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Should you cook or cater for your Christmas party?

Planning your Christmas party this year? Find out if you save more money hiring a caterer or if it's more economical to do the cooking yourself.

catering, food, cooking, potluck, christmas, party, celebrations, singapore, money, wise

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Life is made to be celebrated, and there’s no better way to spend birthdays, anniversaries and festivals than with family and friends. But the problem with hosting a gathering is feeding your guests, if only to keep them from turning into irritable monsters that are now eyeing your chihuahua just a little too keenly.

Catering services promise to save us from the hangries so we may continue to socialise with laughter and joy. And because caterers in Singapore aren’t expensive, they’ve become a common fixture at home events.

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But is catering a buffet worth the money? Or is home cooking the better deal? Whether you choose to cater or cook, there are pros and cons to each option.

Catering Saves You Time and Effort

Catering saves you time and effort, so you can focus on your event and your guests. A catering package provides everything you need to feed your guests, including disposable cutlery, garbage bags, serviettes and such. Some caterers can also rent you stools, tables and chairs.

However, because caterers rely on economy of scale, the cost per person goes up for smaller parties than larger ones. This has got nothing to do with the quality of the food – it’s purely because of the need for caterers to make a profit.

Additionally, most caterers charge a delivery fee (around S$50 to S$60 per trip) which, if ever, are only waived for orders exceeding several hundreds of dollars. There are also other surcharges that may be payable, such as if your location lacks direct lift access.

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Another common downside with catered food is food wastage, as you cannot return cooked food. Because catering kitchens combine and prepare orders, your food is typically cooked hours prior to your guests’ arrival. This contributes to the problem of wasted food, as certain types of food items (think fried rice) just do not keep well.

Home Cooking Saves You Money and Food

We all know that home cooking costs less. When you hire a caterer, you’re paying for a professional service.

Another less obvious advantage to home cooking is less food wastage. You can either cook food in batches – which also ensures freshness – or you could set a portion of your budget aside for pizza delivery if needed.

However, cooking requires skill, time and equipment. Preparing food and cleaning up after can also be messy. You may also find it difficult to attend to the stove and your guests at the same time.

How Much Does Home Cooking Save You?

Catering costs money, whereas home cooking costs time and effort. All things being equal, how much more are we paying when we book a catering package? Are the monetary savings worth the time and effort of cooking?

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To find out, we drew from about 5 different caterers to construct a typical catering menu, consisting of 10 items and for 30 pax (see above for why we chose such a large number). We then found out the ingredient cost of cooking a similar menu for a side-by-side comparison.

For the home-cooked menu, we chose the same dishes or close equivalents. We excluded the cost of pantry staples such as oil, sugar, salt and spices; the large quantity of food cooked would render the individual cost of these items negligible.

Here are the results.

Costs of Catering versus Home Cooking in Singapore

Catering Item
(Based on typical menu for 30 pax)

Home Cooking
(Estimated ingredient cost per pax)

Aglio Olio Aglio Olio (S$0.35)
Indonesian Sayur Lodeh Curry Vegetables (S$1.40)
Golden Torpedo Prawn Tempura Prawns (S$0.60)
Pan-fried Dory with Tomato Sauce Baked White Fish with Assam Sauce (S$0.85)
Lemon Chicken Fried Chicken Wings (S$0.60)
Sotong Ball Sotong Ball (S$0.70)
Egg Tofu with Enoki Mushroom Egg Tofu with Enoki Mushroom (S$0.48)
Black Pepper Beef Black Pepper Beef (S$1.15)
Sea coconut with Attap Chee Sea coconut with Fruit Cocktail (S$0.73)
Fruit Punch Orange Cordial (S$0.14)
Food and Drinks – approx S$15 per pax Food and Drinks – approx S$7 per pax
Delivery – approx S$60 (or S$2 per pax)  
Total – S$17 per pax

Total – S$7 per pax

Home Cooking Beats Catering, Hands Down

We all know that catering is more expensive, but did you expect to see such a large difference? Our results above shows that home cooking can give you as much as 60% savings.

Additionally, we may have been overly generous in our food portions. To determine how many ingredients were needed for each dish, we followed recipes designed for between 3 to 6 pax, then multiplied accordingly.

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However, during a 10-course catered buffet, most people would likely take smaller portions per dish. There is more to eat, sure, but your stomach can only take in so much food at one go. Which means that your actual food bill is very likely to be even lower.

And, if you’re wondering why the curry vegetables turned out to be the most expensive item, it’s because coconut milk in large quantities is quite pricey!

Save Money and Have Fun with Home Cooking

Given the significant price difference (S$300, in our above example) between catering and home cooking, it is a good idea for cost-conscious Singaporeans to opt for the latter. But before you reach for your apron in resignation, know that cooking doesn’t need to be a chore.

Ask your friends and relatives for help in the kitchen. They can turn up an hour or two early to take over the last leg of cooking, or contribute to the table by bringing a dish. Even those who can’t cook can help out. Non-cooks and older children can refill the air fryer basket when the timer goes off, give the marinating chicken wings a turn, or help to wash the dirty dishes.

Besides, celebrations are about spending time together, so take the opportunity to invite your nearest and dearest to join you in the kitchen and catch up on the latest gossip.

This was originally published in SingSaver.com.sg, Singapore's #1 personal finance comparison platform by transaction volume, provides consumers with timely money insights and aggregates the latest credit card offers and up-to-date personal loan deals.

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