How To Cater For 100 Guests On A Budget

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how to cater for 100 guests on a budget
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A professional caterer will say, “Your guests might forget the event, but they will never forget the food.”

When planning to host a big event with 100 guests, you want to ensure everyone goes home with happy memories and full bellies. However, if you have a tight budget, feeding 100 mouths and stuffing 100 bellies can seem daunting.

The good news is that with a bit of planning, a dash of smart money management, and an open mind, you can stretch out a tight budget and cater an event for 100 guests.

We created this guide on how to cater to 100 guests on a budget to give you the tools you need to help make your special day successful, not stressful.

How to Cater for 80-100 Guests on a Budget

Hiring a professional catering service is the easiest way to go. A professional caterer has the experience, resources, and knowledge of how to cater for 80-100 guests on a budget. Of course, these skills come at a price.

If your budget can’t accommodate the cost of hiring an experienced caterer, the next best thing is to learn what the pros do.

Here are three pro tips from experienced caterers on maximizing your limited budget and feeding 100 guests.

1. Identify the Type of Event that Needs Catering

Not all catering needs are alike. The catering needs of a wedding are different from that of a corporate event.

A wedding will be more complicated to cater to because you have to consider the motif, the venue of the reception, and the special diet needs of the bride and groom and possibly some of the guests.

A wedding reception will typically include appetizers, desserts, and drinks to complement the main entrees.

In contrast, a corporate event will be much simpler to cater to. Guests prefer to be on their feet so they can mingle with others and discuss business. Although a full-course dinner is possible, the most likely scenario is to serve guests appetizers on small plates and offer a smaller selection of wines and non-alcoholic beverages.

Lastly, consider the time of the event. People are used to eating full meals during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In other time blocks, they prefer to snack on light fare. Likewise, alcoholic beverages are usually consumed at nighttime.

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2. Find Out What Comes With the Venue

You’ll be surprised to know that when you rent a venue, you might not only be paying for space. Find out what comes with the rental.

A wedding venue typically includes tables, chairs, linen, audio-visual equipment, and lighting effects. A venue for a company function might consist of tables, chairs, a whiteboard, a projector, whiteboard markers, and a limited selection of beverages such as coffee and tea,

Read the fine print of the lease contract to find out what other charges, fees, and possible penalties you might end up paying. Will the venue charge you separately for electricity, water, and gas for cooking?

The bottom line is to only pay for what you need. If you can provide some amenities at a lower cost, ask the venue administrator to adjust the rental fee.

3. Estimate How Much Food and Drink You’ll Need to Feed Your Guests

Estimating how much food and drink you need to have your guests well-fed but not stuffed, a bit tipsy but not intoxicated, will keep them happy while you stay within your budget.

We’ve provided the table below to help you plan your food budget.

Type of Food Serving Size per Person For 100 guests
Meat 6 ounces 38 pounds
Vegetables 4 ounces 25 pounds
Rice 2 ounces 13 pounds
Pasta 4 ounces 25 pounds
Salad 1 ounce 7 pounds
Bread 2 pieces 200 pieces

Estimating the quantity of drinks you need could be trickier. However, feel free to use the table below as a reference.

Type of Drink Serving per Person For 100 guests
Non-alcoholic 2 bottles 200 bottles
Wine ½ bottle 50 bottles
Beer 2 bottles 200 bottles
Champagne ½ bottle 50 bottles

Recommended guide: How Much Should I Spend On Groceries Per Month?

4. Consider a Buffet Menu

A buffet is a feast for the eyes and will always excite guests. The common misconception about buffet-style service is that it’s more costly to execute. But follow our easy catering ideas below, and you can pull off a buffet that will fill up 100 guests without straining your budget.

  • Use 10” plates instead of 12” plates. A study from Cornell University showed that using 10” plates reduced consumption by 22%.
  • Place all the carb-heavy and starchy menu items at the start of the buffet line. Hungry guests will load up their plates with carb-rich meals, which are cheaper to prepare than protein-rich meals.
  • Have the carving station manned by two servers. The servers’ role is to control the portions of meat served to guests.
  • Opt for chicken and pork dishes because they are cheaper meat choices than beef.
  • Opt for cookies, fruit cups, and pre-portioned slices of cake as dessert fare instead of ice cream.

Use the table from the previous section to estimate the food and drink you’ll serve in the buffet.

how to cater for 80-100 guests on a budget

5 Budget-Friendly Catering Options

The cheap catering options we feature might be budget-friendly, but that doesn’t mean they scrimp in value.

