Amateur Catering On a Dime

This week I was given the opportunity to cater an event. My client was very easy to please, so I knew that creating a menu would not be the challenge. (Did I mention that the “client” was the Coach, and I was doing this for free?) My real challenge was working on a shoe string budget of $300, and I am proud to say that I came in under budget by $50!

Here is what I learned from my amateur catering experience.

Plan for the maximum number of people. The event only had 15 RSVPs, but hundreds of people were invited. We settled on planning for 80 people to attend. For a thirty minute reception at 5:00 p.m., we assumed 8 pieces of food per person (around 800 pieces of food total). It turned out there were actually only 20 people in attendance, but half of our food was eaten. We donated the remainder of the food to a very appreciative police precinct.

Know where to shop (and what to shop for). Serving trays and utensils are great finds at Dollar Tree. They have a variety of clear plastic that looks elegant and we were able to get everything we needed for less than $10. Warehouse stores are great for anything that needs to be purchased in bulk. We purchased almost all of our food from Sam’s Club.

Shop prepared. Bring a calculator and a pad of paper. While I did not know my menu in advance of shopping, I went in knowing that I wanted three desserts, two savory foods, and two salty snacks. I wrote down the price and quantity of each item as I added it to my cart. Towards the end, I used my calculator to ensure I was well within my budget.

Know your facility’s policies. The facility that our event was hosted in does not allow water bottles to be served. This came as a shock to me. My original plan was to buy six cases of water. Instead, I had to plan on cups, ice, and gallons of tea and water. This increased my cost and took up more room in my refrigerator.

Remember your wallet. Maybe this tip is only specific to me and my “mommy brain.” When I walked up to the checkout line, I realized that I had left my debit card at home in my diaper bag. I had to call the Coach to come bail me out.

Clean out your freezer. All of our food had to be stored somewhere. The night before I went to buy all of the food, I cleaned out our deep freezer and refrigerator. Good thing, too! The food fit perfectly in the space I cleared out.

Keep everything away from the kids! This one is pretty self-explanatory. Somehow your toddler will just know that there are tons of desserts and snacks nearby. Make sure everything is kept well out of reach, or you may spend part of your budget replacing food that was “accidentally” knocked over.

Give yourself plenty of set-up time! We live in a city that has some heavy traffic around the time I needed to set-up. In order to have an hour to set up, I planned to leave thirty minutes earlier than I normally would have. I did not have any problems with traffic, but it turned out that I needed the extra time for set-up.

I hope these tips help you the next time you are planning a party or an event.

Download my Menu Plan. There are blank copies for you to use for your event, as well as sample filled out pages from mine.

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