Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life… but it can also be one of the most expensive. Between the dress, the venue, the flowers, the honeymoon, the stationery, the cake, the photography, the DJ — it can all add up to tens of thousands of dollars.
One place where you can cut costs? The catering. Yes, you want to have great food at your wedding that people enjoy (especially if you and your spouse-to-be are self-proclaimed foodies), but you don't have to break the bank in order to do so. You can go budget-friendly with your wedding catering and still feed your family and friends an amazing, celebratory meal.
Here's how to save money on your wedding catering.
Negotiate with Your Caterer or Venue
Don't just take the first option that a caterer or venue (if your venue requires that you use their on-site or partner caterer) offers you. See where you can possibly cut some costs by taking a good hard look at what your catering package includes.
You probably don't need every single thing included, and striking a few things from the list could reduce your costs. Maybe you don't really need hors d'oeuvres at cocktail hour. Maybe you could make do with three appetizers rather than five. Maybe you have a lot of children coming to your wedding; if so, ask if you can get a lower per-person price since, let's face it, they won't exactly be scarfing down servings of the filet mignon.
If your wedding caterer offers a la carte catering, closely examine what's available and see if they'll do a bundled package for a more affordable fee.
Additionally, if you're still shopping around for a caterer, don't just ask for whatever catering package is listed on a potential caterer's website. See if they'll cut you a deal if you do something smaller or less extensive than what the packages listed on that website include. They may be more willing to negotiate than you think.
Reconsider the Sit-Down Dinner
This may not even need to be noted, as many wedding trends are shifting away from this anyway. But if you're considering a sit-down dinner, or maybe your parents are trying to convince you to do a sit-down dinner at your reception, look at other options. Sit-down dinners are one of the priciest catering options you can choose for your big day.
There are many more affordable catering options beyond the traditional sit-down dinner.
If you don't want to do a full-blown buffet, you can still channel some of the cost-saving measures of a buffet with a family-style dinner. Family-style dining is becoming more popular at trendy restaurants, so your guests won't even raise an eyebrow.
From pasta to salads to sides, family-size servings of dishes arrive at each table, allowing everyone to serve themselves and saving you big money in the process.
Consider Food Stations
Food stations look pricey and impressive, but they're really not. That's because many of them incorporate budget-friendly ingredients. Think mac' n cheese stations, build-your-own baked potato stations, a mashed potato bar or even a fried rice or Asian cuisine station. Nothing is more budget-friendly than potatoes, rice and pasta, but the flair and creativity of catering stations are a sure win every time.
The one exception to food stations and their budget-friendliness? The carving station. Just skip over this little wedding station. No one will even notice.
Schedule Your Reception at a Different Time of Day
This is an option that can save you money all across the board — with your venue, your photographer, your entertainment and your officiant. So many wedding vendors are willing to cut you a deal if you hold your ceremony and reception during non-peak hours, meaning either during the week or during the morning or early afternoon. This is because weddings during non-peak hours allow vendors to often double up on events, so they're not missing out on serving another couple by booking your wedding.
Especially when it comes to catering, though, you can save lots of money by opting to hold your wedding and reception at any time other than dinnertime. Dinner is the most expensive meal to serve at an event because you not only have to serve dinner, but you also often have to serve appetizers, drinks, alcoholic drinks and dessert.
Going with a brunch or breakfast-time reception cuts out literally everything other than the breakfast (and maybe some mimosas if you so choose, but there's no need to have an open bar at 10 a.m. on a Friday). Similarly, going with a 2 p.m. wedding and 3 p.m. reception that'll be wrapped up by 5 p.m. means only serving appetizers, light cocktails and a cake, leaving your guests on their own for dinner afterward.
Of course, this simply isn't an option for some couples, especially for those who want the party-esque vibe of a nighttime reception. But, it's worth looking into, as it can definitely save you a lot on catering costs.
Hold Your Reception at a Restaurant
If your guest list is small enough, consider holding your reception at a restaurant. If you rent a room, you can often save money on per-plate dinners, wrapping the cost of the reception venue and the dinner into one cost.
Ask Your Guests to Commit
If you go with a sit-down plated dinner with multiple entree options (fish, chicken, steak, etc.), asking your guests to commit to their dinner option ahead of time can save you money with your venue's caterer.
Once you have that commitment, you'll be able to inform the caterer exactly the amount of food to order, so there's no waste. This ensures your caterer isn't ordering extra food that goes unused, just to be on the safe side — cutting costs for both you and them.
