As one of the most significant expenses in your overall wedding budget, some couples find catering costs to be a bit more than they’d anticipated. While every couple should expect to allocate about half of their total budget toward reception costs—catering services included—there are ways to save money on wedding catering without sacrificing a delicious meal for all. Experts agree that if a couple is willing to build a strategic menu, skip the plated dinner, and think outside the box, there’s plenty of room to keep catering costs right on track. Looking for a Wedding Event Planner? Look no further, Vines of the Yarra Valley have you covered.
Ready to save yourself some money while still serving up something great? We’ve got the top clever ways to save money on wedding catering, straight from the pros.
Table of Contents
- 1 Wedding Catering Costs — What Drives Them
- 2 How Much Does Wedding Catering Cost?
- 3 Wedding Catering Budget Tips
- 3.1 Offer Theme Stations
- 3.2 Forget the Filet — Find More Inexpensive Protein Options
- 3.3 Provide Your Appetisers
- 3.4 Choose Not to Have Servers for Part of the Evening
- 3.5 Hire a Food Truck to Provide Fresh Fare
- 3.6 Go for Barbecue
- 3.7 Pick a Venue That Allows Outside Catering
- 3.8 Serve Your Meal Family Style
- 3.9 Don’t Serve Food Out of Season.
- 3.10 Have a Candy Bar Instead of a Cake
- 3.11 Have a Daytime Wedding With Brunch or Lunch Served
- 3.12 Play Around With the Presentation
- 3.13 Go for Bite-Size Desserts
- 3.14 Think Outside the Box for Options Like Pizza or Burgers
- 3.15 Limit the Amount of Options Available
- 3.16 Cut Down the Guest List
- 3.17 Don’t Seek Out Wedding-Specific Caterers.
- 3.18 Cut the Number of Courses
- 3.19 Go for a Grazing Table
- 3.20 Look to Local Culinary Schools for Options
Wedding Catering Costs — What Drives Them
It’s tough to put an exact price tag on how much to budget for a reception. As a low-ball starting point, you might estimate $35 per person, but that can soar past $100, based on various influences.
These factors include but are not limited to the cost of the venue, rentals, staffing, bar, and of course, the food itself.
Headcount and Catering Costs
Many quotes are based on the number of people who RSVP. And couples must pay what they agreed to — even if there’s a no-show or an extra person who appeared without giving a head’s up.
Catering Costs Based on Timing and Location
Location and time of year are other factors that influence the cost. Catering costs tend to be higher in her town. Why? Because caterers tend to charge more when – and where – there’s higher demand.
Because of this popularity, many wedding-related vendors, including caterers, charge premium prices on prime dates, such as Saturdays in spring and fall, when the weather is charming.
Serving Style and Food Costs
Another critical decision to make is what style you prefer for your reception. Is it a plated dinner? Family-style serving? A buffet? How about serving/carving stations and cocktail options? All of these depend on your overall theme and goal for the celebration and range in cost.
What you pick has a significant impact on your bottom line. His company offers a food-buying program for caterers, and he sees firsthand how much certain types of purchases indeed cost.
Plated dinner and passed hors d’oeuvres will cost considerably more than a buffet-style dinner, especially if you consider that additional staff will be required to attend the event to have a more hands-on deck.
If you do opt for a buffet or serving stations, the menu makes a difference, too. If you have your heart set on a sushi bar or lobster rolls, it’s helpful to come prepared with some questions for your caterer regarding market prices. This will help give you a good idea of how much you’d be spending for those options, rather than being surprised after the fact.”
Catering Cost Wild Cards
Some catering companies may charge for things you might not think of — like an additional few dollars per piece of cake cut — that can add more zeros to the final bill.
The type of wedding you decide to host also plays a part. This is especially true in the age of Instagrammable moments, which encourages couples to ask for more creative set-ups. Elaborate and ornate preferences tend to come with a higher-end price tag.
How Much Does Wedding Catering Cost?
Trying to figure out how you’re going to pay for your wedding? Here’s a look at some average costs of wedding catering.
Most couples spend between $1,800 and $7,000 on catering. Most caterers will include alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages as part of their packages. The average cost per person for a wedding in the United States is $40 for a plated meal and $27 for a buffet. Adding an open bar typically ups the cost by $15 per person. It would help if you tipped a caterer between 15% and 20% of the final cost. Around 25% of couples ask guests to choose their meal before attending to save on cost.
Wedding Catering Budget Tips
Without a doubt, weddings cost a pretty penny — and most couples know that going into the planning period. No one wants to serve flavourless food or leave their guests hungry, but going broke isn’t a savvy choice.
The good news: There are ways to cut back on catering costs without skimping on quality. Consider these tips from the pros.
Offer Theme Stations
When it comes to the fare on offer at a wedding, many people immediately think of the traditional dishes like chicken in sauce, pasta, steak, etc. However, it would help if you were thinking outside the box and looking to theme stations as an option. No matter what food you love, you can create a theme station based on it, from fajitas to food from Thailand crafted fresh in a wok to butter chicken and tikka masala served alongside rice. A theme station is a ton of fun for your guests, and it allows it to feel extra special—and is usually cheaper than a traditional plated dinner.
