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50 Ways to Cut Wedding Catering Costs

Take a bite out of your food and drink budget with these clever ideas.

By: Sharon Naylor

Enter Slideshow
  • At the Bar

    At the Bar

    Instead of a full bar, serve beer and wine with one or two signature cocktails that you’ve personalized with a clever name and your wedding colors.

    Related: 25 Creative Ideas for Your Wedding Bar

  • On the Side

    On the Side

    If you design a tasting menu of seven or eight small courses instead of four big ones, you’ll save about 15 percent.

    Photo Credit: Evin Photography

  • Cakes & Desserts

    Cakes & Desserts

    Choose a less labor-intensive cake. Buttercream frosting will cost you less than rolled fondant. Keep to a classic, elegant look for your wedding cake by leaving out elaborate sugarpaste ornamentation, and save hundreds of dollars.

  • Dinner Is Served

    Dinner Is Served

    Some meats are pricier at certain times of the year. Let your caterer know that you’ll consider those that will be available at a good price when your wedding takes place.

  • Cakes & Desserts

    Cakes & Desserts

    Adding one simple but exotic dessert probably won’t break the bank. A sorbet in an unexpected flavor like coconut can be energizing late in the evening.

    Photo Credit: Festivities Events

  • Dinner Is Served

    Dinner Is Served

    Featuring a gourmet salad of spring greens, rather than the usual Caesar, will prime guests to be wowed by entrée options that follow, even if they’re less expensive.

    Photo Credit: Shawn for Christian Oth Studios

  • At the Bar

    At the Bar

    Dress up your signature drinks with fun garnishes, suggests Miller. Ask the bar manager to provide curled lemon and lime peels, orange slices or mini fruit kebabs on toothpicks to coordinate with your wedding colors. These garnishes are often free, and because they add to the festive look, everyone thinks you’ve spent more than you really have.

    Photo courtesy of Ladurée

  • Cakes & Desserts

    Cakes & Desserts

    Stay with regular cake flavors that are more budget-friendly than specialty fillings like cannoli cream or other gourmet choices.

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    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.

    Photo Credit: Aura Marzouk

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    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.

  • Dinner Is Served

    Dinner Is Served

    Use a great sauce on less expensive chicken or pasta dishes. Tertner suggests doing something unusual—an espresso sauce over chicken, for example.

    Photo Credit: Eric Vest Photography

  • Cakes & Desserts

    Cakes & Desserts

    Negotiate either to lower or eliminate the wedding cake-cutting fee from your overall package (this is a charge for servers to cut and plate each slice of cake and can run you $1.50 to $2 per slice).

    Related: 25 Creative Ways to Show Off Your Wedding Cake

    Cake by Susie Cakes / Photo Credit: Chip Gillespie Photography / Event Design and Coordination: Kate Whelan Events

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    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!

  • Dinner Is Served

    Dinner Is Served

    Or keep the salad and combine it with an appetizer. A salad with two grilled shrimp is a budget success because the chef can buy less for both courses.

    Photo Credit: Josh Lynn Photography

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    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.

    Photo Credit: Amanda Wright

  • Dinner Is Served

    Dinner Is Served

    Miller says, “Forget a top-dollar filet! Less costly braised boneless short ribs are a wonderful choice, served plated or at food stations.” Ask your wedding caterer to show you price options for different cuts of lamb and pork as well as beef.

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    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.

  • At the Bar

    At the Bar

    When choosing your liquors, go midshelf instead of topshelf, for a savings of up to 30 percent (guests usually can’t tell the difference).

  • On the Side

    On the Side

    Serve salad creatively. Miller suggests tableside servings of organic mixed greens in beautiful bowls. Guests can help themselves.

    Photo Credit: Andy Marcus of Fred Marcus Photography

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Skip the raw bar— though trendy, it's 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.

    Photo Credit: Sherman Chu, courtesy of Sasha Souza Events

  • Cakes & Desserts

    Cakes & Desserts

    Dessert drinks are a break for your budget, so consider chocolate or coffee floats with fresh whipped cream and chocolate shavings, served in sugar-rimmed glasses, instead of a costly international coffee bar with liquor-infused drinks.

    Photo Credit: Josh Lynn Photography

  • At the Bar

    At the Bar

    Skip the champagne for your wedding toast. Guests can toast you with the drinks they have in hand. Or look into serving easily available sparkling wines from France (cremant), Spain (cava) or Italy (prosecco) instead.

    Photo Credit: Mike Peyzner and Natasha Valik of Choco Studio Photography

  • At the Bar

    At the Bar

    Close the open bar an hour early. You’ll save hundreds of dollars, and guests can drink coffee and sober up before they have to drive!

  • At the Bar

    At the Bar

    If you’re stocking your own bar, research less expensive wine vintages on winespectator.com.

