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Creative Menus on a Budget

In our industry, one of our main focuses is to deliver a quality product to our clients but to do so with creativity and finesse. However, given the budget constraints of food, staffing, and other variables at any given time, it doesn’t always seem possible to ‘wow’ the client. Good news – we’re debunking that myth, and we gathered some expertise from other industry professionals to show that you can exceed expectations even on a budget!

Elevating an ordinary menu

Nearly everyone has their go-to menu, something they can pull out of a hat that works every time. But what about adding that awe-inducing edge to a client’s event? That can admittedly be harder to pull off, but we promise that you don’t need to over-spend on your food budget in order to do so.

Adam Gooch, corporate executive chef of Common Plea Catering says, “Spices can add so many different levels of flavor to the simplest of dishes. You need to reach past your basic seasoning blends and consider experimenting with different flavor profiles. I’m currently loving Chinese 5 Spice, Smoked Paprika, and Garam Masala. Combined with different cooking techniques, these would be great options to add a different dimension to your menu items. In addition to dried spices, we like to incorporate other flavors using liquid smoke, chili oils or hot sauces, or different citrus juices to help develop flavors and make your dish more exciting.”

Playing with your food (serving style)

Consider going a step further than the composition of your meal; think about how you can switch up your serving style in general.

Photo courtesy Sunshower Photography –

Serge Krikorian, owner of Vibrant Occasions Catering says, “With the growing popularity of cooking shows, guests love to see their food being made on the spot by uniformed chefs. Taking a menu as ordinary as tacos, you can elevate the meal to a street taco action station. It becomes a part of the entertainment as well as a delicious meal. Your guests will get to smell the wonderful aromas, hear the sizzle, and taste the delicious food, appealing to all of their senses to heighten the dining experience.”

Resources for inspiration

Keeping the creative spark alive throughout the year (especially when you find yourself in the midst of busy season) can be a difficult feat. Following current trends can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t hurt to pull inspiration from the Instagram feeds of your favorite chefs or caterers. Whether it’s a garnish that stops you in your tracks or a new seasoning that re-invents the way you view your own dishes, it’s important that you take note of what’s on the industry radar.

For example, the ICA Education Foundation offers Culinary Learning journeys that provide great inspiration as they expose you to various regions of the country and world. They have two scheduled in 2019 - one to Portland, one to Morocco, and Portugal. The itineraries are always strong, and some of the best inspiration can come from spending time with caterers from around the country. 

Regardless of budget or financial obstacles, don’t ever think that you’re limited to how you present your product and services creatively to your client! The smallest advances and surprise spices can mean the difference between a lackluster meal and one that guests won’t be able to stop talking about.

Clint Elkins

Clint Elkins is the VP Sales for SB Value located in Charlotte, NC. Clint, a former professional race car driver, was one of the top motorsports promoters in the country by the age of 35. Clint used that experience and passion for business to launch his second career in a sales and marketing. Outside of work Clint enjoys spending time on his family farm and coaching his two daughters softball teams. Clint is also an avid cook and self proclaimed badminton superstar.