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5 Ways to Keep Catering Costs Down at Your Next Event

For a full-service dining experience, it’s estimated that catering costs per person range anywhere from $24 per plate all the way up to $135. With such a big cost difference and the success of your event at stake, you need to find that sweet spot where you’re keeping costs down and still giving guests a quality dining experience. We’ll show you how below.

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1. Shop around.

You might have been using the same caterer for quite a while now, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the best or cheapest choice. Do a little research to see who else is out there, what their catering options and costs are, and even get referrals. If you know someone who knows catering, ask them who is a good choice in the area.

Does your corporate event have a theme theme that requires a certain type of food (ex: barbecue)? Ask local restaurants if they offer a promo rate for large parties. You’ll get a discount and they’ll jump on the opportunity to showcase their food. And when it comes down to it, don’t forget that we live in the age of online reviews.

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2. Negotiate catering costs.

Much like hotels, prices change in catering. You might even see costs rise during the busy season: holidays, wedding season, etc. But you may have a lot more room to negotiate during the off-seasons. When you’re negotiating, the more you know about your event, the better position you’ll be in.

Remember: While your caterer might have a suggested menu, you’re not stuck with those items. Make sure you ask to see what else they can make happen, or what options they can sub in that might drive the cost down. And if you’re planning for an annual event, see if you can get a discount by committing to a multi-year contract.


Many catering services offer to bring the wine, beer, and spirits — which is great for them. It’s a well-known industry secret that liquor has the highest markup. Avoid paying those huge markups by buying your own. Many liquor stores even give you a discount if you buy a large amount.

Another way you can keep catering costs down is by using your own bartending staff. Especially if you’re just serving wine or beer, you don’t need professional cocktail makers — just someone with a steady hand who can pour.

Catering isn’t the only piece of your event where you can cut costs. Check out these 15 ideas that can help you plan amazing events on a tight budget.

4. Time it right.

Not every event has to be a full-fledged dining event — people love hors d’oeuvres too! Plus, controlling and limiting the duration of your event can reduce your costs significantly. So make your event a three-hour happy hour instead of a five-hour dinner event and save yourself the meal tab. Chances are people will fill themselves up on those appetizers anyway — and let’s face it: finger foods are fun. Guests are just as likely to feel wined and dined at the shorter events and they don’t want to spend five hours there either.

5. A buffet is best.

Caterers often give better prices to those who request a buffet than those who ask for a seated meal. The charge per person can be much lower without sacrificing food quality. Since many guests have different appetites and dietary restrictions, a buffet allows everyone to tend to their own needs. It also gives everyone a chance to get up and mingle. After all, nothing builds camaraderie like food.

Your best bet is to choose an inexpensive menu where guests can have fun making their own concoctions and chatting it up. So spring for the salad bar or serve up the fixings for tacos — your guests won’t mind fixing their own food, they’ll actually enjoy it.

With your catering costs down, you’ll be able to take that money and plug it back into other parts of your event to make it truly great.

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Want more great catering advice? Check out our free eBook! It’s chock-full of tips and trends laid out by some of the catering world’s top pros. (Don’t forget to let us know what you think on Facebook, and check out our Event Catering Software!)

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