Forget the Filet — Find More Inexpensive Protein Options
We know, we know—you only have one wedding, so it can be incredibly tempting to splurge on every little detail. After all, your guests will remember that perfect filet you picked for the main course, right? Wrong. We hate to break it to you, but your guests probably won’t remember what was served a week after the wedding, unless, of course, the food was so bad that they couldn’t help but remember. So, when it comes to selecting your proteins in particular, look for more cost-effective options than your standard filets or different cuts of pork or lamb that are a bit friendlier on the budget.
Provide Your Appetisers
Here’s the thing with appetisers: they can cost a ton of money, and often, they’re not that tough to pull together yourself. It would help if you didn’t exhaust yourself making 300 mini tarts or anything crazy like that. However, if you’re okay with going a little bit simpler, it’s pretty easy to pull together a cheese board or perhaps some fancy crudités and dips. You can prepare it all in advance and arrange to have someone set it up—and you’ll likely save a pretty considerable amount by eliminating the need for the first course alone. I mean, why bother to get that Costco membership if you’re not going to use it?
Choose Not to Have Servers for Part of the Evening
When it comes to food, there are two expenses: the food itself and all the workforce involved with preparing it and then the servers who bring the food to your hungry guests. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the glamour and decide it’d be a great touch to have beautifully dressed servers passing out the appetisers during the cocktail hour. However, let’s get real—your guests won’t notice if they’re being handed an appetiser or if they have to walk over to a table to get it. They’ll care about how it tastes, not about the fanfare involved with getting it. So, to save a few bucks, choose not to have servers for the entire evening.
Hire a Food Truck to Provide Fresh Fare
Okay, this one might not be an option if you have your wedding during a snowstorm, but for those getting married in the warmer months, a food truck might be the perfect solution. The majority of food trucks can be rented for private events, and they’re usually way more inexpensive than a catered meal. Sure, your options will be a bit more limited, but the food truck knows how to make the items it specialises in perfectly, so your guests will be thrilled with their tasty meal. And it’s a perfect option for venues where the lack of a kitchen is an issue—food trucks don’t need space to set up beyond a parking space.
Go for Barbecue
Guests may consider BBQ a given, but for many others, it’s an unconventional choice. However, if you’re looking to keep your budget in check, it can be a fantastic option. It may not be the best pick if you’re going for a more formal vibe, but for a fun, casual wedding, barbecue can feed your guests with an excellent meal for a relatively low cost. Get a few types of meats, get some comfort food sides like macaroni and cheese or baked potatoes, and you have a delicious meal that your guests will be talking about for weeks. After all, who doesn’t love barbecue?
Pick a Venue That Allows Outside Catering
You find the perfect venue that seems like it’s a dream come true, you go to sign the contract, and you realise that they only allow their caterer to serve food at any event. Yikes! It may not seem like a big deal, but losing the chance to at least shop around for caterers and compare budgets has a significant impact on your catering bill. If you’re more interested in sticking to the budget than you are in committing to one specific venue, make sure you find a platform that’ll allow you to use an outside caterer. That way, you can find one that fits your budget exactly, and you won’t have to compromise to get the location you want.
Serve Your Meal Family Style
Weddings are supposed to be a happy occasion when many friends and family get together to celebrate a happy couple. So, why not take that feeling of closeness to another level and decide to serve the meal family-style? With this type of catering, you can still get whatever food you want, and it can be presented beautifully. However, rather than paying to have each serving plated separately, your guests will have the chance to pass around the food as if they were eating at a family dinner together. It’s a slightly more informal style, but it can be an excellent option for a budget-conscious bride.
Don’t Serve Food Out of Season.
Caterers pretty much have any option you can desire available—if you’re willing to pay for it. However, if budget is an issue—and if you’re really into food—you need to look into serving food in season. First of all, when food is out of season, it costs way more to transport it from wherever it’s grown to wherever you are. Additionally, it probably won’t taste as good as whatever’s in season. So, though your caterer may have a ton of dishes you can choose from, pay special attention to what’s actually in the season when selecting your menu. Too busy with life to really plan your wedding in detail? Have someone else do it for you and check out our list of Wedding Planners in Melbourne to help take the stress away.
Have a Candy Bar Instead of a Cake
Okay, let’s get real for a moment—when it comes to wedding food, cakes are pretty overrated. The bride and groom may enjoy the process of cutting the cake and picking out the flavour they love, but it’s not usually the course that your guests will leave remembering. So, if you’re looking to avoid the expense of a giant, fancy wedding cake, why not opt for a nostalgic crowd-pleaser and offer a candy bar instead? You can pick out all your favourites from a bulk store and present them in a way that’s cute and will have your guests feeling like they’re enjoying a special treat rather than a slice of store-bought sheet cake cut up in the back.
