Creating a Sandwich Bar on a Budget

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Offering a sandwich bar for dinner is a great way to feed a crowd on a budget. Here are some tasty ideas to include in your build your own sandwich bar.

ingredients for sandwich bar

It’s your turn to host your friends for supper. Whaddya gonna serve?

You could go all out and have your dinner catered. You could spend big bucks on party trays from Costco. You could tear your hair out making all your guests’ favorite foods.

No, thank you.

Luckily, there are lots of great dinner options for serving a crowd on a budget: a Mexican buffet, a pasta feed, a simple roast chicken. These are all well and good, but don’t overlook one of your simplest and more affordable options:

The Sandwich Bar

Sandwiches have been around for a long time, traced back at least 200 years. Originally a gambler’s meal, they have become a staple all around the world.

are among some of my favorite good cheap eats. There are so many ways that you can combine ingredients that there are endless opportunities to make your sandwiches different and unique.

Sandwiches specifically are highly portable, one-dish dinners that please almost anyone. And serving a Sandwich Bar allows your guests the freedom to prepare their meal exactly as they want it.

triple decker chicken salad club sandwich on board with checked cloth

What do you need for a sandwich bar?

A Sandwich Bar is one of the easiest buffets to assemble. At the bare minimum, you’ll need bread or rolls, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and some kinds of spreads.

What goes with deli sandwiches?

Man cannot live on bread (or sandwiches) alone, so be sure to serve a few select side dishes. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A trio of a veggie tray, side salad, such as potato salad, and a fruit tray are easy and delicious to go alongside sandwiches.

Of course, you can get more creative with your side dishes, but since you’ll already be setting out a colorful array of ingredients, don’t feel like you have to go hog wild. Okay, add some bacon to the buffet!

How much deli meat do I need per person?

People differ in their preferences as to how meaty a sandwich should be, but as a general rule, plan to have 2 to 3 ounces of deli meat per person. Round up as you do your calculations so that you’ve got a little extra in case folks want seconds.

Your sandwich bar will be so delicious, you know they’ll want to go back for more!

What equipment do you need for a sandwich bar?

You don’t need any special equipment for a sandwich bar other than plates and platters to hold the ingredients and your guests’ creations as well as knives for cutting and spreading.

It is nice to offer folks the option of making grilled sandwiches, so if you have a panini press or an electric griddle, those are nice to set out.

What ingredients to include in your sandwich bar:

sourdough boule cut in half

Breads for Making Sandwiches

Since bread is the foundation of a sandwich, it’s important to have the good stuff. Consider these options:

In most cases, it will cost less if you bake your own bread over buying deluxe bread. The added benefit of fresh baked bread is that your sandwiches will be over the top amazing!

However, bread baking is not for every one or every situation. That’s when shopping at ALDI or Costco can offset this expense. You can also shop the sales at your local grocery store and see if they have coupons as well.

assembling many sandwiches

Protein-rich Sandwich Fillings

Next in the sandwich ingredient hierarchy is the protein. It doesn’t have to be pricey. Quality deli meats often start at $10/pound, but there are some tasty work-arounds. Consider some of these options:

These prices are current as of 10/4/2019, San Diego County.

ramekin of herbed mayo with garlic and herbs

Sandwich Spreads and Other Fillings

The sandwich spreads and other fillings are where the fun comes in!

Fresh veggies and spreads add richness and flavor. They also show that you’ve put a little more care into the preparation. I try to keep these items prepped and ready to go in a divided plastic container in the fridge, so that sandwiches can be a quick, pick-up meal any day of the week.

Buy these items on sale when you can. Since no sandwich requires a lot of any one of these items, you don’t need to buy a ton for your Sandwich Bar.

Offer a selection of the following:

chicken patties in pita sandwich

Want to put together a fancy Sandwich Bar?

If you want to give the folks at your table a little more direction and possibly have more fun, build your sandwich bar around two or three of these sandwich recipes.

You can lay out all the ingredients in one space to let folks mix and match as they like, but then you can also, post the printed recipes around your buffet so that they can follow a recipe if they want to.

Easy Sandwiches to Make at Home

While I love me a $5 footlong sub, I also keep in mind that I can make a ton of sandwiches at home for a fraction of the price. And usually they are tastier than what we would buy in a sandwich shop!

Serving a sandwich bar is a great way to save money.

