Ask My Readers | Affordable Kosher Catering

question 150x150 Ask My Readers | Affordable Kosher CateringToday’s question comes from a reader in Washington, D.C. She’s wondering about ways to save on kosher catering.

I would love to hear how your readers find kosher catering on a budget. I saw on the bar mitzvah thread that one reader got a “lavish fleischig” catered affair for $15 per person.

So far, no one seems willing to do for under $40 per person, ($57 per person including things like linens and labor.) We didn’t tell them that it’s a wedding and have asked for simple simple simple, and that’s the best we’ve found. And this for highly mediocre, processed-food-type catering.

We have found two kosher restaurants for less than $20 per person, but that’s for food only. In theory, hiring labor to take care of the serving details should be affordable, but most venues want genuine, insured caterers rather than temporary hired waiters serving delivered food, and indeed somehow it seems like more could go wrong with that model.

We’re also getting married earlier in the day, on the theory that the food can be lighter and more modest, rather than being a fancy evening affair.

Any tips for affordable kosher catering?

What suggestions do you have for keeping the cost down on kosher catering? Let’s talk catered food in the comments section!

Do you have a question about budgeting, couponing, menu planning or anything else? Please send me an email – I love hearing from my readers!

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. Many places will give you a better price on a weekday over a sunday; especially during the busy season when they have no trouble booking parties for sundays and holidays. It is usually even cheaper than an early wedding, unless you were planning on a dairy brunch in the morning.

  2. As a former caterer I will offer these tips:
    1. Be realistic: caterers need to make money and full service catering is expensive. No one is going to be willing to give you something for nothing, and if they say they wil you will likely be disappointed with the results.
    2. Set a budget for you event: Many caters will work with you but be realistic (see above)
    3. Go buffet: If you are doing a sit down meal a buffet can be done beautifully and cost significantly less.
    4. Do (at least some of) it your self: If you are on a tight budget get drop off food from a restaurant or better yet grocery store/deli/take out place and set it up your self. Higher some highschool kids to server and clean up. If you are in place that will allow it make the food your self.
    5. Don’t give in to peer pressure: Rememeber you don’t need to impress any one. You are generally feeding people and not charging them. They should be happy with what they are given. No one said they have to eat the food.
    6. Limit the size: You don’t have to invite the whole world. Most people will understand if you make a smaller event due to budget constraints.

    Just remeber if you can’t afford it don’t do it.

  3. PS Shop around on locations. Prices can very widely for an event space. Even consider doing you event in your own home,

  4. One of our shuls used to do catering out of the shul kitchen with a group of women who volunteered. I am not sure if they got paid, but I remember it from a few years back. Maybe it was a fundraiser for the shul. Perhaps an idea all shuls could look into. Then you only have to pay for a masgeiach or the shul rabbi can oversee the cooking.

    We have only ordered catered food for our oldest son’s bris. We got it from the local deli and had friends help set up and clean up. However, we have yet to do a big event.

  5. Since I’m also in Washington, check out Wrap 2 Go. They could probably put something nice together for you. Or, I know it isn’t traditional, but I know some people do breakfast and you could do Goldberg platters.

  6. Original Poster says:

    By the way, we have tried both Baltimore and Washington area, and we’ve found good venues in both cities for Sundays that are equally affordable. Catering is the expensive part, and we’ve gotten estimates $40 per person for food estimates from caterers in both cities. The Baltimore synagogue that recommended the caterer (one who advertises widely about all their special deals) had said that the caterer could do it for $24, but the caterer actually laughed at me when I mentioned that. Then he said that he could do a special deal for me, so that I could save money: 150 people for $7000 (which comes to $47 per person). Did he think that girls can’t do math?

  7. Thanks for your great tips, Daniel. I forwarded this post on to a friend of mine who is planning a bar mitzvah!

  8. Original Poster says:

    By the way, we can give venue advice because we investigated lots of different ones, including properties owned by nearby county governments, park districts, non-profit groups, and the National Park Service. The Jews United for Justice guide on green simchas was a good starting point, although we didn’t end up using their suggested venues: http://www.jufj.org/green_just_celebrations
    We also googled a lot and found lists of recommended venues on the website weddingbee. August is a slow month for weddings because the weather in DC is so unpleasant then, and Sunday weddings are also uncommon here. Among the affordable spaces, the one that we ended up choosing was a synagogue because it had more room for dancing.

