This question can be answered by two things: how much work you personally want to do and how much money you want to spend. If the budget is limited, then maybe just crossing off the food preparation help from your list is enough to make things manageable. If after-party clean-up absolutely kills you, and you don’t want to be faced with a mountain of dirty dishes the next morning, maybe hiring someone to tidy up after the event will be most helpful.
The nice thing about hiring even a single service helper is that it frees you up to mingle with your guests and fully enjoy the party. You can confirm with the caterer you hire, but generally, 1 staff person should be enough to handle a group of 15, if you are serving the food buffet-style. This person will make sure food trays and bowls are replenished, that the buffet looks stunning and stays neat and tidy, that leftovers are boxed and refrigerated, and that your kitchen is left spotless – like no one was ever there. If this appeals to you, then it’s well-worth spending the little extra on having someone there to help.
In addition, having someone there from the catering company means any specific ingredient questions can be answered accurately. I have personally found this to be very helpful on more than one occasion.
As a general rule of thumb, if you are pleased with the service from your staff helper, be sure to tip him or her at the end of the night. Side note: you don't always have to turn to the caterer for your staffing needs.
What Else Can the Caterer Do?
Of course, you’ll need to specifically check with the company you hire, but most caterers also offer the following serivces:
Bar service: they can provide a a full-service bar with a bartender and all the glassware needed for your event.
Specialty cakes: most caterers partner with a bakery or cake decorator to allow you to arrange for a specialty cake directly through the caterer
Equipment rental: all caterers can arrange for renting anything you might need for your party, like tables, chairs, linens, dinnerware, glassware, etc. This can usually be added directly into your final cost, and you should be able to choose to set up your environment yourself, or have the catering company do it for you.
If, after all this information, you are still thinking that catered food is not in your price range, check with your local grocer or your favorite restaurant before ruling the idea out. Party platters and catering options from these businesses can be quite affordable, and all you need to do is go pick up the food yourself. I have found that when comparing the prices of food that’s prepared for me or doing it all myself, the cost factor comes out about the same - especially when I consider how much of my personal time will go into the food prep.
Remember, hiring a caterer isn’t just for the rich and famous. There are many affordable options available and caterers are more than willing to do what they can to earn your business. So before you get stressed about hosting a holiday party, call in some reinforcements to make the party fun for all.