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Confessions of a Thanksgiving Caterer  

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Using a caterer to prepare a holiday meal can cost a pretty penny — up to $150 per person for a party with 18 to 20 guests, according to the National Association for Catering and Events.

The beauty of outsourcing your holiday feast, however, is the countless hours you’ll save on shopping, cooking and cleanup. 

If you hire a full-service caterer, you’re not just paying for someone else to cook the perfect turkey and stuffing. Catering services can include setup, cleanup, utensils,  flatware and servers.  

We asked professional caterers to share insights about their job and tips that even budget-conscious holiday hosts can use to make holiday catering more affordable.   

“Host Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday — or earlier.”

Choosing to have your Thanksgiving meal catered before Thanksgiving could help you save on labor costs, says Lisa Carruth, a spokeswoman for the National Association for Catering and Events 

Many caterers charge a minimum amount based on the number of guests or the amount of food. Paying to have staff for a catering event can cost m 

ore because they are working on holidays, when companies typically provide extra pay. 

Your food is going to cost the same no matter the day, but caterers may require that you meet a higher spending minimum to book events on certain days, says Carruth, who also is the director of catering at Braeburn Country Club in Houston. The higher minimums offset the cost of paying staff.  

For example, events held on holidays and weekends generally have higher minimums. 

“Buffets aren’t always the best way to save.”

The common perception is that a buffet is less expensive, but plated meals can sometimes be cheaper, depending on the caterer and the size of an event. A carving station for your turkey or ham also will increase your cost because of the labor required, so consider cutting that to save money. 

“With a buffet, if you have a 100 people, you have to prepare 110 of everything because you have to assume that everyone’s going to take one of everything,” Carruth explains. “Whereas, with a plated dinner, portion sizes are controlled.”  

Buffets typically have more options—such as two entrees—than a plated meal, too, which also can lead to additional costs. When deciding between a buffet and a plated meal, check with your caterer’s pricing before making a wrong assumption about the cheapest option.  

“Heavy hors d’oeuvres sometimes cost as much as plated meals.”

A heavy hors d’oeuvres party can cost as much, if not more, than both plated meals and buffets because they can be labor-intensive affairs, Carruth says. First, they require making tiny bites by hand and making enough pieces to satisfy appetites. You need to make enough hors d’oeuvres to replace what people would typically eat for an entire meal.  

They also often require servers on hand to make sure the small bites are passed around the room and that platters are refilled as they empty.  

But if you want to do an hors d’oeuvres-heavy party and save money, you can have the food set up on tables without a wait staff. 

“So while you’re spending more money on the catering itself, you’re not going to pay for so much labor because everything can just be dropped off, set up and you can typically take care of it based on the size of your group,” she says. 

“To-go will always win over on-site service.”

Picking up your food for Thanksgiving can help significantly reduce your total bill.  

According to the NACE, pickup catering averages $45 per person because staff or service item charges are not included. 

“Many restaurants and caterers offer Thanksgiving meals to go, and allow you to bring your own dishes, so it looks like you cooked,” says Carruth.  

You can save generally 20-30 percent on the total bill because you won’t have to pay for staffing or delivery, she says. Many of these “Thanksgiving to-go” meals are cost effective because everything is done in bulk, and then portioned out for individual orders. 

“Don’t rent your utensils from us.”

Providing your own items, such as flatware, glassware and plates, can save you money. You can buy them for less at a discount online or at party supply stores. 

NACE says utensils can be rented from anywhere, at 15 cents apiece and up, but  when the caterer supplies utensils, it takes on the liability and the time and money spent to set up, deliver and clean them. The minimal price is offset by the convenience factor, according to NACE. 

The majority of caterers include the dinnerware and build the cost into the per-person pricing structure, according to NACE. If they do charge separately, they typically line-item it out so you can see the costs. 

“Book your caterer early and be upfront about your budget.”

You typically need to book your caterer three months in advance, but Thanksgiving catering can often be booked more short-term because it is less in demand than Christmas or New Year’s Eve. 

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, for a lot of companies, that’s what called the season. We’re pretty much crazy-busy from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve,” says Carruth.  

When booking a caterer, it’s easier for caterers to first know your budget, and then come up with creative ideas of what they can do with it. “Say, ‘Here’s what I have. What can you do for me?’ ” she says. 

Melanie Fincher
Melanie Fincher |

Melanie Fincher is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Melanie at melanie+mandi@magnifymoney.com

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Where to Find Deals on Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Black Friday might be the busiest shopping day of the year, but here’s a secret: it may not be the best day to purchase everything on your holiday shopping list. While retailers offer some great deals the day after Thanksgiving, you could purchase items in other spending categories at an even larger discount if you can wait a bit longer or slip into stores a day early.

Here’s the scoop on when to shop and what to buy:

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day

Some deal tracking sites have already called it: Thanksgiving Day offers could actually be better than some Black Friday deal offerings this year, although there are significantly fewer of them.