What do YOU include in your sandwich bar?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Carol says

    I’d suggest buying hotel style turkey breasts (often 99/lb on sale around here), roasting them, pulling the breast meat off in 2 large pieces, wrapping and freezing until needed. Make a stock out of the carcass and freeze for soups, gravy. 99/lb turkey is a good deal!

  2. M says

    We like subs too, so we make our own at home with Jimmy John’s day old bread- it’s about $.50/loaf.
    Also, we try to hit up the deli at one of our local grocers near closing time. They often pull out bags of pre-slice deli meats that previous customers changed their mind about. The selection can vary quite a bit, but it’s often marked down to about $1/lb.

  3. jan says

    I always have stuff on hand for a quick set up with the Boys (band) being around so much … Every time I go to Costco, we get the black forest ham and the honey smoked turkey (like you said $3.99/lb and I prefer over boars head) … we always (almost) have olives, peppeoncinis, banana peppers, regular peppers, onions, sweet peppers and lettuce on hand. Cheese is always a given (well, except during July’s Pantry Challenge!) and I try to keep the real deal on hand 🙂 Bread is the only issue since it will NOT stay fresh for long so generally, I can tell one of the boys to stop on the way over and pick up a couple of loaves (italian or french works the best imo) … funny, I just thought: the salads are the same as the sandwiches, only without the bread! 🙂 And we ALWAYS have salad stuff 🙂 Try the honey mustard dressing by Tammys Recipes for a spread….delicious!!

  4. Coby says

    We are a family in the minority here I guess. None of us really like cold sandwiches. The only cold sandwich we eat is PB&J (although I prefer it hot and grilled!). I like all the pieces of a cold sandwich and tend to eat them all separately if I am somewhere serving cold sandwiches (like a baby shower or something). My 4 year old does this too. Weird I know. We all just prefer hot sandwiches!

    • Deli says

      I’ve hosted a Sandwich Bar gathering before, I too like hot sandwiches so I decided to do all the ingredients of a cold sandwich and offer my guests my Panini press and toaster oven. I was surprised to see that I was pretty much the only one that wanted a hot sandwich. something about all that melted cheese! Yum! We are hosting another one, this time for our gender reveal party and we will do the same thing. 🙂 I think people liked having control over what they used for their sandwiches.

  5. kootenayAnnie says

    What is “peppeoncinis”?
    I like to make our subs, or french bread for sandwiches. I also make up tuna salad, or egg salad, or left over meat put in the blender ( or food processor) and blended up with some relish and mayo ( I usually use any opened relish I have on hand and i do make my own relishes and can them in the summer). Then provide what I have in the fridge to go with the sandwich or as a side ( Dh , does not like anything veg in the sandwich, but loves coleslaw on the side, so I have that or potatoe salad for him _ and that uses up a lot of leftover potatoes).

    • Jessica says

      @kootenayAnnie, peperoncinis are Italian pickled peppers, sometimes spicy, depending on what you buy. Love them!

  6. kootenayAnnie says

    Thank You, I had no idea what peperoncinis were! I had thought something like Peperoni, now that would be quite different.
    Just now I have been making a club house putting out everything and make it yourself ( I just cooked a turkey yesterday and got the fixings I didn’t have so that today was a no cook day for me, and tomorrow – but I will start my turkey soup, and stock, and I think i will use my large muffin tins and make some turkey pot pies.) Yesterday we were having snow and Turkey was so appropriate! LOL.

  7. jessica says

    Where’s a good cheap place to buy all the stuff to make sub’s for a party?

  8. Madame Defarge says

    I’m a vegetarian nowadays. This week for my mother and sister’s birthdays, I’m serving the gathering Toby’s Tofu Pate, which is even better than real egg salad; soy “bacon” (I call it “fake’n”); two kinds of cheese (gotta have some animal protein, I guess), and whole wheat bread–and of course condiments, lettuce, etc. They’re southerners, so i’m considering putting out a jar of pimento cheese as well. If they’re not satisfied they can drive to a fast food joint later. But I want them to feel full and fully fed, and I think this will work. There’s no one in my family who __needs_ _ more white flour, cholesterol, and animal fat in our diet. Oh, yes, and store-bought cake for dessert. For medicinal purposes only. 😉

    After noticing frowns and excessive pickiness in certain family members (coughSisterscough) I vowed to NEVER cook for anybody again. I will assemble food, though, and might break down and throw some oven fries on a platter. Or not.

  9. Mckenzie says


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