each guest, you can save money by incorporating your meat or fish into a rice or pasta base with interesting taste profiles and a visually pleasing presentation. Think exotic spices. Think yummy sauces. Consider international foods. Think out of the box! One of the easiest, least expensive and most enjoyable ways to entertain is to offer a "fix-it-yourself bar". For example, some of Caroline's most popular bars are: Larb (Southeast Asian), Fiesta Taco, Moo Shu (Chinese), Platinum Mezze (vegetarian), Tacos Two Ways, Traditional Sliders, Traditional Tacos, Upscale Sliders, Vegetarian Tacos. She also does Mac & Cheese, loaded baked potatoes, pasta and exotic salad, dessert and pot pie bars!

As you can see, the sky's the limit when it comes to creative combinations. Whether you do it yourself or choose to have your bar catered, you have the option to combine elements. For example: a half salad and half slider bar. If you don't see the bar you have in mind on our website, just ask!

Best Tips: Non-Food Expenses

  • If you're serving alcohol, consider sangria and creative punches instead of a fully stocked open bar. Look for deals from local outlets, breweries and vineyards on wine and beer.
  • Go non-alcoholic with an exotic and colorful lemonade bar and freshly brewed iced teas.
  • Dress up your event with inexpensive tiki torches, fairy lights and candles instead of rented lights.
  • Instead of a band or professional DJ, create your own playlists tailored to your event. (You could also tap that music-savvy relative, friend or coworker to do the honors. They've been waiting in the wings for just such an opportunity!)
  • Do your own flowers. Focus on smaller, visually arresting arrangements as accents to your larger theme. Explore inexpensive options like succulents and Eucalyptus!
  • Dress up your buffet or table with attractive, inexpensive runners, charges, napkin rings and candles, Dollar and home good-type stores are great resources.
  • Display an heirloom vase, serving vessel or utensils for a personal touch and visual interest.

We hope that some of these suggestions have inspired your imagination. If you'd like more personalized tips on crafting an event experience that suits your budget (and your taste buds), we'd love to help. Contact our catering team here at Caroline's Fine Food!