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What to Spend Your Catering Budget on To Get the Best Bang for Your Buck

Anyone with a big budget can throw a catered event with Wagyu beef, caviar, foie gras or lobster on the menu. An event like that is sure to turn heads!  But what if you don’t have a budget that opulent?  It certainly doesn’t mean you are relegated to budget caterers that serve rubber chicken.

The key is to spend your catering budget in areas that give you the best bang for your buck.  Choosing wisely where to spend your catering budget will ensure your event is one that your guests are still raving about months later.  We’re sharing some insights into how we can help you maximize the dollars you have to spend and still “wow” your guests at the same time.

Start off with Appetizers That Only Look High-End

We eat first with our eyes.  So, play off that by focusing on menu items with low-cost ingredients, that have eye-popping colors, that are served in unique ways.  Take for example our caprese skewers…the colors pop, the ingredients are accessible, and the presentation is unique! (temismarketing)   Or how about freshly wrapped spring rolls in rice paper; they are colorful and have a fresh pop of flavor.  Guests love Messina’s bruschetta of cherry tomatoes with mini buffalo mozzarella, or antipasto skewers of mini mozzarella, sundried tomato, artichoke and kalamata olives.

As another outside-the-box- option all together, consider hosting an appetizer-only event!  These cocktail-party style events can allow for more mingling, interaction and movement at an event without the expense of serving a full meal.

Messina's caprese skewers

Know When to Display and When to Pass

People tend to eat more from food displays than they do passed or served food.  So, reserve those pricier dishes such as shrimp, crab or beef for passed apps or plated meals.

That doesn’t mean your displayed food has to be boring!  The best caterers can serve simple foods like crudité, fresh fruit and roasted vegetables as works of art.  Much of the fun can also be in the sauces, which can be colorful and unexpected.

Look For Low Cost-Ingredients for Dinner

Mexican, Indian, Italian, and Thai menu items have been popular on full-service catering menus for decades now, and for good reason.  They are colorful, filling, loved, and the ingredients tend to be lower-cost.  The cheapest food to cater is any rice or noodle-based cultural cuisine.  Also, this type of cuisine isn’t typically meat heavy and lends itself well to cheaper and more nontraditional cuts of meat like marinated flank steak or sirloin tips instead of prime rib or lamb chops.

Consider Foregoing Meat Altogether

Who said meat is a must on a catering menu? Creative vegetarian options have become trendy and are far more cost effective than their protein-based counterparts. Not only can we use fresh, seasonal vegetables, we can also present them beautifully. Think butternut squash ravioli with a sage butter sauce. Or how about a savory, “meaty” mushroom wellington?  Hosting a meat-free event could also be an opportunity to theme your event “green” and showcase your fresh vegetarian menu on compostable dinnerware.

Trim Your Guest List

We know, we know; this is hard to do.  But we would be remiss if we didn’t mention it!  One of the easiest ways to reduce your catering spend is to serve fewer guests.  With fewer guests to feed, you can use your budget to create the most impact.  Of course, this is easier said than done. Besides the cost of the food, a larger guest list also usually means higher bar costs, a larger venue, more favors/gifts, higher transportation/parking costs, etc.  Really study your list and make sure that everyone you absolutely want to have at your event is on your guest list, and those who are recent acquaintances or not really related to the event (i.e. your friend’s cousin’s friend or the person who delivers coffee to your office) are possibly removed.

Hold The Liquor

Alcohol is always one of the most expensive items on the catering menu.  Rather than having an open bar, consider serving a single signature drink. Crafting a unique cocktail that matches the theme of your event is memorable, and fun.  Think mint julips at a Kentucky Derby party rather than top-shelf bourbons.  Another option is to offer an abbreviated cocktail hour, then place wine bottles on tables for self-serve during dinner.  Have a group that are not big drinkers?  Consider making coffee the star of your event!

Nowhere is it written in stone that you must provide lots of free-flowing alcohol throughout an event. We can help you gauge a happy medium for your bar that will satisfy guests without breaking the bank.

Another option all together – opt for a lunchtime event, which doesn’t require alcohol service!

Messina's bartender

Slim Down on Desserts 

After binge-eating our way through Covid, people are more weight conscious now than ever.  Instead of serving full-size dessert portions, downsize them into bite-size treats.  This allows for maximum visual impact as well as the ability for guests to try a wide variety of sweets.  At Messina’s, some of our most popular desserts include our Beignet station and assorted dessert shooters. We can also serve seasonal fruits for a naturally sweet end to the event.

Dessert-only events are gaining in popularity and for good reason!  They are colorful, visually stunning, and oh so much fun! (Xanax)   Guests eat before, and attend your event for drinks, desserts and fun.  Dessert-only events can be a great way to scale back on your catering budget.

Trust An Experienced New Orleans Caterer to Guide You

You don’t know what you don’t know.  You need to be able to rely on your caterer to help guide you in developing the perfect menu for your event at the right price point.  And keep in mind, you can negotiate with your caterer!

Since our founding in 1961, Messina’s has grown to be a leading New Orleans catering company which includes operating local restaurants, convention centers, venues, offsite catering, and festival management contracts. Whatever event you’re thinking about hosting and whatever your budget, Messina’s can help you make it memorable and affordable. Learn more by visiting

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