Holiday Catering 101

Holiday Catering 101 

As the holidays come around, the festive invites start pouring in, and the parties begin! If you’re getting ready to plan a holiday party, we know there are a lot of factors that go into it.

Between the food and drinks alone, there’s a lot of planning to be done to ensure that the perfect holiday party vibe.

Whether you’re catering for work or friends, we’re here to help! We’ve put together a complete guide to help you fine-tune your vision and plan your dream event.

Average Prices

As a general rule of thumb, the larger your gathering is — the larger the catering bill will be. As your headcount increases, you’ll need more food, drinks, and staff to handle the crowd. We always suggest making a guest list before the big event and seeing how this correlates with your budget.

If you want to serve more expensive food, you might have to go with a smaller guest count to stay within budget. The same holds true for casual eating. Invite more people but keep things simple with your food and drinks to stay within budget.

After you’ve made your guest list, send out invites and request that guests RSVP by a certain date. You might have to follow-up once or twice to give people the nudge to get your final headcount to the caterer. Once you do this, you can work alongside your caterer to create the custom holiday menu that works best within your budget. 

The price per person depends entirely on the caterer. Catering can range from $15 per head to $115 per head.  It depends on what you’re looking to include. A pizza party, for example, is going to be less expensive than a sit-down dinner with champagne and caviar pairings. When you’re dealing with what to cater for your next holiday party, playing the numbers game can be stressful at first.

But once you narrow down the details and find that perfect package, it’s all smooth sailing. 

Make sure to ask the caterers you’re interested in if they offer discounts for larger events. Some do, some don’t, but it never hurts to ask and get the conversation started. 

Catering Options

There are so many different options out there when it comes to holiday catering. Deciding on the time of day to hold your gathering is an excellent place to start. 

You can go the route of choosing heavy appetizers and cocktails, offer a buffet, do a family-style meal, or a plated dinner. The catering option you choose is entirely up to you and can be customized based on your budget, dietary constraints of your guests, and the theme of the party. At Eco Caters, we proudly offer organic catering at your San Diego event venue that’s centered around in-season produce. 

Drop Off

Like ordinary take out, you can have your catered meals dropped off at your event with ease. Drop off is an option offered by many caterers and is thought of to be budget-friendly. Because you don’t require the service of the catering staff throughout the event, you’ll end up spending less than you would on a plated or family-style meal. When going this route, if you’re comfortable doing so, enlist the help of a few trusty guests to manage the flow of the food and serving. 


Light or heavy appetizers are another way to go with holiday party catering. Serving appetizers often encourages the feel of a “cocktail party” where guests can move around and mingle while they sip and eat. You can keep things simple by serving finger foods personally to guests for a more cocktail party feel, or have guests serve themselves. u Either way, both options offer a wide variety of food. 

Buffet Style

Buffet style is a good option, as it gives guests the feeling that they can eat when and what they’d like. It’s a budget-friendly way to get your guests well-fed and happy! Buffet meals can be anything from a taco bar to a Mediterranean-inspired feast. 

Family Style

Family style is a great way to eat, as it encourages sharing and conversation among guests. Typically, plates and bowls are set out on each table, and guests are encouraged to serve themselves. Allowing guests to have multiple options to choose from is great. Especially if individuals have dietary constraints. Family style provides freedom for those to pick and choose what they can, and cannot, have. 

Plated Meal

Plated meals tend to be a more expensive option when it comes to holiday catering. There are lots of costs associated; such as plates, utensils, linens and wait staff to serve. The price of plated meals ranges depending on what you are serving. A three-course meal with dessert and drinks will be more expensive than a single plate meal and bread service. If plated service is of importance, make sure to plan your budget with your caterer to find the best meal options, and ingredients, your guests will enjoy. 

Drinks and Desserts

Some see drinks and desserts as extras, while others see them as a necessity. Choose whether or not you’ll serve alcohol with your holiday party catering, as that will quickly drive up the budget. If you want to treat your guests to beverages during the special occasion, consider whether you’ll hand out drink tickets, or do a limited or open bar. You can keep things small by just offering a few options to help reduce costs. Some hosts go the route of one red wine, one white wine, one beer and a mixed drink or two. 

Dessert is one of the most elegant and delicious parts of any gathering, but of course, it adds to the overall bill just like the drinks do. With a dessert budget in mind, you can fine-tune your creative vision and decide whether or not that snowman cake will make the list after all. Luckily, with desserts, there are lots of affordable options and different ways you can go.

Whether you’re hosting your first holiday party or your one-hundred and first, we hope this list has helped you along on the planning process.

As always, feel free to reach out to Eco Caters today for fresh and inventive holiday catering options. We’re passionate about what we do and love incorporating seasonal and sustainable ingredients into all of our dishes and entrees.

Wishing you a happy holiday season ahead!

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