Catering Portion Tips to Control Spending and Waste

How to adjust portion sizes to save money on food.
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Because food and beverage represents one of the biggest expenditures in event planning, it is also a great category to target for cost-cutting. Almost every event menu has an obvious element of waste in it that can be harmlessly deleted to free up funds for other needs. This article looks at a few catering components where you can adjust food quantities to control spending.

Reel in Your Numbers

There is a science to managing guest counts and RSVP numbers that even experienced event planners struggle with.

On the one hand you have the number of attendees that registered for the event, and on the other hand you have to factor in “no shows” and unexpected guests. Free events will have a higher percentage of no shows (25% or more) while most ticketed events average a 10% attrition rate. Use these averages to control unnecessary spending. To be safe, incorporate a 2% buffer zone for last minute arrivals.

Cut Back on Continental Breakfast

Few catered meals generate more waste than the continental breakfast. The fact is that people have become more conscious of carbohydrates and high-calorie pastries. That being said, you still need to have an ample supply of coffee, tea, and water for your morning sessions. In many cases, you can save money by buying breakfast refreshments a la carte instead of the standard per person packages. Figure 0.5 pastries and 1.25 drinks per person for a business meeting, and slightly more for family groups with children in attendance.

Consider Plated Meals over Buffets

There is a widespread myth that opting for a buffet meal will save you money over a served entrée. However, if you take a look at most catering guides you’ll see this simply isn’t true. Caterers have to prepare more food per person for buffets, which leads to more waste.

And even though tableside service demands are less with buffets, floor managers still need a full staff to set the tables and clear plates after the meal. The bottom line is that a simple plated entrée is the most cost efficient selection between the two.

Limit Your Bar Service

Open bars might be a hit with attendees but they are perhaps the most difficult cost to project in advance. If you are working with a tight budget then your best option is to use a ticket system to control beverage consumption. With this you give each a guest one or two drink tickets upon arrival, essentially paying for their first round of drinks. If an attendee runs out of tickets then they can opt to purchase drinks with cash directly from the bartender. It is a system that allows you to treat your guests and control costs at the same time.

Maximize Each Bite at Receptions

Receptions and “by the bite” functions with appetizers can wreak havoc on any budget when you consider that most hotels charge upwards of $3 for each hors d’oeuvre.

The standard guideline is to serve 3-5 pieces per person for a pre-dinner reception and 10-15 pieces per person for meals by the bite. You can trim these numbers by incorporating dips with bread or chips, and cocktail snacks like Chex mix and nuts. The key is to find filling substitutes for the high-priced appetizer pieces.  Dessert items like cookies or brownies (cut in halves) can also count towards your per guest requirements, and they are relatively cheap in comparison.

Review the Plan

When it comes to portion planning, the best way to save money is to review the rationale behind every item on your menu. Don’t just add an item like sliced fruit to fill a categorical need. Think about what your guest will actually eat and order appropriately. Take a survey with your employees on which items they believe will be most popular. This simple exercise by itself can inspire changes to your menu.

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