Delivering event fare that's on-trend, on-budget, and appealing to a wide range of tastes and diets is no easy feat. Following are 16 fun and affordable ideas for amping up your meeting fare, from top catering executives Stephanie Edens, vice president, national sales, for Wolfgang Puck Catering; and Tony Porcellini, director of food and beverage at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort.
For more tips, view M&C's free webcast, "Great F&B on a Budget".
1. Donut display: Elevate the status of humble breakfast treats by creating a "donut wall." Display the delicious hole-y treats on an eye-catching peg board, which attendees can peruse before grabbing their favorite flavors. The concept also works for bagels.
2. Shucking stand: Oysters on the half-shell add a touch of luxury to an event. To help keep costs down -- and add some showmanship -- enlist a shucker to open the mollusks one by one. This will prevent guests from grabbing a plateful of the costly seafood, says Stephanie Edens.
3. Clambake with extras: This crowd-pleasing, all-in-one steamed dish makes a big impact without a huge price tag. Servers plate up a few clams and a lobster claw, and fill the rest of the dish with lower-cost mussels, potatoes and corn on the cob.
4. Cocktail salads: Offer your reception guests fresh greens, minus the waste and mess. Put some chopped greens like kale and spinach in small tasting containers (ask your F&B contact to supply or buy them at Amazon at $10 for 40), and dress up with other veggies, fruits and nuts. The size makes them affordable, there's much less waste than generated by a salad buffet, and the chopped texture makes it practical, easy-to-eat cocktail fare.
5. Mini meal in a pot: Provide hearty fare such as a beef short rib with a bit of flair by serving individual portions of meat with scale-sized traditional trimmings (carrots, potatoes, rosemary sprig) in individual, mini baking or casserole dishes. Similar mini pots (four for $16) are available at here.
6. Soupcons of soup: Savory soups, served hot or cold, are given a modern twist when served in shooter glasses (find them at Bulk Bar Products for $.46 per glass). These liquid canapés can be tied to the season (summer tomato, winter cauliflower). The best part: No spoons are needed, as guests down them like shots.
7. Bijoux juices: Juicing might be all the rage, but juicing stations can be costly and, if made to order, too time-consuming for large groups. To make them more budget- and time-friendly, Tony Porcellini recommends having several varieties of fresh juices made in advance. Serve them in shooter glasses to keep costs down and minimize waste.
8. Tea with 'tude: Iced tea is a popular and penny-saving beverage for lunches and breaks. Give this thirst-quenching drink a bit of oomph by infusing different tea varieties (black, green and herbal) with fruit slices (lemon, orange, pineapple, strawberry and mango) and/or herbs like cinnamon, mint, cardamom or vanilla.