26 Smart Ways to Save Wedding Catering Costs

It’s common for food and beverages expenses to take a huge bite out of the wedding budget. If you want big savings in this area, take a look at these clever planning tips.

Wedding Cocktail Hour

  1. Pass hors d’oeuvres. Instead of setting up a buffet, have servers pass around appetizers during cocktail hour. In doing so, you may pay a little extra for service, but you’ll reduce food expenses by minimizing quantity. With this arrangement, guests can pick up one piece at a time instead of approaching a shrimp station and filling up their plates.
  2. Compare prices for seafood options. For example, calamari and mussels are usually less expensive than shrimp cocktail and scampi. Learn more about food expenses by requesting a list of less costly seafood appetizers from your wedding caterer.
  3. Use creative plates. It’s been said that presentation is key. So focus on an interesting serving display using unique trays, such as small tapas plates, to add a cool twist to the fare without increasing your bill.
  4. Serve less expensive but popular food items. Offer macaroni and cheese in martini glasses, bite-size grilled cheese made in sandwich presses, and mini crab cakes with tartar sauce. These classic crowd-pleasers may run you only one-third the cost of traditional cocktail party foods.
Reception Dinner
  1. No one will expect a 5-course meal after cocktail hour. Instead, three courses will be just enough.
  2. Instead of offering a choice of three entrées, created a platter or a duet plate with beef medallions and grilled shrimp or crab cakes. You’ll use a lot less food than if you had to plan for a large quantity of all three entrées to have on standby should guests change their minds at the last minute.
  3. If you create a tasting menu of seven or eight small courses as opposed to four big ones, you can save about 15 percent in food costs.
  4. Select menu items that are in-season and grown locally. Your food will taste much better and cost you less money.
  5. Find out from your chef which seafood will be in season at the time of your wedding so you can save money.
  6. Keep in mind that some meat items will cost more during certain times of the year, so inform your caterer that you’ll consider those that will be available at a good price closer to your wedding date.
  7. Family-style dishes could save you up to 20 percent. Opt for platters of sliced meat or pasta that guests can share and pass around the table.
  8. For a kid-friendly wedding, select a caterer who will extend free or half-priced meals for kids up to 16 years old.
  9. Schedule the reception during off times to save money. Guest won’t expect to eat dinner at 3:00 p.m. So time your reception to avoid major meal times, and you can get away with a light meal or dessert-only reception. Just make sure your invitation clearly communicates what people should expect—some people purposely don’t eat in anticipation for ample reception food.
Reception Bar & Drinks
  1. In place of full-bar service, offer wine and beer with one or two personalized signature cocktails using clever names and your wedding colors.
  2. Go mid-shelf instead of top-shelf when choosing liquor, and you can save up to 30 percent. (Guests probably won’t notice the difference anyway).
  3. Use fun garnishes to jazz up your signature cocktails. Ask the bar manager to use curled lemon and lime peels, orange slices or mini fruit kebabs on toothpicks to match your wedding colors. There’s typically no charge for these garnishes, and the festive look will leave everyone with the impression that you’ve spent more than you really have.
  4. Don’t serve shots or drinks that require multiple liquors—these options will increase your bar expenses.
  5. If you’re having an open bar, ask your bartenders to adhere to a “no shot” policy. Enthusiastic partiers often order rounds for their entire table, some of which go untouched. Eliminating this option helps reduce additional costs for late-night trips to the bar.
  6. For the wedding toast, skip the champagne. Instead, guests can join the toast with drinks they already have in hand.
  7. Close the open bar an hour early. This way, you can save hundreds of dollars, and guests can drink coffee and sober up before the drive home!
Wedding Cakes & Dessert
  1. Go with regular wedding cake flavors that are more budget friendly than gourmet options such as cannoli cream filling.
  2. Negotiate and try to lower or remove the wedding cake-cutting fee from your overall package (this is the charge to have wait staff cut and plate each slice of cake, and it can run you $1.50 to $2 per slice).
  3. Select a less labor-intensive wedding cake. Buttercream frosting will run you less than rolled fondant. You can opt for a classic, elegant wedding cake by leaving out elaborate sugarpaste ornamentation, and save a significant amount of money.
  4. While a five-tier tower wedding cake is great, a smaller three-tier one is even nicer because it will cut down your budget. If you’re going to need more slices, have a simple sheet cake made of the same flavors waiting in the kitchen for the staff to cut and serve.
  5. Stick to the wedding cake, only. It will be enough dessert for most guests, and they won’t miss a separate dessert plate or buffet table.
  6. Serve bite-size desserts, like tiny strawberry shortcakes. You can save one-third the price of a full dessert buffet by controlling portions.

Featured Cover Image: Brian Dorsey Studios

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