Are you interested in hosting a party while keeping catering costs low? Opting for a buffet-style meal is like a popular choice, but it requires thorough planning. From food variety to dietary restrictions, there are many important choices at play in events of all sizes. Below, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to planning the perfect buffet meal while keeping prices well within budget. Why Planning is Important Just like with most things, planning a large event often gets put off until the last minute. If you are looking to keep your costs low, however, there are many things you should be taking into account. First of all, we suggest that you contact a catering service to arrange your buffet dishes at least several weeks before any event. This is especially important when hosting an important event with many guests, e.g. weddings or birthday parties, as your catering company will likely need time when buying and transporting food in bulk. Ask your guests for RSVPs long before the event. This will provide an idea of how many guests will come and whether they’ll have plus ones. This is also an attentive, tactful strategy for familiarizing yourself with people’s allergies, restrictions or preferences long before you start planning an event. Knowing these in advance will help you avoid food waste. In most cases, catering for a buffet involves setting up stations as much as it involves preparing food. All pertinent details, from arranging staff to decorating the venue, are best discussed in advance. Buffet Food Options As far as the average cost of buffet catering goes, prices typically vary depending on group sizes and dish numbers. If you are hosting a buffet for a smaller group of people in the afternoon, choosing cold dish platters over other options can help keep average prices lower. This is because cold buffet items are usually lower maintenance and don’t require serving or cutting, unlike most hot dishes. If you are hosting an evening party where a buffet doubles as a main meal, incorporate cold cuts as well as cold meals like salads and dips together with your hot dishes, such as pork chops or salmon. These will help guests fill themselves with nutritious food. Generally speaking, catering services with experience in buffet dinners will be happy letting you compile several menu options that includes various types of dishes. This will give your guests a wide variety and make sure they leave fully satisfied. Budgeting Buffets The good news is - you are already keeping your average cost low by choosing a buffet over, say, sit-down meals. Why? Because most buffets, especially if planned right, don’t require serving, which can amount to tremendous savings on waitstaff alone. So, how else can you save yourself some money on hosting a party like this? Firstly, unless the occasion leaves you no other options, make sure you don’t schedule your event late at night or on national holidays. This can bump up the price of the entire event instantly. Secondly, ask your guests for help and contributions. For example, one way to keep catering costs low is by asking your guests to bring their own alcohol for the buffet. This is quite common; you can even provide a list of appropriate alcoholic beverages in the weeks leading up to an event, making sure you do not end up with large amounts of similar or equivalent drinks. Realistically, most hosts will avoid the above idea for formal situations. Another tactic is to minimize the number of main dishes served and opt for more appetizer-style options. Some catering companies even offer appetizer-only buffets for reduced prices, giving you freedom and flexibility in terms of foods you choose for your event. What to Expect from a Good Caterer A good caterer, first and foremost, will be flexible in terms of planning and hosting the party - which includes helping pick venues, suggesting multiple menu options, etc. Make sure your service of choice will include setting up the buffet, providing equipment and waitstaff, and delivering the food on time. It is important that they prioritize your needs and carry out the planning and executing seamlessly. Surprisingly enough, most catering services do not post their prices online, so it’s best to have a very clear idea of what you are looking for, both in terms of quality and quantity. When planning an event, make sure the caterer gives you some tips on how to save on minor details; this will help stay under budget. -- In summary: Ask your guests for their RSVPs well ahead of time, and don’t forget about dietary preferences and restrictions. Opt for numerous hot and cold dishes high in protein or healthy fats. These will give your guests a stronger feeling of having eaten a full meal. If you are looking to keep prices very low, opt for an appetizer-only buffet or include more vegetarian options. Pay attention to the catering provider during the phone calls and meetings; you should feel like they have your interests at heart.