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Monday Motivation: 40 Budget-Smart Event Catering Ideas for Every Season

Interested in maximizing your client or company catering budget at your next corporate or social event? These smart strategies have you covered. Explore how to stretch your dollar any time of year and the latest seasonal food and beverage trends that won’t break the bank. 

  1. Catering Ideas for Anytime
  2. Catering Ideas for Fall
  3. Catering Ideas for Winter
  4. Catering Ideas for Spring
  5. Catering Ideas for Summer

6 Tips for Budget-Friendly Food & Beverage Options for Events All Year Round

No matter when you plan your next event, make sure you take advantage of these creative ideas. 

1. The cheapest food to cater is any rice or noodle-based cultural cuisine.

Mexican, Indian, and Thai dishes are delicious and affordable. Or, if you’re hosting an event during the day, serve brunch and breakfast items. Those meals typically aren’t meat heavy (which are usually the priciest items) and can include delicious produce like fresh berries, grapefruits, and bananas. 

2. When searching for catering menu ideas for large groups, make sure you take the time of day into account.

This handy chart by Fun Cheap or Free proves that not every event requires a meal. In fact, there are just as many blocks where it’s appropriate to serve lighter fares as there are full on meal times in a day, which might play a role in what time you choose to start your event. 

3. Go vegetarian.

Everyone knows meat is expensive. The good news is there are plenty of ways to create a classy and enjoyable menu based on vegetables, regardless of the event type. For example, these vegetarian wedding menu ideas look absolutely stunning. 

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4. Opt for a longer tray pass service instead of sit down meals.

You might find that the best service style for your next event is actually butlered hors d’ oeuvres. It’s a flexible choice that leaves a lot of wiggle room to give your attendees what they need. 

Want to make it fancier? Add some lobster tacos or steak tartare bites – since you’re buying smaller quantities of these items it will be far less expensive than if you were to make it into a full meal for everyone. 

Want to ensure guests don’t go hungry? Include a larger quantity of affordable, heavier snacks like mini grilled cheese sandwiches, tortellini and sauce cups, or even items like spinach puffs. 

5. Consider having a self-serve buffet for main dishes, desserts, and/or coffees.

Even if you’ve never done it before, this great guide to setting up a buffet table will walk you through the process. This tip is also great for if you have a lot of children (or grown up picky eaters) or want to save on wait staff expenses. 

6. Rent plates in smaller sizes.

Common sense tells us that, when left to their own devices, guests will often maximize plate space no matter what size they’re given. Which means that a slightly smaller plate might subconsciously discourage them from wasting food or taking too much of your carefully alloted dishes. 

Finally, here are other ways to keep event catering costs down.

Now that you’ve got those tactics in your arsenal it’s time to explore the best catering ideas for every season and how you can fit them into virtually any event budget. 

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10 Top Fall Catering Trends & Menu Ideas for Events on a Budget

We’re still not over pumpkin spice and you shouldn’t be either.

  1. Serve whole food power bowls. These can by DIY or served in small bowls. Use affordable ingredients like sweet potatoes and whole grains for the base. 
  2. Create a caramel apple bar. Sliced or whole, farm fresh apples combined with warm, ooey gooey caramel is always going to be a hit. Add some sprinkles, mini chocolate chips, crushed nuts, mini marshmallows, and Nutella for dipping. 
  3. Pass 3 bean chili shooters. It’ll be cheaper than meat-based chili but it’s still tasty and filling at the same time. This is also a great way to serve samples at a chili cook-off
  4. Prioritize football snacks. Chips, dips, and finger foods are the highlight of any Super Bowl party so they’ll definitely win over your event attendees. If you want to keep it classy, check out these great rules for serving Super Bowl food
  5. Have mini pumpkin spice cinnamon rolls. Really any baked good combined with pumpkin and spices will be affordable and delicious but if you need inspiration try any of these 75 cheap pumpkin recipes
  6. Opt for pulled chicken over pork. It’s easy to prepare, tastes great in sandwiches, and often works well in buffet style settings. Serve with potato salad, corn on the cob, or one of these other mouth-watering BBQ side dishes
  7. Indulge in the more affordable Thanksgiving fare. Green bean casseroles, sweet potato sundaes, and apple pies give your event some holiday flavor on an everyday budget.  
  8. Make simple fruit tarts. They’re visually stunning and can easily be cut into many small pieces for large crowds. Check out these beautiful recipes
  9. Mix sweet flavors with savory ones. There’s a reason why we love things like candied bacon or tomato soup and grilled cheese. Here are some apple-based combinations that won’t break the bank. 
  10. Use creamy sauces to make dishes heartier. Pastas, mushrooms, and potatoes all get a little extra oomph when you include cream (or even cheese) based sauces. Get some Fall themed bonus points with this pumpkin sage cream sauce recipe

10 Best Budget-Wise Winter Catering Trends & Menu Ideas for Events

Soups, spruced up canned goods, and all manner of delectable roasted creations combat common colds and ward off overspending on event food. 

