If you want to cater a party cheap there is a simple truth you have to resign yourself to. Cheap, good and fast are three sides of a triangle of which you can only have two to make a right. In essence, you can have fast and good but it will not be cheap, or you can have cheap and fast but it will propbably not be good. In order to cater a good event on the cheap, be prepared to roll up your sleeves. You will likely not be able to pull it off fast but, it will be fabulous..and cheap.
- Shop early. Plan your menu weeks in advance so you can find the food items you want on sale. Most foods can be frozen until you are ready to prepare the dishes. Also, check the dollar store for all your paper products. They often have a variety of party plates and supplies, but you will want to give yourself time to search for matching items or for something that fits your theme. Just stick with a maximum of two theme colors and be aware that you may have to go back every week when the supply changes to get the colors that appeal to you.
- Feed the eye first. Garnishing is cheap and gives a big impression. Use edible garnishes and be creative with placement. Garnishes like parsley, lemon wedges, basil, cilantro, sprouts, or grapes are great for food presentation because they add color and volume. You are the only one who should know the catering is cheap.
- Don't skimp on the appetizers. Appetizers are not only a great way to welcome guest, they are an inexpensive way to fill guests tummies before the (more expensive) main course. Make four or five appetizers that are filling but cheap to construct. Appetizers like pinwheels, deviled eggs, fried raviolis, or thin pieces of teriyaki chicken on a stick. There many recipes that can be be made for cheap and in bulk. Bring your appetizers out in smaller batches on garnished platters. Also have chips with a homemade dip or guacamole set out throughout the party space. It will give the feeling of abundance and force people to walk and socialize. The more they talk the less they eat without feeling denied.
- Serve the main course buffet style. You can set up an impressive buffet with plenty of variety on the cheap. Think flavorful and bite sized meats with cheaper accompaniments. For example, try beef cubes with button mushrooms in a wine sauce, General Tso chicken with broccoli, or sliced Italian sausage with onions and peppers. Buy the disposable serving trays, racks and chafing fuel from a wholesale club. It may seem like an added expense but presentation and keeping the food warm goes a long way in turning a house party into a catered affair. Make sure your sides match the main courses. This is not difficult if you stick with rice, a pasta, and potato dish. Making all of these cheap products taste expensive is simple – make the rice a pilaf, add canned Alfredo to bow tie pasta, roast the potatoes or make garlic mashed potatoes. All are inexpensive and simple to make in bulk.
- Let them drink punch. Punch is inexpensive and fun. Opt for a recipe that has a cheap beverage as the base like a a powdered flavored drink mix or gingerale. Give it a little flair by floating frozen fruit in place of ice cubes. If you must have alcohol, keep the tab low by making one or two signature drinks that match the season.
- End with a sweet impression. Homemade is cheaper and more delicious than any expensive store bought offerings. Make bite sized cookies and truffles to create a decadent buffet. Bake a loaf or two of pound cake, slice and serve fanned out on a serving plate. Also serve mouse, individually presented, in small clear plastic cups. Now to add the little something extra put the following items out with the desserts: homemade whipped cream, fresh strawberries, blueberries, canned peaches, fudge. All of these extras are inexpensive and allow guests to customize their dessert. None of these items are expensive when done from scratch, but the satisfied guest will never know.