    Photo Credit: Brooklyn Winery

  • At the Bar

    At the Bar

    If you can’t negotiate the corkage fee out of your contract entirely, at least discuss lowering it. At up to $2 per bottle, it’s worth a try.

  • At the Bar

    At the Bar

    And speaking of coffee, instead of a coffee bar offering expensive liquors with the java, treat guests to a rich, dark brew with flavored syrups.

    Photo Credit: Melanie Gabrielle Photography / Event Design and Coordination: Aviva Samuels of Kiss the Planner

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    “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.

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    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.

    Photo Credit: Jennifer Crow

  • Cakes & Desserts

    Cakes & Desserts

    Forgo the Viennese dessert table, which may cost up to $15 a guest. Chriswell believes that most guests won’t miss it at all. Your site’s package may include a wedding cake plus one additional dessert (say, chocolate-covered strawberries), and many couples say this is a great choice.

  • Cakes & Desserts

    Cakes & Desserts

    A five-tier tower is nice, but a smaller three-tier one is even nicer because it will take a smaller bite out of your budget. Have a sheet cake in the same flavors waiting in the kitchen for the staff to cut and serve.

    Cake by 2 Sisters Bakery / Photo Credit: Cadey Reisner Weddings

  • Dinner Is Served

    Dinner Is Served

    For savings of up to 20 percent, consider family-style dishes. Try platters of sliced meat or pasta that guests can pass around.

    Photo Credit: Dominique Bader on Snippet and Ink via Lover.ly

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    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.

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    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.

  • Dinner is Served

    Dinner is Served

    Even simple entrées can look gourmet when topped with an artful tower of vegetables or another budget-friendly food.

    Photo Credit: Melanie Gabrielle Photography / Event Design and Coordination: Aviva Samuels of Kiss the Planner

  • Dinner Is Served

    Dinner Is Served

    If you plan to have children at the reception, choose a wedding caterer who offers free or half-priced meals for children up to age 16.

  • Dinner is Served

    Dinner is Served

    Ask your chef which seafoods will be in season at the time of your wedding—and thus less expensive by hundreds of dollars.

  • Cakes & Desserts

    Cakes & Desserts

    Go bite-size with desserts, like tiny chocolate-covered cheesecakes. By controlling portions, you’re saving one-third the price of a full dessert buffet.

  • On the Side

    On the Side

    Basics like potatoes help fill out a menu, but try risotto balls instead of spuds for something a bit new and different.

  • On the Side

    On the Side

    Dressing up your vegetable dishes does a lot to make them look expensive: Fan out mini carrots and use chives to tie together servings of asparagus.

    Photo Credit: Nemus Photography

  • Cakes & Desserts

    Cakes & Desserts

    Do you really need a chocolate fountain and flaming bananas? There’s no need to pay extra for “entertainment” desserts (your guests will have plenty of fun anyway).

    Photo Credit: Lara Rios Photography / Event Design and Coordination: Aviva Samuels of Kiss the Planner

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    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.”

    Photo Credit: Jerry Yoon Photographers / Event Design and Coordination: Mango Muse Events

  • On the Side

    On the Side

    Not all vegetables are priced alike. Ask for a detailed price list to make better budget choices.

    Photo courtesy of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli / Event Design and Coordination: Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    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.”

    Photo Credit: Jamilah Photography / Event Design and Coordination: Aviva Samuels of Kiss the Planner

  • Dinner is Served

    Dinner is Served

    Instead of offering a choice of three entrées, design a platter with beef medallions and grilled shrimp or crab cakes. You’ll use far less food than if you had to plan for a large quantity of all three entrées to have on hand should guests change their minds.

  • At the Bar

    At the Bar

    Eliminate shots or drinks that use a number of liquors—these all raise the bar tab.

    Photo Credit: Riverbend Studio

  • Dinner Is Served

    Dinner Is Served

    Serve a delicious vegetarian entrée. Even nonvegetarians may appreciate this choice simply because it’s different from what’s usually on offer at weddings.

    Photo Credit: Memories Through Time

  • Dinner is Served

    Dinner is Served

    To feed your wedding photographer and musicians, arrange for dishes in a lower price range—this may cost 60 percent less per person.

    Photo Credit: Front Room

  • Wedding Cocktail Hour

    Wedding Cocktail Hour

    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.

    Photo Credit: Amanda Marie Studio

  •  Dinner is Served

    Dinner is Served

    No one will need a five-course feast after cocktails—three will do just fine. If you offered salads at the cocktail party, eliminate the salad at dinner (double savings!).

  • Dinner Is Served

    Dinner Is Served

    Make pasta more interesting by choosing pumpkin ravioli, or spinach and goat-cheese manicotti.

    Photo Credit: Beechwood Inn

50 Ways to Cut Wedding Catering Costs

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