Parties on the cheap

Keeping costs down while entertaining at home with chefs – from the chef’s point of view.

There are several ways to keep costs down and control how much you spend on a catered party. Our goal is to work with you throughout the entire process to keep the bottom line… well… in line.

We have absolutely no problem helping you work within the party budget and are more than happy to have it be as cost effective as it can be. To make it expressly clear – we have zero interest in making your party any more expensive than necessary and will never intentionally do anything to “pad the price” or add additional cost to any event. All of our charges are completely out in the open and we pride ourselves on complete transparency where it concerns the food, the service and the ultimate cost of having a catered meal in your home.

The main factors effecting the cost for any catered party are:

  • Labor  – how many chefs or service personnel and for how long.
  • The quantity of dishes prepared and the type of food you request.
  • Rentals and material expenses.

It should come as no surprise that seafood will drive food costs up in a hurry, but item count along with food type both determine the quantity of time and labor, which are the greatest factors in the overall cost.

When it comes to ordering food for a catered event you have to consider how people normally eat when they go out. A typical entree in a restaurant is roughly 14 to 16 ounces. Half of that is usually the protein and the other half is split between the starch and vegetable. Only three items. If you ordered an appetizer and a salad before that entree, you’d be getting close to 2lbs of food by the time the meal was over. If you filled up with bread, chances are you’d be taking home a doggie bag and go home stuffed, tired and ready for bed. Think of how many times it happens… six items or 2 pounds, whichever comes first. Then add a few drinks and most people are ready to go night-night. We usually don’t want that happening to our party guests.

When it comes to in-home dining or a catered cocktail party, you have to think of the dishes you plan to order in terms of ounces and tailor your quantities with that in mind. Three main dishes @ 4 ounces per piece leaves you at 12 ounces per person. Add two side dishes @ 4 ounces per person and you have 20 ounces, or 1 and a quarter pounds of food per quest. Canapes, a cheese tray, vegetable tray and fruit tray, crackers, chips, dips and nuts, pretzels, brownies and cookies – and you are well into a wide variety of food and certainly over the two pounds per person mark. That’s where we come in to help you order correctly. We work personally with every guest to create custom, well balanced menus.  If there are going to be leftovers – we want to make sure you know they are coming, under control and intentional.

Where most people, chefs included, stumble into over-ordering food is when it concerns variety. People want to put out a nice spread and they don’t want any of the items to run out too soon so they tend to overdo it on the portions. We completely understand. We’ve been guilty of it too. The best approach is to sit down and hammer through the details in order to find the right balance. Of course, for sit down dinners things can be very tightly controlled per portion and extras are usually not a problem. Concerns about overages are usually reserved for standing-room gatherings and buffets.

We’ve had events where the item count reached 25 to 30 individual plated items served as Hors d’oeuvres and in buffet style presentations, which is an astonishing amount of food and preparation, even if we limited each item to 1 ounce per person. These parties are very detail oriented and take an incredible amount of time and preparation to pull off. Hence – they are some of the most expensive parties we’ve ever had.

Just last week we had a party for 4 people which consisted of 14 individual dishes, all freshly prepared on location, all served in various courses and it took 2 people a full day of preparation, cooking and cleaning as well as all of the prior planning to pull the party off without a hitch. This party exceeded a thousand dollars including the cost of food. For most people the two extreme examples above are a bit much to swallow and we understand that. 

First thing to remember – a menu doesn’t have to be big to be good.  Having a chef come to your home and fix a big family style pasta dinner with bread and a Caesar salad for you and your guests can be a wonderful experience. At last check, a dinner like this for 6 to 8 people can be had for $90 plus the cost of food. If the cost was $150 in total you could feed 8 people for less than $20 a plate. A pretty good deal considering it happened in the comfort and privacy of your home. Simply put, the fewer items you select for your meal and the shorter the cook times associated with them – the less the party will cost all around.

What if we wanted to add soup and an appetizer to the menu? Then we start to add time for cooking and preparation, which will bump the labor cost by an hour at least. Once we begin adding additional courses, soups, salads, appetizers or slow roasted and braised meats, things can add up very quickly in ways you might not have thought of when you were initially planning the event. We’re here to help guide you from the beginning and keep you out of trouble when it comes to planning quantities and prep times and explain to you fully, the ways things can add up. Together we can keep things from getting out of hand and assist you in creating an event that fits your budget and planning in every way. We do this at no additional charge to you. It’s all part of the service.

One way that many of our guests economize their parties on a regular basis is by doing some of the heavy lifting themselves and using us as a supplemental addition to their event.  They’ll provide and set up all of the side items, snacks and drinks. They’ll set up the tables, chairs and provide the chaffing dishes, Sterno and steam table accessories. They’ll assemble the dishes and serving utensils. They’ll do the grocery shopping with an ingredient list we help them plan and design. Many of our guests have gone to great lengths to contribute to their events and save on the bottom line. We couldn’t be happier about it when they do.

In the end, we arrive and prepare the main dishes for the evening, serve them and clean up after ourselves, make sure our guests are all set and then we leave them to have a great time. Of course we can and will do all of these things. It is called “catering” after all. But we have no problem with showing up to prepare the feature food items of the event and then quietly slip away once everyone is fed and the kitchen is clean. Every element, down to the time we spend on site can be controlled and we’ll be there to provide whatever level of service you require.

A big party or salad and an entree – we see them the same way and will treat your event just as we would any other, no matter the size.

Any questions? Just ask.

– The Chef




2 responses to “Parties on the cheap”

  1. Sis Avatar

    You are so frickin’ talented and an amazing writer. This was a great post.

  2. The Chef Avatar

    Thanks for the kind words!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *