There's no way around it—weddings are expensive, plain and simple. Sure, you can make the decision to elope and eliminate all those costs associated with a big wedding, but in general, if you're having a wedding, it'll cost a pretty significant chunk of change. And often, the food is one of the biggest expenses.
Unlike expenses related to extras, like decor and favors and things like that, food expenses are kind of a requirement. After all, you need to feed your guests, and if you're only being quoted huge amounts, well, that's just what you have to pay, right? Well, kind of. Yes, the catering cost for weddings is always going to be pretty high, especially if you have a big guest list. However, there are a few ways where you can try to trim costs a bit so that you're not required to pay quite as much for the privilege of inviting all your guests to dinner.
The good thing is, there are so many areas of the meal you can examine, from appetizers to entrees to desserts. You can play around with the type of meal that you serve and even the way you serve it—as well as which specific ingredients you choose to dish up. If you look close enough, there are plenty of opportunities for you to cut costs on the big day and still have a celebration where your guests will leave satisfied from having a great meal. Here are 20 ways for a budget-savvy bride to save money on a catering bill.
20 Offer Theme Stations
When it comes to the fare on offer at a wedding, many people immediately think of the traditional dishes like chicken in sauce, pasta, steak, etc. However, you definitely should be thinking outside the box and looking to theme stations as an option. No matter what food you love, you can create a theme station based on it, from fajitas to food from Thailand crafted fresh in a wok to butter chicken and tikka masala served alongside rice. A theme station is a ton of fun for your guests, and it allows it to feel extra special—and is usually cheaper than a traditional plated dinner.
19 Forget The Filet — Find More Inexpensive Protein Options
We know, we know—you only have one wedding, so it can be incredibly tempting to splurge on every little detail. After all, your guests will remember that perfect filet you picked for the main course, right? Wrong. We hate to break it to you, but your guests probably won't remember what was served a week after the wedding, unless of course, the food was so bad that they can't help but remember. So, when it comes to selecting your proteins in particular, look for more cost-effective options than your standard filets or different cuts of pork or lamb that are a bit friendlier on the budget.
18 Provide Your Own Appetizers
Here's the thing with appetizers: they can cost a ton of money, and often, they're actually not that tough to pull together yourself. Obviously, you shouldn't exhaust yourself making 300 mini tarts or anything crazy like that. However, if you're okay with going a little bit simpler, it's actually quite easy to pull together a cheese board or perhaps some fancy crudités and dips. You can prep it all in advance and just arrange to have someone set it up—and you'll likely save a pretty considerable amount by eliminating the need for the first course alone. I mean, why bother to get that Costco membership if you're not going to use it?
17 Choose Not To Have Servers For Part Of The Evening
When it comes to food, there are two expenses: the food itself and all the manpower involved with preparing it and then the servers who bring the food to your hungry guests. It's easy to get wrapped up in the glamor and decide it'd be a great touch to have beautifully dressed servers passing out the appetizers during the cocktail hour. However, let's get real—your guests won't notice if they're being handed an appetizer or if they have to walk over to a table to get it. They'll care about how it tastes, not about the fanfare involved with getting it. So, to save a few bucks, choose not to have servers for the entire evening.
16 Hire A Food Truck To Provide Fresh Fare
Okay, this one might not be an option if you have your wedding during a snowstorm, but for those getting married in the warmer months, a food truck might be the perfect solution. The majority of food trucks can be rented for private events, and they're usually way more inexpensive than a catered meal. Sure, your options will be a bit more limited, but the food truck obviously knows how to make the items it specializes in perfectly, so your guests will be thrilled with their tasty meal. And it's a perfect option for venues where the lack of a kitchen is an issue—food trucks don't need space to set up beyond a parking space.
15 Go For Barbecue
Guests from the South may consider BBQ a given, but for many others, it's an unconventional choice. However, if you're looking to keep your budget in check, it can be an amazing option. It may not be the best pick if you're going for a more formal vibe, but for a fun, casual wedding, barbecue can feed your guests with a great meal for a relatively low cost. Get a few types of meats, get some comfort food sides like macaroni and cheese or baked potatoes, and you have a delicious meal that your guests will be talking about for weeks. After all, who doesn't love barbecue?
14 Pick A Venue That Allows Outside Catering
You find the perfect venue that seems like it's a dream come true, you go to sign the contract, and you realize that they only allow their own caterer to serve food at any event. Yikes! It may not seem like a big deal, but losing the chance to at least shop around for caterers and compare budgets has a major impact on your catering bill. If you're more interested in sticking to the budget than you are in committing to one specific venue, make sure you find a venue that'll allow you to use an outside caterer. That way, you can find one that fits your budget exactly, and you won't have to compromise simply to get the location you want.
13 Serve Your Meal Family Style
Weddings are supposed to be a happy occasion when a bunch of friends and family get together to celebrate a happy couple. So, why not take that feeling of closeness to another level and decide to serve the meal family style? With this type of catering, you can still get whatever food you want, and it can be presented beautifully. However, rather than paying to have each serving plated separately, your guests will have the chance to pass around the food as if they were eating at a family dinner together. It's definitely a slightly more informal style, but it can be a great option for a budget-conscious bride.
12 Don't Serve Food Out Of Season
Caterers pretty much have any option you can desire available—if you're willing to pay for it. However, if budget is an issue—and if you're really into food—you absolutely need to look into serving food that's in season. First of all, when food is out of season, it costs way more to transport it from wherever it's grown to wherever you are. Additionally, it probably won't taste as good as whatever's in season. So, though your caterer may have a ton of dishes you can choose from, pay special attention to what's actually in season when it comes to choosing your menu.
