How To Save on Catering Costs at Your Wedding

wedding dinner place settings
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Catering at a wedding is rarely limited to making and serving cuisine and cocktails. Comprehensive wedding catering packages also factor in pre-event setup including tables, chairs, plates, glasses and dinnerware. Menu design and decorative décor may also be factored into the pre-event setup, and caterers assist with staffing during the reception and clean-up at the end of the day. 

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Many couples planning their weddings may find themselves wondering where they can splurge and where they can save when it comes to lowering their catering bill. These cost-effective tips will help keep catering expenses down and ensure all guests in attendance enjoy the big day.

Figure Out What Matters To You

Before hiring a catering company, couples need to decide which elements of the wedding catering experience are the most important to them. Will your wedding dinner be more formal or casual? Do you want an open bar with a wide selection of drink options? Would you rather have a plated meal during a wedding reception or do you prefer a cocktail hour instead? Is there a specific menu item you’d like to have as your main dish?

Make Your Money Work for You

Cheron Rubenstein, senior catering sales manager at Lancer Hospitality, recommends deciding on what is most important to you. Then, add on the extras only if you have room in your budget for them. As an example, Rubenstein said you may host a smaller bar service with a limit you will cover. Once that limit has been exceeded, guests may purchase their own drinks and still have an amazing experience. 

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Reconsider a Buffet-Style Dinner

One of the biggest catering myths is that a buffet-style dinner is less expensive than a seated or plated dinner. Rubenstein said buffets, in some cases, can actually be more expensive because more food needs to be prepped and provided. 

Ness McGovern, owner and lead planner at Ness McGovern Events & Design, said family-style at the table is the best of both worlds. Since it doesn’t require full-service staff and guests are still seated, family-style is usually about the same price as a buffet. 

Make Your Money Work for You

Another nontraditional option in lieu of a buffet or family-style dinner is to host a cocktail-style reception. 

“This is where there are hors d’oeuvres and some stations for the dinner, but entirely cocktail type tables and limited seating,” McGovern said. “We’d recommend maybe bringing in some lounge furniture so people can sit and mingle without having assigned seating or enough seating for everyone.”

Need another dining option? McGovern said couples may try a wedding that has food trucks or offers a more casual picnic style like a barbecue. Guests will still have a great time and get enough to eat.

Trim Bar Costs

If you’re planning to have a wedding where guests are invited to the bar for drinks, specifically in an open bar setting, McGovern said newlyweds can trim costs by limiting bar selections or eliminating hard alcohol except for two or three signature drinks.

Courtney Smith, owner of Chesapeake Bartenders, recommends calling the liquor or wine store ahead of time. Ask if they have any specials they are offering about two weeks before the wedding as many stores often don’t know what sale items will be until a week or two out. 

Make Your Money Work for You

Here are a few more tricks of the trade from Smith for saving on wedding bar drinks

  • Hard liquor: When possible, buy 1.75-liter bottles of liquor. Go with rail liquor instead of a name brand.
  • Wine: In a pinch, you can serve guests cost-effective boxed wine.
  • Beer: Purchase cans, which are cheaper, instead of glass bottles.
  • Sangria: “This is a very budget-friendly drink that can be premade and displayed in a see-through dispenser. Everyone loves sangria and it’s one the cheapest drinks from a cost perspective,” Smith said.
  • Cocktails: Purchase two-liter bottles of soda to reduce the overall cost of sodas and mixers. Ounce for ounce, Smith said, it’s much cheaper with a liter. 
  • Mocktails: Smith recommends purchasing seltzer water and adding a gourmet flavored syrup like white peach.
  • Water: Instead of offering guests bottled water, go for filtered water instead. Inquire if your caterer can bring a Brita filter with them to the wedding so that they may utilize running water at the venue, filter it on site and serve it to guests.

You may also ask the liquor or wine store if you can return any unopened or non-damaged wine, liquor or beer after the wedding.

“We do this with our distributor partner and couples love getting a nice refund after the wedding for the alcohol they didn’t consume,” Smith said.

Bypass Glassware Rentals

Glassware may look nice, but it is expensive, and Smith said there are higher delivery costs with the price of gas going up. 

“Use nine ounce plastic cups and look for cups that are less than 20 cents per cup,” Smith said. Couples can find the best deals on cups online and can calculate the amount of cups they need by assuming guests will use one cup per 30 minutes. 

Watch Out for Cake Expenses

The cake, one of the biggest centerpieces of a wedding, may be full of more hidden fees and high costs than couples realize. McGovern said many caterers will charge for enough cake for everyone, when in reality only about 50% of guests will eat cake, especially if there are other desserts present.

McGovern recommends having a small cutting cake and then having a sheet cake in the back to cover a certain guest count. 

DIY Your Own Centerpieces

Couples tying the knot may save some extra dollars by doing their own centerpieces instead of allowing the catering company to take centerpiece responsibilities. Visit your local farmers market for flowers to find beautiful options at affordable prices and watch YouTube videos to put together elegant arrangements. 

While wedding catering costs can sneak up on you, Rubenstein said doing your homework will ensure nothing is hidden especially if you work with a reputable caterer and location.

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About the Author

Heather Taylor is a senior finance writer for GOBankingRates. She is also the head writer and brand mascot enthusiast for PopIcon, Advertising Week’s blog dedicated to brand mascots. She has been published on HelloGiggles, Business Insider, The Story Exchange, Brit + Co, Thrive Global, and more media outlets. 

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