Have a Daytime Wedding With Brunch or Lunch Served
For many people, the time a wedding takes place is non-negotiable. They want an evening wedding so their guests can drink and dance into the wee hours of the night—and for many, it’s the only option. However, if you’re willing to think outside the box for your wedding and you’re also looking to save a few bucks, a daytime wedding might be the perfect solution. If your wedding takes place earlier in the day, you can serve lunch or even brunch, which is usually way more inexpensive than serving dinner. Plus, come on! Who wouldn’t love to feast on waffles and mimosas?
Play Around With the Presentation
You’ve probably heard the expression that we eat with our eyes first countless times, but it’s true. The way you serve the food you’re offering your guests matters. If you’re opting for a standard buffet with chafing dishes, your options may be limited. However, if you’re able to have a say in the presentation of your meal, choose to play around with it and make it more visually appealing. Instead of a standard serving tray, find a few cute platters you can use after the big day. Incorporate colour rather than using standard white plates. The options are endless!
Go for Bite-Size Desserts
Let’s be honest—after a big meal where they ate way too much, most of your guests don’t have room for a massive slice of cake. You may think it sounds like a good idea, but you’ll end up with a whole bunch of partially eaten pieces—and a massive bill for dessert. Instead, opt to go bite size for desserts. From mini cheesecakes to mini red velvet cupcakes, you can select all your favourite flavours, and your guests can take the small portion they want. It looks super cute, and it’s way more inexpensive than a dessert buffet with full-sized treats.
Think Outside the Box for Options Like Pizza or Burgers
Many people assume you need to choose from a list of wedding food staples regarding wedding food. Are you serving steak or chicken for the main? Are you serving fish or pasta for your vegetarian course? Well, we’re here to tell you that you can totally think outside the box and avoid those typical wedding meals entirely. Perhaps your family is Italian—why not serve pizza instead? Or, if your wedding has a more casual vibe, decide to offer a build-your-own-burger bar. The possibilities are endless, but the point is, you don’t need to feel obliged to serve the same things you’ve eaten at every other wedding you’ve attended over the years.
Limit the Amount of Options Available
The simple fact is, you’re never going to be able to please everyone at your wedding, so it’s not worth it to even try. You may think you’re an accommodating hostess by offering four options for entrees guests can choose between, but really, you’re just driving up the cost of your bill. Instead of allowing your guests to pick from beef, chicken, lamb, fish, or vegetarian, find one great dish to serve everyone (with a vegetarian option for those who need it). Sure, some people may not be the biggest fans of the protein you choose, but ultimately, it’s one meal—and there’ll likely be plenty of sides and appetisers to balance it out.
Cut Down the Guest List
This is a tough one, but it’s just a reality. No matter how much you trim back on your food costs, no matter how many little tricks you find for shaving off a few dollars, a wedding with 400 guests is going to cost you a ton for catering. It’s just a fact—the more mouths you need to feed, the more money you have to pay your caterer, period. You want to make sure all the special people in your life are there for your big day, but if budget is an issue, you may want to cross the third cousins you haven’t talked to in a decade off the guest list.
Don’t Seek Out Wedding-Specific Caterers.
Many brides learn when it comes time to plan the big day because anything mainly aimed at weddings is usually much more expensive. From bridal bouquets to photography packages, wedding-related services charge a premium for the opportunity to be there on your big day. So, when you’re looking for caterers, don’t automatically look for caterers that do weddings. After all, a wedding is just a big event—and there are plenty of caterers who do events all the time. They’ll be more than capable of handling your wedding and will likely charge you a more reasonable fee.
Cut the Number of Courses
If you decide to pass on the buffet-style dinner and opt for a plated meal instead, it can be tough to figure out how many courses you want. After all, you want it to be a special occasion, and that calls for at least three courses, right? Perhaps a fourth miniature course to start and maybe a palate cleanser in the middle? Take a step back and think about this—will your guests care if you serve that fourth course, or will they want to hit the dance floor? If budget is a factor, you’re better off doing two excellent courses than trying to find cheap options for course three and four just because you feel you have to.
Go for a Grazing Table
Some people see serving a big, plated meal as the only option for wedding food. However, if you’re willing to think outside the box, a grazing table can be a fantastic solution. A grazing table is a total showstopper that will have your guests majorly impressed, and it costs way less than most plated meals. You can pick from a selection of dips, crackers, meats and cheeses, nuts, crudités, and much more. And, there’s a reason that charcuterie is such a popular menu item—people love it! If you add some heartier options and make sure there’s more than enough, people will be satisfied. Check out our ultimate list of Wedding Planners in Melbourne to help you organise a stress-free wedding.
Look to Local Culinary Schools for Options
There are some places in your wedding budget where you really might not want to compromise—for example; you don’t want to hire an amateur photographer who ends up getting only terrible pictures of you and your partner all night. However, culinary school students can usually do a pretty fantastic job when it comes to food—and for a portion of the cost of regular caterers. If you live in a bigger city, look to local culinary schools to see if they have any options. Some will offer catering services that might be the perfect option for a budget-conscious bride and groom.