DC caterers
March 17, 2014 8:54 AM   Subscribe

I volunteered to plan an event for Saturday, 3/29 that will include dinner for about 40 adults. For the most part, planning is in good shape, but we still need a caterer. We're probably looking at a budget of $300-400, serving around 9pm, no booze. There may be a possibility of using the venue's caterer, but I want to get a feel for fallback options. Anyone out there have a good caterer for me, or advice around hiring caterers in general? I have never done this before.
posted by jameaterblues to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The only caterer you'll get for $300-$400 is pizza or take out Chinese for 40 people.. You may need to get creative.
posted by sandmanwv at 9:01 AM on March 17, 2014 [9 favorites]

I agree the budget is too low.

You might check with area take out joints and see what kind if catering platters they make.
posted by jbenben at 9:08 AM on March 17, 2014

I think Chipotle's catering option, where you pick up buckets o' ingredients to lay out for your guests, is about $12 or $13 per person. That's got to be way lower than any caterer, and it's still at least $480 before tax.
posted by jsturgill at 9:09 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

You're budgeting just $7.50-$10 per person, in the DC area? And the event is a week and a half away? You can't even get McDonald's for that: I think the only way to do this is to grab the first caterer you can, at ANY price.
posted by easily confused at 9:09 AM on March 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

For a catered dinner, you are looking at $30/person on the low end (even that may be tough).

That doesn't mean you can't feed people for less, but it wouldn't be through a normal caterer. Pizza or Chinese food is a good idea. Pizza could be augmented with big caesar salads and garlic bread. You could also get a bunch of big trays of frozen lasagna - one can feed ~8 people so you will need about 5 of them. (Augment with salad and garlic bread, again.)

One good solution might be that some chain restaurants do "takeout" for large groups (sometimes called "catering," sometimes called "family-style"). Maggiano's, Macaroni Grill, Whole Foods, Buca di Beppo.

You'll need to spend another $30-50 on paper plates and utensils unless you find someone who provides it with the catering.
posted by amaire at 9:10 AM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know that hollywood east in wheaton does amazing dim sum - you might be able to get large scale takeout from them for a reasonable price.
posted by mercredi at 9:11 AM on March 17, 2014

Amsterdam Falafel has $5.50, $7.50, and $9.50 a head catering options.
posted by chrisulonic at 9:18 AM on March 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you are willing to cook, you could do a big "taco bar" for folks to make their own tacos.

Maybe it goes without saying, but you can definitely feed people at that price if you are grilling hamburgers and hot dogs and serving with potato chips and fruit salad.
posted by amaire at 9:19 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't forget to include the cost for plates, glasses, and flatware (whether it be plastic/paper or rented china).
posted by rtha at 9:26 AM on March 17, 2014

You're looking at less than $10 per person. No caterer will touch it for that little.

What you might want to do is go to Costco and get some trays, cheeses etc.

Another thing would be Lasagne and Salad, again from Costco.

Also, FYI, less than 2 weeks is typically cutting it too close for most regular caterers.

Check out Chipotle (if you think folks will swing that way.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Is this for full dinner or appetizers? Agree it's very much on the low side either way. You might want to check out party platters or sandwich platters from a local grocery store (although personally I would rather have Amsterdam Falafelshop or pizza or Chinese or Chipotle).
posted by mskyle at 9:30 AM on March 17, 2014

I don't think the timeline here is a problem - I've catered events in DC of a similar size on shorter notice with no problem - but the budget is definitely going to make this challenging. My suggestion would be to do "heavy hors d'oeuvres" instead of real dinner (at 9pm this should not be a problem) and do a variety of veggie trays, cheese platters, etc.

The falafel, Chipotle, and taco bar options are all great, but bear in mind that a group of 40 is going to have some folks with food allergies and some picky eaters. Make sure whatever you choose has something for everyone and doesn't exclude people who eat vegan, gluten-free, non-spicy, etc.

I had great luck with RSVP Catering last month for a 35-person after-work party, but they are significantly pricier than your budget.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:33 AM on March 17, 2014

Do you need serving staff as well? That will be a big chunk of your budget, just that. To avoiding needing staff, choose things that are easy to divide up and easy for people to take.

Are there any sort of dietary requirements you need to be aware of? Anyone in the group gluten free, vegan?