  9. caroline says:

    One word: DAIRY. Our wedding was actually totally pareve except for the feta cheese that was in one of the salads. In this way, we were able to also accomodate family who hold by cholov yisrael and anyone–like me!–who is lactose-intolerant.

    Our wedding was in the early afternoon, so the meal we served was neither lunch nor dinner, and we served a buffet of salads, sides, and desserts.

    When you meet with caterers, make sure you have a good rapport. If you can’t get along with the people, go elsewhere. No matter what the price. (Actually, especially if the price looks too good to be true. You know how that often goes…) Our caterer was wonderful, worked with us to meet our budget, and kept making useful suggestions throughout the process. We have been thrilled to recommend her to others.

    P.S. Chicago friends: Zelda’s!

  10. My husband and I made our own chassuna (many years ago!). We got married at a yeshiva and the incredible women of our community did all the cooking. Yeshiva bochurim were the waiters (and they got any leftovers). While the women and bochurim didn’t charge us anything, we paid for all the food. At the time it was a lot for us, but nothing compared to catering! If there is some way to work this out, you really need to find someone who is willing to supervise it. That way you know what to buy (I did all of the shopping), and they will oversee the menu & prep. For my son’s bris, I personally did all the cooking. Some was done ahead and frozen. An early morning meal is a lot easier, though. BTW–I live out-of-town, too. Those are good prices! Everyone here is doing their chassunas in Lakewood now.

  11. We saved a lot of money by doing a dairy buffet. And because we were having dairy, we were able to have an ice cream sundae bar for dessert!

  12. Think about saving money on the location and decoration- some tips from my wedding- use a synagogue, WAY cheaper and tons of special spaces. decorate with something other than flowers (i.e. chanukiya museum for our chanukah wedding). you can also use youth group kids for some assistance with the event like ushers, some background help with food service, etc.

  13. As a kosher caterer it is difficult to satisfy clients who have high expectations, but are on a tight budget. Daniel Peikes in the comments above stated the situation perfectly.

    The most cost effective way to do a kosher event in any venue is to make sure that it is certified kosher and has a separate glatt kosher kitchen.
    This means that there are no rental charges for dishes, cutlery, glassware and no charge for setting up a mobile kosher kitchen.

  14. caroline says:

    Another area where you can save: alcohol. If your venue and caterer will allow you to do so, buy the alcohol yourself. You can eliminate the hard liquors and stick with wine (especially for an afternoon wedding) and save a lot that way, too. Your caterer should be able to tell you what quantities to buy.

    The sales cycles for wine tend to correlate to the weeks before major holidays, and don’t forget that Mara is a KosherWine.com affiliate. :)

  15. I have been struggling with your question since yesterday. Washington, DC is a very tough place to find affordable kosher catering. As a former Washingtonian, I feel your pain. There are not enough observant Jews to have true economies of scale (or competition); the DC Jewish community is fairly wealthy so the expectations for catering are high; and the Washington Vaad is, shall we say, a bit prickly and demanding. Please do not feel bad when you read about a “lavish fleischig catered affair for $15 per person.” You cannot do that in Baltimore or Washington.

    You said that you have your venue. What are the rules at the shul? Will they let you bring in food from the kosher restaurant and hire your own waiters to serve it buffet style? Could you bring in packaged kosher items that your hired waiters can plate?

    I would sit down and figure out what aspect of food is most important to you–real plates and linens, waiter service, hot dishes, lots of food, etc. Then figure out how to make that aspect happen and let go of the others. Personally, I would go with the idea of a “lavish” dairy buffet with good disposable plates and flatware. But that is because a dairy buffet would feel like a festive wedding meal to me (and because I have a great caterer who will do it for $22 a person). Maybe sit-down service or a meat meal is important to you. Maybe good dishes and flatware is. I could see having a beautiful wine, cheese, and dessert wedding. (The bread that you serve with the cheese makes it a seudat mitzvah.) Don’t let other people’s assumptions–and this goes for the caterer too–of what is necessary or what goes together force you to upgrade.

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