  1. Lean into nostalgia. The holidays bring up a lot of childhood memories this time of year, so be sure to serve nostalgic beverages like kids cereal themed cocktails or boozy hot chocolates
  2. Make paninis your pal. Sandwiches are great for day time events but as the weather starts to cool you can transform these simple meals into a winter friendly event treat. Here are some great panini ideas you can serve cut up as appetizers or whole for individuals. 
  3. Serve soups in mini mugs with fresh herbs on top. Adorable, tasty, and social media worthy. Here are some suggested sandwich pairings to go along with it. 
  4. Put your own creative spin on traditional mulled ciders and wines. Or try any one of these other warm and cozy drinks for colder weather. 
  5. Tray pass some bite-size chicken pot pies. Warm, filling appetizers are critical to winter catering success. 
  6. Sprinkle in some sugared cranberries. Put them on brie topped crostinis or around some dessert puddings for a little extra holiday touch. 
  7. Make a warm root vegetable salad your main dish. Hearty salads are a great option for budget-friendly winter menus. Sweet potatoes, parsnips, and beets are heavily featured in this recipe
  8. Deck out your charcuterie with jams, honeys, and other well preserved treats. They add a touch of decadence to cheese boards without breaking the bank. 
  9. Freshen up dinner with savory mint dishes. They’re unexpected but still appropriate for this time of year. 
  10. Serve spaghetti and meatball twirled appetizers. Filling, fun, and easy to eat (when you serve them on forks that is). You can also apply this display strategy to any other combination of dinner foods you’d like to make bite size. 
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10 Best Spring Event Catering Trends & Menu Ideas on a Budget

Check out these light, refreshing, and floral ideas for some spring event food and beverage inspiration. 

  1. Add mint and lavender to standard beverages. They can make any tea, Limoncello, or sparkling water that much more refreshing. 
  2. Plan a creative salad for your main course. Try any one of these fresh ideas
  3. Focus on herb centric dishes. You can even serve herb focused cocktails
  4. Have a white chocolate or lemon cream fountain. The dipping options are nearly endless. 
  5. Host a garden tea party. Finger foods and high quality teas are affordable and super classy. Here are some tips you might want to keep in mind. 
  6. Serve delicious cold soups in individual cups with crusty bread. Use shot glasses, mini cups with spoons, or even test tubes. 
  7. Include eggs in your appetizers. Thanks to Easter, you have permission to serve things like egg filled tacos, egg salads, and custom-made omelete stations. 
  8. Focus on meditteranean flavors. Fresh and simple is the name of the game here. 
  9. Serve pastel desserts. Cotton candy, muted candies, and marshmallow bars covered in sprinkles are fun additions to any springtime menu. 
  10. Do a lemonade or mimosa bar. Add bowls of pineapples, kiwis, berries and other fresh options to make things interesting. You can even mix it up by serving a variety of juices for the mimosas. Here are some display ideas to inspire you. 

10 Summer Catering Trends & Creative Menu Ideas to Stay Below Budget

Farmer’s market produce is your new best friend now. 

  • Choose fresh over fried. Fair-inspired foods are really fun but in 2019, guests are favoring clean and simple appetizers. 
  • Add quirky vegetables to catering staples. Yes you can always use cauliflower rice, but how about some asparagus in your tacos or squash in the mac and cheese bites? 
  • Try the latest health craze. Whether they’re trying to get a bikini bod or just working on taking better care of themselves, most people use summertime as an opportunity to improve their dietary habits. Capitalize on trends they’ll be psyched to see on the menu. A good example is food-grade bamboo charcoal. A lot of health gurus as talking about it, it’s relatively easy to work with, and it elevates any dish it’s added to. 
  • Embrace minimalism. Uncluttered serving plates means less money you have to spend on decorative items. 
  • Trade red meat for beans. Or really any other source of plant-based protein will do. You can even replace the fish in sushi with pickled beets and squashes. 
  • Choose local wines and beers over brand names. Millennials are especially into locally sourced items so if your guest list is full of them opt for this more affordable beverage option. 
  • Have a donut tower.  Okay, yes, we just said people are trying to eat healthier this time of year. But if you’re going to include a dessert on your event menu, make sure it’s of these uber colorful treats in an Instagram worthy donut wall
  • Serve watermelon chunks and whole strawberries in your lemonade. And don’t forget the colorful paper straws!  
  • Throw some veggie skewers on the BBQ. Onions, squash, and peppers are a classic combo but you can also try one of these beautiful and creative vegetarian skewers
  • Set up some small, round grazing tables outdoors. Pile on a variety of items – as long as you display them well no one will notice there’s less actual food than if they were placed on a long rectangular tables! They’ll also add a picnic vibe to the event.

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Now you can serve delicious food at any event no matter what!

Next, be sure to brush up on your catering preparation plan. Then, get unique budget-friendly centerpiece ideas or summer event decor ideas.

Looking for more budget friendly catering tips?

What is the cheapest food to cater?

The cheapest food to cater is any rice or noodle-based cultural cuisine. Pizza is also a reliably cheap option.

What is the average cost per person for catering?

Catering costs can vary widely depending on cuisine, location, and level of service. For a catering setup with stations for self service, and a variety of different food options, one can expect to pay between $25-50 per person.