I’m in the middle of planning several events and I feel like I am up to my eyeballs in catering menus and BEOs (banquet event orders). Luckily menu selection is one of my favorite parts of event planning (second to site selection, of course!). However, it’s one of the fastest ways to add to a bottom line – and people are often confused as to why food and beverage ends up being so expensive. I won’t go into why it’s so expensive (that’s for another blog post), but here are some quick ways to save money without compromising quality.
Be flexible with your date and time
Have you ever gone to a restaurant at lunch and noticed that the prices are noticeably different (cheaper!) than at dinner time? The same goes for catering. Lunch is usually cheaper than dinner. But if moving the time of your meal isn’t an option, maybe you have flexibility with the day. Many venues and caterers charge a premium for the most popular event days – namely Friday and Saturday (and depending where you live, maybe Thursday) – but will charge less or offer a discount in order to fill up the less busy days. On the wedding side – a Saturday evening wedding is almost always more expensive than Friday or Sunday.
Instead of asking for a discount, ask what you can get for your budget
You might think that you’re getting a good deal if you negotiated for a 20% discount off of the catering menu, but what often happens is you get a 20% smaller meal. Or a 20% less valuable meal. So you’re not getting a $100 plated dinner for $80; you’re getting an $80 plated dinner for $80. Instead of asking for an across the board discount, ask what the chef can do to get you in the right budget. If you see a $100 plated dinner but can only afford to pay $80, ask the chef what he can offer for $80. Perhaps he can swap out the cut of meat, or offer a smaller portion, or sub out the specialty cake for chef’s choice pastries.
Ask for items to be charged on consumption wherever possible
If you are charged on consumption, you only pay for what is consumed. This works particularly well for breaks with things like individually wrapped granola bars or whole fruit. If your group doesn’t eat it all, it can be set out for another group.
Ask for chef’s choice items
The ‘chef’s choice’ option is almost always cheaper. This means that you might not know exactly which fish will be served until the day before, but it will be cheaper because the chef can look at market prices (and see what else is being served) and make a call, rather than committing to a specific type of item.
Remove an item from the buffet
A quick way to shave a few dollars off of a buffet is to remove something that probably wouldn’t be missed anyway. I like to remove soup. Soup is great, don’t get me wrong, but do you really want to be balancing a bowl of soup with your loaded up lunch buffet on your way back to your seat? A lot of people skip it (in favor of dessert, obviously), so it’s often not missed. It might only save you $2 or $3 per person, but multiply that by your guest count, plus tax and gratuity, and it might be worth it.
Don’t pay for bottled water at conferences
Many hotels and caterers charge $3-$5 for a bottle of water. Bottles of water at conferences are like gold – people hoard them. I personally think it’s because no one wants to buy their own bottles while they’re on a trip, so they just hoard them from the beverage breaks. I may think this because I may have done this myself. Instead of bottled water, offer water stations in the room and ask that they are consistently refreshed. Water is water and most of the time it tastes fine. And most of the time the hotel won’t charge you for the water station.
There are just a few quick tips on saving money on catering. I promise to share more in a future post, including how different kinds of vendors (such as hotels versus caterers) charge differently for food and beverage.
Share your favorite suggestions in the comments!
More money saving tips:
Top photo via Martha Stewart Weddings