1. Hand pass pricier appetizers, like shrimp, scallops or other seafood items, rather than setting them out for guests to serve themselves. Caterers say guests consume 40 percent fewer pieces this way.
2. “Put out big bowls of colorful, lush salads with grilled vegetables, which allows you to show generosity without spending a whole lot,” says Shai Tertner, award-winning chef at Shiraz in New York City. Tertner suggests adding punch to your presentation by using colorful bowls, giant woks and other unusual platters.
3. Comparison shop for seafood. For example, calamari and mussels are often half the price of shrimp cocktail and scampi. Ask your wedding caterer for a list of less costly seafood appetizers.
4. Skip the big cubed-cheese platter. It’s often the least popular item at a wedding cocktail hour, because most guests have had cheese platters at office parties and family get-togethers. No one will miss it.
5. Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean your crudités have to show it. Instead of carrot sticks and cucumber rounds, choose artichoke hearts, broccoli flowers, radishes cut in heart shapes or other creative choices, with flavored dipping sauces.
6. Use unique plates. Leila Miller, award-winning event planner at Feastivities Catering in Philadelphia, says, “People eat with their eyes first, so focus on the presentation. Serving trays that are a bit different, like small tapas-style plates, can add a twist to the fare without adding to your bill.”
7. Serve macaroni and cheese in martini glasses, mini grilled cheese bites made in sandwich presses and tiny crab cakes with tartar sauce. These perennial crowd-pleasers come at about one-third the cost of traditional cocktail party fare.
8. Offer theme stations, such as a fajita station or Thai station. “The Asian station, where it’s more about the display, is very popular now,” Tertner says. “We set out large woks or serve food in take-out containers that coordinate with the wedding’s theme or colors. We also create pyramids of basmati and jasmine rice, lots of egg noodles and a range of condiments. These ingredients are not costly, but it looks as though you’ve invested a lot.”
9. Skip the raw bar—trendy but one of the most exorbitant kinds of stations. Instead, Miller suggests a hand-passed hors d’oeuvre, like tequila-cured salmon served in martini glasses.
10. Try a pierogi bar. Offer these potato-stuffed dough bites with choices of cheddar cheese, goat cheese or spinach, and a dipping sauce like sour cream or mustard.
11. You don’t need to have a carving station. Prime rib, ham and pork loin are too heavy and filling, not to mention quite pricey, for the cocktail hour, says Bill Chriswell, catering director at The Park Savoy in Florham Park, New Jersey.
12. In cool weather, serve mini cups of clam chowder (again, you’re serving seafood at a minimal price), lobster bisque, acorn squash, or any other flavors that are easy on the wallet.
13. You won’t need a pasta station if you’re having pasta later on as a side dish. You’ll save big, and you’ll be doing guests a favor by helping them leave room for dinner!
Photography: Feastivities Events