Where do caterers shop? The same places we do. They go to the grocery store, they head for farmers' markets, they check the discount stores. And they agonize over the high cost of lettuce just like us.
"Look in your newspapers first and see what's on sale," says party planner Randy Fuhrman of Creative Concepts. "Make a list of where you are going and for what, so you don't get scattered and go crazy. If one place has a lot of things that you need on sale, then buy the other products there too. Don't go running around to five different stores unless you don't have anything better to do in life except shop."
Most people agree that deep-discount stores are good places to look, but it takes a bit of imagination and shopping savvy. You don't go there knowing exactly what you're going to walk out with, the aisles are too narrow, and the shelves are often a shambles, but you'll always go home with something.
We went shopping at a few favorite places of Southern California caterers . . . and a few of our own. Here's what we found:
* Trader Joe's, various locations: Jody Maroni sausages at a discount. "Whole cheeses at really good prices," says Gary Budnick of Prime Time. "A gold mine," says Fuhrman.
* Smart & Final, various locations: Ground turkey, salsa, bulk paper and plastic. "Grated cheese at really good prices, and it's real too." says Fuhrman.
* Price Club, various locations: Bulk paper and plastic.
* Oroweat Thrift Stores, various locations: Regular and thin-crusted Boboli at a discount.
* Costco, various locations: Salad bags, dried gourmet mushrooms, Starbucks roasted coffee, bulk paper and plastic.
* Max Foods, various locations: Bulk foods.
* 99 Only Stores, various locations: Plastic dishes, long-burning candles and one-of-a-kind bargains.
* Pic 'N' Save, various locations: Party favors, serving pieces, one-of-a-kind bargains. We found a frozen foods serrated knife ($1.99), a divided plastic serving dish (99 cents), and colorful, all-cotton Joe Boxer designer tablecloths ($7.99).
* Farmers Market, 6333 West 3rd St., Los Angeles: Produce ("Be sure to ask for a case discount," says Budnick); chicken ("Even if I'm doing 500 pieces of chicken, I will still get it there," says Don Ernstein of Wonderful Parties, Wonderful Food).
* Van Rex, 5850 Washington Blvd., Culver City: Luxury foods at bargain prices.
* Special Foods, 6533 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles: Wholesale seafood.
* Los Angeles Flower Market, 754 Wall St., Los Angeles: Blooms at bargain prices. If you're an indecisive shopper, don't bother. They have no patience with you.
* Basket World, 741 Maple Ave., Los Angeles: "Outrageous baskets at reasonable prices, but they definitely have different prices for the general public and the people in the industry," says Fuhrman.