How to Save Money on Wedding Catering
So you’re planning a wedding… what are you going to feed your guests? Check out this list of ways to save money on wedding catering.
Before you get too far into planning your wedding, it’s important to pause to formulate your wedding budget. You need to know how much money is available, which parties are contributing toward your celebration (and how much they plan to offer), and how you would like to allocate your funds. While deciding which wedding must-haves will receive top spots on your list, keep this in mind: your wedding venue and your wedding catering will account for roughly 50% of your wedding budget.
Deep breaths, friends!
Though the cost to cater your wedding may be higher than other things on your list, like photography and entertainment, there are certainly many ways you can save money. In fact, there are at least 10 ways that come to mind! Below, we’re sharing all of the details because we want your wedding catering to be delicious (it’s one of the things guests remember about events, after all!) while still allowing you to have money left in the bank to spend on other areas that are important to you.
Host a Micro Wedding:
You’ve heard this before, but it’s worth mentioning again: the cost to cater your wedding is largely driven by the number of guests who will be in attendance. The higher the number of people, the higher the cost to provide everyone with food and drinks! In order to keep your catering costs within a more manageable range (whatever that looks like to you), think about keeping your guest list on the smaller side.
As an aside, if you and your partner are foodies, hosting fewer people at your wedding might mean that you can serve a more indulgent meal because you’re serving it to fewer people. By having a micro wedding, you could treat a small group to a multiple-course meal, while the same spend spread across a much larger guest list could maybe only afford fast food. Now that’s some food for thought!
Size Down Plates:
Have you ever gone up to a buffet or shared a holiday meal with family and felt the need to fill your plate only to realize your eyes were a bit bigger than your stomach? We’ve done it too! In fact, wedding caterers expect it will happen. So, size down the plates used at your wedding! Most dinner plates are 10”, but we suggest you size down to 7” plates for a wedding buffet. Using smaller plates means 3” less of plate space per guest– that’s space your crew would likely fill but potentially not eat.
Anyone who feels the need to go back for another round absolutely can– but many may realize they’ve gotten enough with their smaller dish. Less over-indulgence, and potentially less waste. Sounds like a savvy win to us!
Do Your Research:
Before agreeing to work with a venue or caterer, make sure to do your research. Some venues have exclusive caterers, which means the caterer they suggest is the only one allowed to work onsite. That means you won’t be able to meet with any additional companies in order to compare prices. You’ll want to decide if that matters to you! Check out sites like Yelp as well as Google Reviews, and wedding-specific vendor reviews on WeddingWire or The Knot.
Additionally, when it comes to bar service, there are different ways to pay for the alcohol served at your wedding. You’ll want to decide what types of alcohol you will serve (beer and wine are always the least expensive), whether you will have an open or cash bar, and whether you will pay for the alcohol needed to stock the bar outright or based on consumption. Consumption tends to be the most cost-effective because you’re only paying for the alcohol that is completely consumed (think: empty bottles) and/or the alcohol that cannot be returned to a distributor (i.e.: an opened case of beer with a single can missing cannot be accepted back into stock).
Limit Guests’ Choices:
Part of the enjoyment found at weddings is always through the food guests eat, so the natural thing to do is to make sure there’s something for everyone! But, before you honor every allergy and intolerance with a unique meal choice, press pause. Present allergies, intolerances, and lifestyle choices to your caterer and ask how the meals they design can check off multiple boxes. Is there something that can be served that meets the needs of those who are dairy and gluten intolerant? What about a meal that’s delicious for vegans and vegetarians? The fewer meal choices you have, the more affordable your bill is likely to be.
Focus on Dinner:
There’s more to a wedding menu than dinner alone! Your caterer will also want to know your preferences for appetizers and desserts. And, we’re here to tell you to limit the options.
After the ceremony, guests will likely be hungry. Some may have accidentally skipped lunch because they were traveling and/or getting ready; others might see the appetizers in front of them and suddenly feel the need to taste everything. After dinner, the majority of your guests will be ready to dance. And, they’ll be and stay full! As a result, the dessert bar and cake you had planned might go entirely to waste. So, focus on dinner!
Limit the variety and quantity of appetizers available to guests and consider only serving cake for dessert. When you do this, dinner will be the main focus for your guests and your wedding budget. You’ll notice savings as a result!
Say “Yes” to a Buffet:
When you’re thinking about how to serve your wedding meal, a plated dinner might be the first thing that comes to mind. But, what you may not realize is that’s the most expensive way to present your wedding menu to your guests. In order to serve plated dinners, every ingredient must be portioned onto the plate, and then it must be served by servers and eventually cleared after dinner. All of those elements represent a cost! On the flip side, a buffet requires less prep and asks guests to serve themselves. Both of those elements alone represent an immediate way to save!
Consider a Food Truck:
We mentioned buffets are a budget-friendly way to serve your guests their main meal at your wedding, but there’s something else to consider: food trucks! Food trucks tend to have a flat fee associated with their rental (though additional costs may apply depending on what you serve), and the menu items they present are portioned for guests to finish. As a result, they’re a great way to keep budgets in check, and they’re a fun way to lean into every foodie’s desire to try something new and wonderful. Plus, they’re cool and represent a unique wedding experience.
Look for Hidden Fees:
We mentioned before about leaving room in your wedding budget to cover added expenses, and caterers almost always account for a least a few. When you’re reviewing your contract with your team, look to see if taxes and gratuity are included in the cost already or if they will be calculated closer to your wedding day. Further, you’ll want to make sure the cost of rentals (think: chairs, tables, linens, plates, utensils, and glassware) are accounted for. Lastly, look for cork fees (the cost to open bottles at your bar) and the cost to cut and serve your cake.
Choose Affordable Wedding Foods:
We all know that certain types of foods cost more when we go grocery shopping, and the same applies for catering. Serving large pieces of meat to every guest is going to cost quite a bit more than a simple, meatless pasta dish, for example. So the types of food you serve and what they are made from can absolutely impact the overall cost. Check out this list of affordable wedding foods to get your creative food juices going.
Opt for Casual Fare:
We already mentioned food trucks, but there are several other food choices that offer laid-back vibes and affordable prices. Think a Taco Bar, Mini Burgers, or even pizza! You can serve an army at an affordable price by picking food options that aren’t considered high-brow. Bear in mind, just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly delicious.
Consider the Season:
Like so many things, weddings are seasonal, and venues and caterers are definitely in the know. When you’re thinking about when to host your wedding, realize that holidays and dates during mid-late spring, summer, and fall are likely considered “prime dates”. This means many couples are vying to book them. Because of this, wedding professionals want to take advantage and ensure they’re charging and earning their worth. As a result, expect to see higher costs for prime dates. In order to save money, ask about off-season dates and even weekdays that might be available to book. You may find a big fluctuation in prices.
When you’re deciding to work with a caterer, you will want to know how they plan to staff your wedding day. Do they work with a team within their company at every event, or do they hire temporary staff found through a staffing agency? If you serve a plated dinner versus a buffet, how many additional staff members will your caterer need to have on hand? Further, is your caterer licensed to serve alcohol and serve guests at your bar, or will you need to hire a separate team of bartenders from another company? Don’t forget to factor in tips and gratuity for the service staff. Food and drinks cannot be enjoyed unless they’re prepared and served at a wedding, and knowing the cost of service is paramount.
Our list of ways to save on your wedding catering is inclusive of many ideas, but it’s definitely not exhaustive. So, do you have additional tips to share? What about questions? Join us in the community to share your wedding catering plans!