1) Shrink everything—Use bite-sized portions of comfort foods, says sales consultant Jennifer Kelly of Steven Starr Events, Philadelphia. Petite applewood smoked bacon BLTs and one-bite grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup “shooters” are popular. An added bonus: You’ll use less china and flatware.

2) Try “noshing stations” in place of passed hors d’oeuvres—This reduces service staff. How about a station of mini hard and soft pretzels paired with a variety of gourmet mustards, and bowls of popcorn flavored with everything from truffle to citrus to white cheddar with basil?

3) “Accessorize” creatively—Two favorites of Paul Neuman of Neuman’s Catering in New York City are homemade potato and plantain chips. “They’re great, inexpensive items that always get a wow. Make sure they are fresh, homemade, and accompanied by a great dip, such as a spicy mango salsa for the plantain chips, and a four-onion dip for the potato chips.”

4) Super soup—Either as an hors d’oeuvre or a first course, soups can be beautiful at a reasonable price. “Garnish a butternut squash and apple soup with crème fraiche, basil oil, and toasted pumpkin seeds, and you have a dramatic visual effect,” says Neuman.

5) Try glam garnishes—“A fine sliver of cornichon, a dollop of ketchup, and a grilled onion ring on a slider; a pinch of micro greens on a tuna taco; or a few shreds of wakame [Japanese seaweed] salad atop a piece of grilled fish,” says Neuman chef Larry Duda. “It’s a great look with great flavor.” Neuman’s president, Wendy Pashman, uses pancetta, a relatively inexpensive Italian-style bacon, to add a salty, flavorful punch to everything from Caesar salad (with pancetta croutons) to caramelized figs (with crisp pancetta and honeyed goat cheese).

6) Presentation counts—“Desserts lend themselves to upscale presentation without great expense,” Neuman says. “We serve one-bite portions of crème brulee in Chinese spoons. By using different flavors like pistachio, mango, mocha, and vanilla, we can transform this basic menu item into an elegant dessert.”

7) Shooters are good for more than just alcohol—Pashman suggests a trio of brightly colored soup shooters—minted cool pea soup, roasted heirloom tomato, and roasted butternut squash—neatly lined up on a silver platter garnished with white roses. A similar idea: tiny cupcakes and individual layered desserts served in shot glasses.

8) Spice up simpler foods—“We use global spices that really perk up the flavors of everything from egg dishes to vegetables to meats,” Pashman says. Her current favorite: Ethiopian berbere, which is a blend of cumin, cardamom, allspice, fenugreek, coriander, cloves, red pepper, ginger, turmeric, hot paprika and cinnamon. Duda, a fan of Thai curry paste, recommends using exotic marinades and sauces, such as a soy- ginger dipping sauce with flank steak roulade or chimichurri sauce with chicken.

9) Add a little luxury—Use higher-priced foods sparingly or as an add-on, Pashman suggests. “Many times we’ll take a ‘luxury product’ like lobster, shrimp, or veal and we’ll use it sparingly to create a dramatic-tasting dish without spending a lot of extra money. We do this with our lobster grilled cheese sandwiches, or serve shrimp tacos instead of shrimp cocktail.”

10) Substitute with style—Can’t afford Kobe beef in those sliders? Use Angus. Petite filet costs roughly half the price of beef tenderloin, but who would know? “While not as tender as true tenderloin, petite filet makes up its shortcomings with a more pronounced beef flavor,” Duda says. In the fish family, try hake. This cod substitute has the added bonus of being an environmentally conscious choice. “The flavor profile is very similar to cod and for the price, it’s an excellent choice.”

Source: Special Events Magazine