How to Save Big on Your Wedding Menu

Easy ways to keep catering costs from chewing up your food budget.
By: 
Sharon Naylor

Sit-Down Dinners

Format, sit-down dinner receptions are not always the most expensive option; pricing will depend upon your choice of menu and bar elements.
 
  • Instead of offering your guests their choice of three entrées—such as a beef, fish and chicken dish—create a duo plate such as a surf-and-turf with fish and beef medallions to give guests a variety on the one plate,” says Laura Bianco, wedding planner at My Bellissima in Morristown, New Jersey. You’ll save as much as 40 percent, since you don’t have to buy enough of each choice to suit guests who wish to change their entrée orders.
  • Chicken, turkey, pork and pasta are the least expensive entrée options. Talk with your caterer about dressing up those less costly chicken or pasta dishes with a delicious gourmet sauce, such as a balsamic glaze, a tropical mango salsa or a creamy five-cheese sauce to give guests that five-star dining feel at a much lower price per guest.
  • Christopher Confero, owner of Christopher Confero Design in Birmingham, Alabama, says, “Think local and think seasonal,” since locally acquired, in-season menu items always cost far less than imported foods.
  • Serve a vegetarian entrée as one inexpensive menu option.
  • Ask your caterer to create a gourmet presentation of side dishes, such as a dollop of pearled couscous with a zucchini ‘slaw’ or asparagus topped with Fontina cheese.
  • Combine your appetizer and salad course, for example, by serving a few mini crabcakes with a mesclun salad.
  • Serve vendor meals. To the vendors, that is. Most banquet halls offer a vendor meal for $20 or so to keep those eight band members, photographer, videographer and wedding coordinator fed for less than your guest meal price.
 

Save on Spirits

  • An open bar is a must, but just serve a variety of fine wines and beer with a signature cocktail or two,” says Bianco. “This way, guests who have to have a rum or vodka drink are happy, but you’re not paying an enormous price for a full, topshelf, unlimited bar. You’ll save 25 percent to 30 percent off your budget.”
  • Leave shots off your bar menu and save a fortune.
  • Garnish your signature cocktail creatively with curled lemon peel, colorful sugar rimming or exotic fruit spears to make drinks look pricier than they really are.
  • Eliminate corkage fees. Ask your site manager to waive the price charged when bartenders open each bottle of wine. This $2 per bottle (or more) charge is often easily negotiated out of your contract.
  • Skip pricy liquor-infused after-dinner drinks like Irish coffee, and instead serve flavored coffee and cappuccino.
 

Cut Your Cake and Desserts Cost

  • Choose a two-or-three-tier wedding cake that is iced with buttercream and piped with dots—instead of an expensive replica of the lace on your gown.
  • Display a faux cake made of frosting covered Styrofoam for visual effect, and then serve cake slices from an inexpensive sheet cake in the kitchen.
  • Pick from your baker’s basics list—vanilla, lemon, red velvet—and skip the pricier flavors and fillings, including liquor-infused cake flavors.
  • Another fee to negotiate out of your contract: the per-slice cutting and plating fees that some sites charge.
  • Skip the Viennese dessert table and serve your wedding cake with two or three luscious desserts, like chocolate-covered berries and Chantilly cream fruit tarts.
 
 

More Ways to Save:

Cocktail Party
Brunch