Thanksgiving Day shoppers might see deep doorbuster discounts on select electronics, appliances, shoes and more at retailers that will kick off Black Friday on Thursday evening. It’s rumored that stores such as Best Buy, Walmart, and Target will use rarely-seen sales on Apple products in addition to common limited super-discounted items and freebies to lure customers in on Thursday night. For example, Walmart shoppers who want to buy hot items like the 60-inch Vizio HDTV will need to come early and get a wristband. Then they have two hours after the event begins at 6pm on Thursday evening to get the item.

There will be many more winners on Black Friday, however, as more stores will be open and more discounts will be available. Black Friday shoppers will also get the benefit of spending Thanksgiving Day at home with family.

Here’s what to put on your shopping list for the day after.

Good to Buy on Black Friday

Good to Buy on Black Friday

Cars

Black Friday is a great day to get a deal on a new car, but it’s not the only day of the year to do so. Car dealerships will have promotions to help clear out their 2016 inventory and make way for 2017 models. Expect deals to heat up during Thanksgiving week and last through the end of the year.

Some great deals you’ll find:

  • $4000 cash back and 0.0% financing for 72 months on the 2016 Nissan Leaf
  • Lease a 2016 Honda Civic Sedan for $179/month for three years with $1,999 due at signing.
  • Up to $6,000 cash back and 0% financing for 60 months on the 2016 Nissan Titan XD.

Electronics

Black Friday celebrates some of the best deals on electronics. Expect to see 4K televisions sell even better than they did last year, while sales on cordless home assistants and 4K streaming devices reflect the national shift away from traditional cable boxes.

Some great deals you’ll find:

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Roku has released five new models this year already and has discounts for them all at Roku.com, Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Walmart. The company faces tough competition from Google, which is to debut the brand new Chromecast Ultra at $69.

Target is expected to have one of the best deals on a 4K TV with the 43-inch Element 4K UHD TV for $199. Best Buy follows closely with a Toshiba 49-inch 4K Smart TV with built-in Chromecast doorbuster deal for $200. Apple is expected to hop into the mix with the release of its 5th generation TV which will likely be a 4K set as well.

If you’re looking for a little digital help around your home, check out Amazon.com for discounts on the Alexa-enabled Amazon Echo,Echo Dot, and Tap. You can get even more off when you order with Alexa.

Apple is teasing a rare Black Friday sale on its website. The most the company is sharing is that shoppers that order before 5pm on Friday will get free two-day shipping.

Home Appliances & Power Tools

If you plan on changing things up around the house soon, Black Friday is a great time to replace an aging refrigerator or pick up some handy tools. Retailers are offering steep discounts on appliances and tool such as the Kobalt 24-Volt Max Lithium Ion Brushless Motor Cordless Combo Kit with Soft Case for $149 at Lowes.

Video Games and Consoles

A new generation of gaming consoles featuring the Xbox One S and Sony’s Playstation Pro hit the shelves just in time for the holiday season this fall, so you can’t expect too many discounts on them. You can expect markdowns in their predecessors however. Expect deals on gaming systems such as the Playstation 4 and Xbox One and the games that go with them as retailers work to make room for the newer models.

Dell.com is offering $250 for Xbox One S 500GB Battlefield 1 bundle, Gears of War 4, and an extra wireless controller while Best Buy, Walmart and GameStop are taking $50 off any XBox One console or bundle. Target is offering $50 off the Battlefield 1 and Minecraft bundles and adding in a $40 gift card.

Wait for Cyber Monday to Shop For…

Wait for Cyber Monday to Shop For

 

Computers, Phones & Tablets

Expect the best deals on non-Apple tablets on Cyber Monday.  Although, you should to see some of the best deals on iPhones on Thanksgiving. All eyes are on Amazon’s Fire HD 8, which will be on sale for $30 off on Amazon and Best Buy.

Beauty Products

Have you been meaning to visit Sephora for your favorite Beauty blogger’s sworn brands? You won’t have to battle crowds over a Kylie Lip Kit. Cyber Monday has your back here. Look online for beauty deals from Sephora, Bath & Body Works, Lancome, E.L.F. Cosmetics, and others this season. Bonus: you can shop from your bed, makeup free in sweats and a messy bun.

What Not to Buy on Black Friday

What Not to Buy on Black Friday

Apparel & Shoes

Clothing and shoes- especially outerwear -will see huge discounts in January as retailers clear out and make space for Spring trends. You’ll save a lot more than you would on black friday you can wait until the new year to buy that new parka. If you must buy before the holidays come up, check for the best deals for clothing and shoes on Cyber Monday.

Gift Cards

It can be tempting to get all of your holiday shopping done by purchasing gift cards on Black Friday, but you should resist the temptation. Wait until December. Retailers and restaurants often offer free gift cards with a minimum purchase. You can shop for yourself and get a gift as well.

If you’re a Converse fan, the iconic sneaker brand is offering a $10 gift card with a $50 in-store purchase this holiday season.

Home & Patio Furniture

Furniture retailers don’t offer many deals during the holidays, so don’t waste your precious time searching for one on a new sofa. If you need furniture, wait until the summer months when retailers have the best deals and biggest discounts.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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