11 Have A Candy Bar Instead Of A Cake
Okay, let's get real for a moment—when it comes to wedding food, cakes are pretty overrated. The bride and groom may enjoy the process of cutting the cake and picking out the flavor they love, but it's not usually the course that your guests will leave remembering. So, if you're looking to avoid the expense of a huge, fancy wedding cake, why not opt for a nostalgic crowd pleaser and offer a candy bar instead? You can pick out all your favorites from a bulk store and present them in a way that's cute and will have your guests feeling like they're enjoying a special treat rather than a slice of store-bought sheet cake cut up in the back.
10 Have A Daytime Wedding With Brunch Or Lunch Served
For many people, the time a wedding takes place is a total nonnegotiable. They want an evening wedding so their guests can drink and dance into the wee hours of the night—and for many, it's the only option. However, if you're willing to think outside the box for your wedding and you're also looking to save a few bucks, a daytime wedding might be the perfect solution. If your wedding takes place earlier in the day, you can serve lunch or even brunch, which is usually way more inexpensive than serving dinner. Plus, come on... who wouldn't absolutely love to feast on waffles and mimosas?
9 Play Around With The Presentation
You've probably heard the expression that we eat with our eyes first countless times, but it's totally true. The way you serve the food you're offering your guests definitely matters. If you're opting for a standard buffet with chafing dishes, your options may be limited. However, if you're able to have a say in the presentation of your meal, choose to play around with it and make it more visually appealing. Instead of a standard serving tray, find a few cute platters that you can use after the big day. Incorporate color rather than using standard white plates. The options are endless!
8 Go For Bite-Size Desserts
Let's be honest—after a big meal where they ate way too much, most of your guests don't really have room for a huge slice of cake. You may think it sounds like a good idea, but you'll just end up with a whole bunch of partially eaten slices—and a huge bill for dessert. Instead, opt to go bite size for desserts. From mini cheesecakes to mini red velvet cupcakes, you can select all your favorite flavors, and your guests can just take the small portion they actually want. It looks super cute, and it's way more inexpensive than a dessert buffet with full-sized treats.
7 Think Outside The Box For Options Like Pizza Or Burgers
When it comes to wedding food, many people assume you basically need to choose from a list of wedding food staples. Are you serving steak or chicken for the main? Are you serving fish or pasta for your vegetarian course? Well, we're here to tell you that you can totally think outside the box and avoid those typical wedding meals entirely. Perhaps your family is Italian—why not serve pizza instead? Or if your wedding has a more casual vibe, decide to offer a build-your-own-burger bar. The possibilities are endless, but the point is, you don't need to feel obliged to serve the exact same things you've eaten at every other wedding you've attended over the years.
6 Limit The Amount Of Options Available
The simple fact is, you're never going to be able to please everyone at your wedding, so it's not worth it to even try. You may think you're being an accommodating hostess by offering four options for entrees guests can choose between, but really, you're just driving up the cost of your bill. Instead of allowing your guests to pick from beef, chicken, lamb, fish, or vegetarian, just find one great dish to serve to everyone (with a vegetarian option for those who need it). Sure, some people may not be the biggest fans of the protein you choose, but ultimately, it's one meal—and there'll likely be plenty of sides and appetizers to balance it out.
5 Cut Down The Guest List
This is a tough one, but it's just a reality. No matter how much you trim back on your food costs, no matter how many little tricks you find for shaving off a few dollars, a wedding with 400 guests is going to cost you a ton for catering. It's just a fact—the more mouths you need to feed, the more money you have to pay your caterer, period. Obviously, you want to make sure all the special people in your life are there for your big day, but if budget is an issue, you may want to cross the third cousins you haven't talked to in a decade off the guest list.
4 Don't Seek Out Wedding-Specific Caterers
Something that many brides learn when it comes time to plan the big day is that anything especially aimed at weddings is usually much more expensive. From bridal bouquets to photography packages, wedding-related services charge a premium for the opportunity to be there on your big day. So, when you're looking for caterers, don't automatically just look for caterers that do weddings. After all, a wedding is just a big event—and there are plenty of caterers who do events all the time. They'll be more than capable of handling your wedding and will likely charge you a more reasonable fee.
3 Cut The Number Of Courses
If you decide to pass on the buffet-style dinner and opt for a plated meal instead, it can be tough to figure out how many courses you want. After all, you want it to be a special occasion, and that calls for at least three courses, right? Perhaps a fourth small course to start and maybe a palate cleanser in the middle? Take a step back and think about this—will your guests really care if you serve that fourth course, or will they just want to hit the dance floor? If budget is a factor, you're better off serving two amazing courses than trying to find cheap options for course three and four just because you feel you have to.
2 Go For A Grazing Table
There are some people who see serving a big, plated meal as the only option for wedding food. However, if you're willing to think outside the box, a grazing table can be an amazing solution. A grazing table is a total showstopper that will have your guests majorly impressed, and it costs way less than most plated meals. You can pick from a selection of dips, crackers, meats and cheeses, nuts, crudités, and much more. And, there's a reason that charcuterie is such a popular menu item—people love it! If you add some heartier options and make sure there's more than enough, people will be satisfied.
1 Look To Local Culinary Schools For Options
There are some places in your wedding budget where you really might not want to compromise—for example, you don't want to hire an amateur photographer who ends up getting only terrible pictures of you and your partner all night. However, when it comes to food, culinary school students can usually do a pretty amazing job—and for a portion of the cost of regular caterers. If you live in a bigger city, look to local culinary schools to see if they have any options. Some will offer catering services that might be the perfect option for a budget-conscious bride and groom.