Big budget, spare-no-expense weddings and Real Housewives of the O.C. parties aside, these days, most special event food and beverage budgets remain tight. Over the last 18 months or so, many of the medium-sized cocktail receptions I've been involved with, either as a guest or planner, have been festive and fun, despite the tight dollars. And where are the budgetary snips coming from these days? Mostly from hidden corners, which when done cleverly, can help you deliver decent savings without seriously compromising the spirit of the event. Here are a few ideas on how to trim the F& B line so subtly, your guests will be none the wiser, your client will be happier and everyone will still have a wonderful time:
Keep it short.
The easiest and fastest place to trim costs? Cut the length of hors d'oeuvres service. While I recommend going as heavy on the hors d'oeuvres as possible, drop an hour off a 3-hour passed hors d'oeuvres time and you’ll literally cut your food costs by a third. Depending on the size of the crowd, you may also be able to get away with fewer servers, thus saving a bit more on staffing. Though it may seem bare bones, keep in mind that nobody goes to a cocktail reception anymore expecting dinner — so do the best you can in the shortest amount of time.
Uncomplicate your hors d'oeuvres.
Many venues will offer a selection of 5 -to-7 hors d'oeuvres for a set price per head. For medium-sized groups, all that variety can be overwhelming and limit guests' ability to double up on particular favorites as hors d'oeuvres pass by. Ask the venue if instead, you can contract for just 3 or 4 selections and order a specific quantity so guests have a better chance at sampling more of the ones they like.
M-m-m-m! Pass the carbs, please!
Another slightly sneaky way to keep costs down on the edibles? Order less expensive items, as in less costly ingredients and/or ones that require less hand-work to prepare. Go even further and drop meats, fish and poultry from the line-up all together to stretch your budget and make all the vegetarian guests happy as well. Save the filet mignon, salmon, bacon-wrapped anything for special occasions or sit-down meals with larger budgets.
Speed up the bar.
Want to cut bartender serving times and number of bar staff needed? Then limit the open bar to a pre-mixed signature cocktail or two, beer and wine. It will mean less work for the bartenders, speedier service for the guests, happy liquor sponsors -- everybody wins. If necessary, you can always offer a cash bar in addition for guests with more particular liquor preferences.
Keep sweets petite.
Keep desserts small and pass them like hors d'oeuvres instead of more elaborate and costlier, plated options. Ice cream or cheesecake “pops” on a stick, petites fours, mini-cupcakes, bite-sized pies, fruit skewers, gourmet doughnut holes — anything that’s pop-in-your-mouth-sized will give guests just enough of a sweet treat to satisfy cravings without weighing them down or make them feel like they've just destroyed their diets. Light dessert service is also a great way to signal that the event is winding down.
How do you keep costs in line while keeping the customer satisfied?