Forget that there are presents to buy and wrap, cookies to bake, holiday performances to attend — you have been designated as holiday-gathering host.

Whether you’ve volunteered or been “voluntold” to host a holiday party this year, there’s a way to work around calendar-packed winter woes and worries.

Catering solves many of the holiday-joy killers — like not having enough time or resources. See how hiring a holiday caterer will keep festivity and fun intact for many a host this year.

Though a Google search likely yields plenty of catering options, how do you know which caterer is right for your needs?

“Referrals are key!” said Jennifer Russo, the owner and chef of Jennifer’s Catering. “Look up local companies online and check out their reviews and customer experiences.”

Once you’ve narrowed down a few potential caterers, it’s wise to have a list of questions. Think about what aspects of a holiday party are least enjoyable and consider parceling those to a caterer. Catering does not have to be an all-or-nothing experience.

“Don’t outsource everything — especially for smaller events,” Russo said. “Save the complicated dishes to the caterers and create the more basic and simple things yourself. For example, don’t spend money on a cheese platter or shrimp cocktail when those are easy and simple dishes to pick up or create yourself.”

And it’s important to remember holidays generally include a traditional dish or two, especially at family-oriented events.

Naturally, keeping some of the meal items on your to-do list will also save money, as will using your own serving-ware arsenal.

“For smaller events located at a home there are non-culinary items, that if provided by the host, could help reduce a catering proposal cost,” said Pat Christofolo, the president of Artisan by Santa Barbara Catering. “Items may include seating, buffet tables, china, flatware, glassware, centerpieces and alcohol.”

Christofolo refers to these elements as add-on items. And although they are often necessary, if a host can provide them for the event, they can often be removed from the catering proposal to help reduce costs.

“Just remember that if a host is providing servingware they will need to check to see if the catering staff is allotted to help with setup and serving of the items, or if they will need more staff hours added to the proposal,” Christofolo said.

Although ‘tis the season to be jolly, which for some holiday parties equates to an open bar, rethinking and limiting distribution of spirits will cut costs significantly. Consider offering one particular signature cocktail. Or simply provide a limited amount of beer and wine.

As for meal planning, If you do decide to have your caterer prepare a full menu, choose a plated meal. This will likely keep your budget in check and lends itself well to a family-and-friends holiday gathering.

“When hosting a small event, plated menus are recommended to create an intimate and restaurant-like dinner service,” Christofolo said. “For large-scale events, buffet menus are recommended.”

People may not realize that catering companies offer various types of entertainment in addition to menu and serving options.

“Holiday events can benefit from having a sommelier attend,” Russo said. “Sommeliers help engage guests by explaining the knowledge they have about wine-and-food pairings.”

Many holiday events include children. Caterman Catering in San Jose, Calif., offers specific tips and customizable catering options for children, which include finger foods (kids will get messy no matter what!) and fresh fruit to help combat all the sugar in favorite holiday treats.

And though some catering companies like Caterman specifically mention children-specific catering services, others may not. If you don’t see kid-friendly menus listed, don’t be afraid to ask. In fact, there are many additional services, menus and holiday items caterers won’t have displayed but that are often happy to customize.

Some caterers offer additional services such as assembling goodie bags, to-go treats and other event touches. If budget allows, let them take as much off your hostess hands so you can actually enjoy your holiday season.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

mhastings@wsjournal.com

336-727-7394

@mhastingsWSJ

Load comments