Call in Some Backup
If your wedding is a more low-key affair and your ceremony is planned for a backyard or private setting, consider either catering the wedding yourself or asking a friend or family member to cater. This option works best only if you know someone who's a great cook and who has the bandwidth to do so, but it can save you a lot of cash.
Just remember, if you do decide to go with a friend or family caterer, or you think you can take the challenge on yourself, that it requires a lot of planning.
In addition to planning out enough food for everyone on your guest list, you'll also need to ensure someone is there to coordinate the food on the day of the wedding (don't think for a second that you, as the bride or groom, should be doing that on the day of your wedding). You'll also need to account for the non-food items that caterers often provide: tablecloths, silverware, plates, glassware, etc.
Another option along these lines? Ask for multiple friends or family members to help you organize a "potluck" reception. While it'll take a lot of planning and organization to ensure that you have all the food you need in the quantities that you need, a potluck reception can be a fun way to take the stress off one person planning the catering. It can also ensure a wide variety of foods in a casual wedding atmosphere.
Ask Your Caterer to Hand-Pass Appetizers
You may think that having your caterer hand-pass appetizers would be the pricier option versus letting guests serve themselves, but you'd be wrong, surprisingly.
Even though hand passing requires an extra staff member to physically go around your reception space and offer mini quiches and canapés to your guests, it's proven that guests eat less when appetizers are hand-passed versus just left out for guests to take at will.
Maybe it's because guests don't want the caterer's staff judging them for taking too many jumbo shrimp?
Focus on the Veggies
One of the most expensive foods to feed your wedding guests is entree meats — salmon, steak, chicken, etc. Skip over these proteins (we've all had too many servings of subpar, lukewarm wedding chicken anyway) and put the focus on the veggies.
Vegetarian and vegan menus can be creatively put together by any talented caterer in such a tasty way that not even your steak-loving father-in-law will complain.
Skip the Champagne Toast
When it's time for toasts, don't feel like you need to serve champagne to every person at your wedding. This wedding tradition is hardly necessary, and no one will notice that it doesn't happen, especially if they're enjoying one of your clever custom cocktails.
Scale Back the Bar
You may want to have an open bar at your wedding, and that's totally fine, but you can save a little extra cash by scaling it back a bit. Rather than throwing the doors wide for all of your friends to order the top-shelf tequila, stick to beer, wine and two or three specialty cocktails designed with your wedding's theme in mind. Your caterer can help you come up with a fun little cocktail that's both affordable and adorable.
Beyond food stations, buffets, potlucks and family-style dining, there are even more ways to get creative with your wedding catering. More and more, weddings are becoming all about celebrating you and your spouse-to-be, rather than just throwing an impressive party. So really, anything goes.
Grab your favorite food truck and have it park outside your venue (or right in the middle of it, if you're holding an outdoor reception). Did you meet your spouse-to-be at Shake Shack? Have Shake Shack cater the reception. Do you both love barbecue? Hire your local pitmaster to serve up slabs of brisket.
Once you start getting creative with your catering options, you'll find all kinds of ways to save money.
Stock the Bar Yourself
Really! Many caterers markup the cost of wines, spirits and beers, so if you buy all the beer, wine and spirits separately, you can save a pretty penny. Plus, you'll be able to pick the brands you like best while also ensuring that your guests aren't running up a huge bar tab by only ordering the top-shelf stuff.
Get Down into the Fine Details
The finest details matter, and the smallest details can really add up. Look into your catering bill and talk to your caterer about how to cut costs in the smallest ways.
How much will you save by using non-organic produce in your salads versus organic? How much will you save by opting for a cheaper cut of beef or a more affordable fish? Can you save cash by purchasing seasonal ingredients that are sourced locally?
Don't be afraid to talk to your caterer about the individual ingredients they'll use and how you can save money by slightly adjusting them.
Skip the Cake
Okay… so you might not want to skip the wedding cake entirely. However, you probably don't need a cake that can feed 200 wedding guests, either. Go with a small cake that'll feed just you and your spouse-to-be, and then go with something more affordable (and even fun!) for your guests, such as a build-your-own ice cream sundae bar, a candy bar (which can double as your wedding favor) or a cupcake or donut tower.
An Affordable Wedding Can Still Be Awesome
There's no need to think that a budget-friendly wedding equals a boring wedding. There are so many fun, creative ways to save cash when wedding planning. Don't let a small budget hold you back from planning the wedding of your dreams.
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