How to Cater for a Large Party on a Budget

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When the weather is perfect and you’re in the mood for socializing, nothing is quite like hosting a big get-together in your beautiful outdoor party space with your loved ones. 

It’s a time to relax in the garden, have fun, enjoy good food, and catch up with old friends. But let’s face it: feeding a large group of people can get pretty expensive pretty quickly.

Here’s how you make sure your guests are full and happy without breaking the bank.

Consider Disposables

When catering for a large group of people, consider using disposable platters, plates, cups, glasses, and utensils. By using disposables, you’ll save on the cost of having to hire or buy crockery for a large crowd – and you won’t waste sinks full of water cleaning them up afterward, either. 

To mitigate the environmental impact of using disposable dishes, opt for eco-friendly or compostable options – that way, you can use them to fertilize your garden when the party’s done. 

Plan Your Menu

When catering for a crowd, careful planning is vital. How much you spend on feeding your guests will largely depend on the time of day and the type of meal you are serving. 

Consider hosting your event in the morning or early afternoon – dinners are usually centered on meat and “fancier” fair, but serving breakfast or brunch will require cheaper ingredients. Think French toast served with fresh fruit like berries, banana, and citrus.

If you are set on serving lunch or dinner, decide what protein you’ll serve in the main or entrée before deciding on what sides you’ll serve with it – that way, you can put your money where it counts and make the most of your remaining budget. 

People can be surprisingly bad at portion control – especially when it’s “free food.” Some guests may decide to skip some dishes and take double the allocated amount of others, so you might have to make more food than you need to make sure everybody gets a taste of everything. 

Controlling the portion people receive is a great way to control costs – having portions plated instead of going buffet-style will make sure that there’s enough to go around.

Use Inexpensive Ingredients

Using inexpensive items like grains, legumes, and starches is a great way to feed a crowd on a budget. 

Although food prices vary depending on what area you live in, seasonal meat and produce will usually give you the most bang for your buck. 

Bulk dishes like casseroles, soups, pasta, stews, and burritos can be served as one hearty main dish – accompany them with toppings or inexpensive sides (think potatoes, beans, rice, and salads) so that your guests can customize to their heart’s content. 

Out of everything on your menu, the meat will cost the most. If you really want to slash the cost of catering, consider going completely vegetarian. Not only are vegetarian meals great for “family-style” dishes, but you won’t have to worry about catering separately for your vegetarian friends.

If you really want to serve meat, try cheaper cuts. Cheaper cuts do tend to take longer to cook, though, but you can prepare them ahead of time.

It’s also a good idea to buy your ingredients in bulk. When you’re shopping, keep a calculator on you so you can easily compare costs. 

Try Potluck

Allocate some sides to your guests – this way, your guests will each bring a dish along and you’ll only have to worry about drinks, dessert, and the main course. You could also host a bring-your-own-meat BBQ or, if money is really tight, you can pick a theme and host a potluck

Asking each of your friends to bring a dish will spread the costs of the party out and give you some financial relief – just be sure to coordinate with everyone and keep them in the loop about dietary restrictions.

Wrapping Up

Feeding a large number of guests doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. Choose cheaper ingredients like legumes, potatoes, rice, noodles, and use seasonal produce and meat to keep costs low. 

Ditch buffet-style and control your guest’s portions so that nobody eats what they don’t need, use meat sparingly in your dishes, or opt to go fully vegetarian to slash the price even more.

Overall, the best advice for keeping your budget intact when catering for a large party is to cook one big main dish and serve it “family style” – after all, hearty meals are designed to be shared among friends and family!


Alechia Reese is a strategic brand architect and PR strategist for 360 Gateway Brand Management, founder of the award-winning nonprofit organization The Girl Rethought Project, creator of The Women Leaders Project and a certified public speaker. You can stay connected on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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