As a wedding and event planner, one of the biggest discussions with our clients is their spending plan (budget). And since the majority of any event’s budget is dedicated to food and beverage, the menu one chooses can either keep one within their spending plan or blow it out of the water. There are many assumptions that certain meal style services cost more or less (our personal favorite is the myth that Family Style must be less expensive automatically- see why it’s often the most expensive choice and why below). Professional Chef Rachel Main (formerly of Main Course Catering and private chef to celebrity clientele) recently addressed the top assumptions about meal style and price and we are delighted to feature her as an Expert in the Field Guest Blogger today on Santa Barbara Wine Country Weddings & Events.
MYTHS AND REALITIES OF SAVING MONEY ON YOUR SPECIAL EVENT MENU
Debunking Popular Assumptions
By Rachel Main (Holst)
There are many articles out there on saving money for your event. While we agree that often, the largest portion of spending for a special event is
the overall catering budget, we are here to debunk some misperceptions we keep hearing and repeatedly reading on nationally-recognized event and wedding websites. We feel that these articles can be really confusing for someone planning their event and trying to determine an event budget. We’re here to help! Below we will debunk the top 3 catering budget myths that continually need correcting:
Myth: Dinner Events are More Expensive than a Lunch, Brunch, Breakfast or “Just Appetizers”
Reality: It is not necessarily the meal type that affects your catering price. There are a few major factors that affect an event’s catering budget, regardless of the time of day.
It is often a combination of service staff needed, necessary equipment needed, your beverage choices (full bar or just beer & wine…or no alcohol at all), and then finally your food choices that affect your budget.
The three major factors are:
- service staff
- rental/equipment needed to make your event a success
- What food you are serving.
Let’s put this into practice:
For example, a plated breakfast in which you offer Eggs Benedict, A Selection of Fresh Baked Pastries, Fresh Seasonal Fruit and Coffee & Juice Served Table Side may very well be more expensive than a buffet dinner with Roasted Chicken, Grilled Tri Tip, Fresh Baked Rolls, Seasonal Salad, Roasted Local Vegetables, and Garlic Whipped Potatoes.
So in some cases, a dinner could be far less expensive than an elaborate breakfast or lunch.
Tip: Talk with your caterer and event planner about your budget. They are the experts on how to use your budget wisely in all aspects of your event. We always feel it is best to plan your event timing not around your budget but around the kind of party you want to have. We can create elaborate and modest events any time of day and for any meal.
Myth: Family Style Service saves money compared to having a Buffet with a lot of food or a Plated meal with a lot of servers
Reality: Family Style is a lovely and intimate way to share a meal experience. It is also one of the most popular styles of service at Main Course. That said, Family Style is almost always the most expensive style of serving a full meal when compared to having a Buffet or a Plated meal, and yes, you will have a lot of servers for a family-style meal…we have to bring out all of those platters of food! Funny, huh, because it feels so casual and fun….let’s discover why it costs more:
- A Buffet Meal has a higher food cost because we want to make sure everyone has a choice from the full menu – even the last guests feel like they aren’t taking the last of the short ribs and quinoa. However, where Buffets splurge on the Food Cost, they make up for it in rentals – you only need 1 plate for dinner, and you need a far smaller catering kitchen – and they save big time on Chef Labor and Wait Staff. This is almost always your least expensive option.
- Plated Meals are also very popular at Main Course. We love Plated menus, as the food really shines! A Plated Meal has a lower food cost because our chefs can portion each food item. That’s great, but you’re going to spend all that saved money, and then some, on the trained, professional service staff required to present a beautifully plated meal at the proper temperature within a reasonable time – lots of chefs in the kitchen, and lots of servers on the dining room floor. What’s more – you will need a full event kitchen with ovens, stoves, lots of linear feet to plate up salads and desserts while the entrée line is going. You will need lighting, scullery, and at least three plates per person for the meal.
- A Family Style Meal has the same food cost as a buffet, because you are creating a mini buffet at each table, and we want everyone to feel like they got a hearty meal. Keep in mind that guests often serve themselves more food when a dinner is served family style, as the whole feel of the dinner is about “abundance.” Know what else is in abundance? Platters and Serving Pieces! Each menu item on each table needs a serving vessel and utensil. You will also need several chefs in the kitchen plating up each dish, and it takes several servers to ensure that each table is served the complete meal at once. You will also need considerable kitchen and scullery space. So, this is why Family Style Service is often the most expensive option.
Tip: Let your caterer guide you based on your event vision and unique spending plan. If your budget is modest, let your caterer help you create a hearty, delicious meal served in a more economical way, such as buffet style. If your heart is set on family style, your caterer can show you menu items that work well together to limit the number of serving platters.
Myth: Skip the meal altogether and just go for an all appetizer/cocktail reception only
Reality: This is a great idea if your goal is to have a fun party with a lot of food variety – lots of tasty bites of food for everyone to try. It can also work if you want to have people over for a short period of time and just want to offer a couple of light bites to pair with a nice glass of wine. We throw many light and heavy hors d’ oeuvre events each year. Both can be successful parties. The trick is to know exactly what you are planning and to share this information with your guests ahead of time so that they are prepared.
An appetizer-only reception can save some money if held during off-peak meal times, when appetizers can be exceptionally light in quantity, because guests are not expecting a meal.
This generally is done with proper wording on an invitation that indicates very clearly that you are hosting an appetizer reception; it is important to list the event start and end time so that you are clear that you are not offering a whole meal. Suggested time windows for (light) appetizer only receptions include 2-4pm or an all-dessert, after-dinner reception from 8-10pm. No matter what time you choose, your wording on the invitations is paramount to let guests know what to expect.
If, however, you host an all-appetizer reception during prime meal time (lunch -11am-2pm or dinner 5-7pm), people will expect you to provide enough of those delicious little hors d’ oeuvres to create a full meal – that’s usually a minimum of 10-14 bites of food per person! The food and labor cost in producing perfectly curated hors d’ oeuvres is considerably higher than the food and labor costs associated with a typical dinner or lunch meal. So, if you hold a “heavy hors d’ oeuvres” party, chances are that you will be spending more on your event than if you offered a more traditional meal.
Tip: Work with your caterer on your preferred time of day for your event (which may revolve around your spending plan, so make sure you have a general idea of your budget up front, if you can). When choosing menu items for a heavy hors d’ oeuvre party, be sure to include the same ingredients and fun textures you would want to offer at dinner – something meaty, something featuring veggies, something vibrant, something comforting…remember, the food at an hors d’ oeuvre party is the star of the show!