The Thrifty Wedding: 8 Ways to Save on Catering

This is a series focused on how any couple headed to the altar can find ways to cut back on spending without sacrificing their vision for the big day. Stay tuned for upcoming posts in this series. The next one will be on flowers.

The average cost nationally for wedding catering was $9,520, and an average of $70 per head according to The Knot’s 2018 Wedding Study. Before you freak out, keep in mind that this is an average, and a national average at that. If you’re not looking to spend that much on your wedding dinner, the BPL has a few tips to help you trim the costs while still leaving everyone full and satisfied. This post focuses on the appetizers and main courses. We have separate posts for beverages and desserts.

1. Book with one of your venue’s preferred caterers. Often venues have a caterer or two that they work with frequently. Booking with them usually provides a discount to your catering or venue costs. So, be sure to check out the preferred caterers first, before trying out other caterers.

2. Skip the plated dinner. One of the easiest ways to save money on catering is to have your dinner buffet style. Fewer staff are needed to manage a buffet than a plated dinner, so it’ll cut down on labor costs. Another benefit to doing a buffet is that people can choose which foods they want, and how much of them they want. Keep in mind that a buffet is not the same as stations. Stations require one or two professionals per station to manage, so they do not offer the same savings as a buffet.

3. Choose budget friendly foods. If you’re hoping to have lobster at your wedding, it’s going to cost you more than if you chose to have chicken, or another cost-friendly alternative. When thinking about the foods you want for your big day, think about how upscale your food really needs to be. Make sure you think about who will be showing up and eating the food, as well. Some people really love duck, and others would rather have something more familiar. You don’t want to order duck at a premium price for 100 people, and then find out that half your guests didn’t eat it, or didn’t like it. If there’s a more expensive food you really want to have, consider adding it to the appetizers instead, which will cost less.

4. Choose local/in-season foods. If you can get foods that are grown locally, they’ll be cheaper than foods that are flown in, because there isn’t the added travel cost. In addition, thinking about the fruits and vegetables that are in season at the time of your wedding can help you cut costs. If you have a winter wedding, and you really want peaches in your salad, those peaches will cost more because your caterer will have to order them from somewhere farther away. If it’s a winter wedding, think about using citrus instead; citrus is in abundance in the winter. Use these titles to see what’s in season and what your caterer can do with those foods:

The Berkshires Cookbook

The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2

Fresh Food Fast

5. Choose easy to make dishes. Even if you choose a less pricey meat or other type of food, if your meal requires a lot of work, like beef wellington, it will add in labor costs. Meals that are complicated and time-consuming will increase the labor costs that your caterer includes in their budget.

6. Limit the number of entrée choices you offer. You don’t need to have your guests choose from a whole menu. Instead, limit the number of dishes your caterer prepares, to save on their time and your costs. You can have your caterer prepare one or two meals that everyone’s likely to love, and then just one diet specific one (like vegan, or gluten–free). If you need more than one diet specific meal, discuss that with your caterer, and determine the best way they can fulfill that, while honoring your budget.

7. Serve only two or three courses. Do you need appetizers, soup, salad, an entrée, and wedding dessert? Skipping the soup and salad, and sticking to appetizers, entrées, and a dessert can help you trim the fat in your catering budget.

8. Donate your leftover food. If you donate your leftover food to a soup kitchen, or another type of charity, you can deduct the donation when you do your taxes. If you are planning on doing this, coordinate with your caterer and the charitable organization before the wedding. If you just show up with the food without prior notice, they might turn you away. Your caterer will be able to inform the organization about the worth of the food, so that they can give you an accurate receipt. Note: this is only tax deductible if you choose to itemize your taxes, instead of taking the standard deduction.