Host a Catered Event for Less

by Debra Karplus
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Interested in hosting a catered dinner or party but think it’s beyond your budget? Here are some ways to save.

Your daughter has recently announced her engagement. Or maybe someone in the family is about to retire or will be celebrating a milestone birthday.

It’s time to plan a party. And what’s a party without food?

But with your job and other responsibilities, who has time to be preparing cuisine for 20 or 40 or 100 of your closest friends and relatives? It might be time to explore the option of catering.

But catering is expensive, isn’t it? Maybe there’s a way to serve an affordable catered meal.

Typical Options for Catered Events

Catering businesses typically provide price quotes based on the price per person or the price per tray of the food served. Sit-down dinners obviously cost more than buffet-style. Though sit-down dinners appear to be classier, many people are on special diets such as gluten-free, diabetic, or vegan and appreciate the option of choosing their own food in the quantity they can eat.

Searching online, you will discover that a catered dinner can cost between $17 and $25+ per person. The nature of the food served, the quantity, and the geographic location of the catering service are a few of the many factors influencing their prices.

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Consider Restaurant or Grocery Store Catering Services

Party trays from the supermarket or specialty grocery can reduce the cost of a catered event. Places like Sam’s Club, Subway, or the grocery in your neighborhood sell attractive party trays.

For example, a sandwich tray can be ordered online from your nearest Subway Shop for $45.59. The Subway site states that the tray feeds seven people, which calculates to $6.51 per person. But remember that is just for small sandwiches and does not include chips or beverages or their delicious cookies.

Publix, a grocery chain out of Florida, has an in-store chef and catering professionals who can provide consultation and help plan and prepare gourmet cuisine for your next celebrations.

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Look Into Local Culinary Schools

Culinary school student interns may be able to provide affordable classy catering for an affordable price. If you have a cooking or culinary school in the vicinity or better yet a community college, you may be in luck. Students interning at these schools are required to complete several hours of hands-on work to complete their certificate of college degree.

The Community Culinary School, located in New Milford, Connecticut, the northwestern part of that state, has a formal program for providing internships for its students as part of its job training program that could help you if you live in that area. There are other Community Culinary Schools in that part of the United States. Proceeds benefit non-profit organizations, such as feeding the hungry.

The catering page of the school’s website is frequently updated, from time to time, but a past option included several dinner entrée choices, such as parmesan crusted chicken, that sold for $90 per tray and served 20 people. A side dish with that, such as roasted potatoes, was $45 more to serve 20. For dessert, a delicacy such as apple crisp was listed at $70 to feed twenty people. This came to about about $10 per person for 20 people, considerably lower than any commercial caterer at the time of this writing

If you want to do something similar to a Subway platter, you can currently order sandwich boxes that come with pasta salad and a bakery cookie for $12.50 a box.

Search online using key words “catering school,” “culinary school,” “culinary arts,” “chef,” or “food service” and see if anything in your area might provide catering. Contact your community college foods department.

Helping an enthusiastic student earn their college degree while providing the elegance of catered food to guests at a celebration that you are hosting is always a win-win situation. Make some phone calls and see if student interns can help you throw the best party your guest will ever attend.

Reviewed June 2023

About the Author

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon (Kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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