Buying from Costco or similar grocery store is probably the best option. There are plenty of bulk hors d'oeuvres options you could do, that could be set on a table for people to take themselves.
posted by troytroy at 9:36 AM on March 17, 2014

Very tough on that budget. I think at that budget, you'll likely have to do "pick-it-up-yourself" catering, a-la Boston Market, Chipotle, California Tortilla, et. al.

If you CAN use the venue's caterer, that may well be your best option.
posted by tckma at 9:46 AM on March 17, 2014

You could go to your local Safeway Deli Department (or similar) and have a couple large trays of sandwiches done (I like "all rolled up" for a party). Along with veggies and dip, a fruit platter, cheese cubes etc, you could likely get 5-6 trays for your budget and some Costco soda/bottled water and paper plates too.

A caterer is going to be at least $1000 for your group.
posted by saradarlin at 9:46 AM on March 17, 2014

Depending on the demographic of your crowd nobody is going to expect full dinner at 9pm. Which thank grod, considering your budget. If you want to do something other than grocery/Costco platters (which I really think would not be so bad - most folks are going to have dinner on their own before 9pm) I've used and been at events that used Lebanese Taverna, who have options you can pull off for $10/pp.
posted by phearlez at 10:02 AM on March 17, 2014

So, do you also need wait staff? How about plates, service wear, tables, chairs? Is a buffet appropriate, passed appetizers, full service?

I've hired these staffers and did "drop-off" catering from District Taco. They dropped off big trays of tacos and sides. Budget 3 tacos a person plus some store bought chips and guac/salsa. If you hire these cater waitstaff they don't care where your food comes from, they'll set it up, replenish during service, clear plates, then later clean your venue, wash dishes, pack up any rental equipment and load it on the truck. The price depends on how many staff you'll need, which depends on the kind of service you need and if you're using disposables or not.

If it's not a taco crowd (lame), you might want to look into some other restaurant or cost-co party platters. You'll need disposable plates, napkins, cups, drinks from Costco too.

Also, you'll need to find out your venue's policies about outside catering. Many won't allow you to or will charge a fee.
posted by fontophilic at 10:30 AM on March 17, 2014

Ask the in-house caterer what he's willing to do for your budget. It's probably going to be a table of cold appetizers - not passed apps, tabled.

At 9 o'clock, I'd do coffee/decaf/tea and a table of light desserts.
posted by 26.2 at 10:36 AM on March 17, 2014

If you're doing a full sit down dinner or buffet for 40 people, $10pp is simply not going to get you anything from a caterer.

You should probably use the in-house caterer; most venues have an approved suppliers list and will require a cash payment (usually 10% of total spend) if you want to go outside that list.

A $10pp budget isn't impossible, and I've done it--but I was also doing all the work myself and donating my time for free.

You either need to expand your budget (by double, at a rough guess), or lower your expectations for what you're going to get. You can probably get enough app/nibbly things for people for your budget, but that's about it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:04 AM on March 17, 2014

I think the easy way to handle this is to not serve a full dinner. 9pm is coffee/tea/dessert time.
posted by radioamy at 11:54 AM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

i'm a caterer. i wouldn't touch that for less than a thousand. plus i'd be looking to charge you some sort of fee on top of that for it being last minute. best bet is drop-off catering like deli platters, etc from the local supermarket.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 12:16 PM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you've already promised dinner, then press on, but if you haven't I agree with radioamy that dessert is the way to go.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:50 PM on March 17, 2014

You can't afford an actual caterer with that budget.

That issue aside, what kind of dinner? I've done super casual dinners for nonprofits I'm involved with as a volunteer before. If this is a casual thing, I agree that Chipotle, Lebanese Taverna, and District Taco have good self-serve platter options. If sandwiches are okay, Corner Bakery, Potbelly, and Panera all have those, although you'll have to get it earlier in the day. They also have decent salad/soup/pasta salad options. I am really fond of Corner Bakery's dessert bite platters for groups, especially that late at night.

You may also want to look at grocery stores. Wegmans has a classy party platter menu, or you could try and save some money and just go with hors d'oeuvres (the cold kind that don't require heating onsite - think cheese and crackers, crudites, one-bite desserts, etc). If you pair that with those nice fake-silver-and-china disposables, it can look pretty good. Think about whether you'll have access to a fridge, how much time you'll have to prepare, what kind of space is available (do you already have cups/plates/utensils/ice there?). Will you be able to pick it up and drive it there? Make sure whatever option you choose includes everything you need or can't otherwise get.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 6:29 AM on March 18, 2014

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