1. Hire Food Trucks

According to the New York Food Truck Association (NYFTA), the average cost for a food truck service is US$20-25 per guest. That’s cheaper than hiring a caterer for a wedding event, which, on average, costs US$68 per guest.

One food truck can serve 60-100 guests per hour. Since you want to avoid hungry guests lining up for food for an hour, we recommend hiring three food trucks.

Related article: How to Eat in New York City on a Budget

2. Serve International Fare

Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines are examples of popular international fare. They’re delicious and flavorful and have made their mark in the culinary world. Most of these meals feature starches, such as noodles, rice, and wraps, which make them easier and cheaper to prepare.

3. Have a Backyard BBQ

BBQ always brings people together. If the venue has an outdoor area, set up a small grill and serve hamburgers, hotdogs, and chicken breast sandwiches. Complement the delicious meats with a salad bar and a limited bar list that serves local beer, sangria, and sweet, fruity cocktails.

4. Set Up a Potluck

Invite your guests to bring their signature dishes to the party. A potluck creates engagement because guests share the significance of their dishes and why they’re special.

5. Add a Pasta Bar

Chicken Alfredo, Tomato and Basil pasta, and Bolognese are tasty pasta dishes that are heavy in the belly but light on the budget.

Specific Catering Concerns

Successfully catering an event for 100 people on a tight budget will involve more than just the food. You have to address specific catering concerns before the Big Day shows up on the calendar.

  1. Err on the side of caution when it comes to tables and chairs. Event planners assume only 20% of guests will RSVP, and some guests might bring other people without telling you.
  2. Finding people to help you run the event might be a problem. Consider hiring culinary students, fast-food workers, and others looking for part-time work.
  3. If you decide to hire a catering service, don’t sign up for the first one that comes along. Instead, create a shortlist of 3 service providers so you can compare and contrast their offerings and costs.
  4. Fast food is a good and affordable option. Some fast-food chains can customize packaged meals based on your budget.
  5. Check out culinary schools within the area. Some schools accept catering requests to allow students to practice what they’ve learned. Because the catering service is for the students’ benefit, you can negotiate better prices from a culinary school.

Least Expensive Catering Solutions

The only budget-friendly option we haven’t discussed is going DIY, which might be your least expensive catering solution.

Here are our tips on how you can pull off a DIY catering event for 100 guests.

  1. To minimize spending, rent the tables and chairs, serving stations, utensils, drinkware, linen, decorations, and other necessary items.
  2. Consult with a friend who has experience in the restaurant business or as a wedding event planner.
  3. Choose a venue that offers the most generous package.
  4. Order food from restaurants known for serving tasty but affordable meals.
  5. Get quotations from at least three bake shops. Having multiple options will give you an advantage when negotiating the price of the wedding cake.
  6. Keep the menu simple. Focus on popular food that’s cheap, easy to prepare, and convenient to serve.
  7. Can you cook? Preparing food from scratch can reduce the cost of buying it from restaurants. You can also purchase the ingredients from wholesalers to bring down food costs.
  8. Consider hiring a mobile bar to provide the drinks for the event. Getting a mobile bar will save you time and money in case the state requires you to secure a liquor license and insurance before you can serve alcohol.
  9. Outsource cleaning services.

Determining a Reasonable Catering Budget

What’s reasonable for a catering budget will come down to one question:

“How much are you willing to spend?”

Catering for 100 guests won’t be cheap. Even if you hire food trucks, you’ll still have to fork over US$2,500. Drinks are not included.

To find out what a reasonable catering budget is, we suggest that you do the following:

  1. Conduct research. Get quotations from restaurants that offer catering services and pre-packaged meals. Check out multiple venues. Consider both outdoor and indoor seating arrangements.
  2. Assess your finances. The cost of catering should not affect your schedule of paying recurring bills such as electricity, rent, Internet, groceries, and transportation, to name a few. Determine a reasonable per-head cost.
  3. Try to bootstrap the catering project and avoid footing the bills on credit.
  4. Consider all the options we suggested in this article: catering service, food trucks, buffet-style, potluck, backyard BBQ, pasta bar, and DIY. Choose the option that isn’t only the most affordable and convenient but also carries the least risk.
  5. Negotiate with the service providers and potential venues to the best of your ability.

Recommended guide: 4 Different Types of Budgets & How to Choose the Right One


It’s nice to be generous, but you have to know how the cost of catering for 100 guests will impact your finances. When the last chairs have been packed in, the event will be a distant memory. For you, you’ll have to worry about settling your accounts for the next few months.

Last Updated on May 05, 2024
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this website is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as financial advice. Consult with a financial professional for personalized guidance regarding your specific situation.

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