An unforgettable wedding includes delicious food served graciously and generously. But quality catering isn’t cheap. For most couples, booking a venue and catering service are their single biggest wedding expense, accounting for about half of their total budget. Here are five ways to get the most for your catering dollars.

Catering Budget

Prioritize

Sit down with your planner early in the process and discuss your budget and priorities. When it comes to wedding food, there are countless options to choose from, and it can feel overwhelming. If you clarify what’s most important to you, your planner can come up with exciting, affordable ways to make your vision real.

Think Carefully About Your Guest Count

Does your mom’s hair dresser’s family really need to be at the reception? The quickest way to cut down your catering cost is to be selective with your invites. Trim your guest count and you won’t have to skimp on dinner. More and more couples are opting for micro weddings with only a small number of their closest family and friends. Besides reducing the risk of infection for your guests, a streamlined list of attendees also allows you to kick up the quality of your food and service, turning an ordinary meal into something unforgettable.

Photo by Ashlee Brooke Photography

Choose Your Time and Season Wisely

The most popular time to get married is May to October; therefore it’s also the most expensive time to host a celebration. If you pick an off-season date in November, January, February or March, you may be able to score a deal, not only on your catering but on venue, photography, decor, rentals, and dresses too. Believe it or not, the time of day you host a wedding can also make a significant difference. People tend to eat more in the evening than earlier in the day, so if you plan your ceremony to serve your guests brunch or an early supper, you can trim food costs considerably.

Start With a Cocktail Hour

Drinks and butler-passed hors d’oeuvres add an element of class and are a welcome relief for hungry guests. While a cocktail hour may seem like an added expense, it can actually trim your food costs if you plan it well. Allowing guests to fill up on tasty snacks will allow you to serve smaller, less expensive dinner options.

To save money on the alcohol, restrict the choices to wine and beer and perhaps a couple of his/hers signature cocktails. Your planner can help you choose drinks that are original, fun and meaningful.

Catering Budget

Choose Your Style

It’s not just the food you serve that affects the price; it’s also the way you have it served. Choose a service style that fits both your budget and the need of your guests.

Catering Budget
Photo by Makenzie Jamias Photo

Plated Meals

Since a wedding celebration is the most significant party they’ll ever throw, many couples opt for a formal plated meal. Plated meals are fairly expensive because they require a lot of staff and china, but that extravagance is also part of their appeal: You and your guests will gather at a table that reflects  your exact vision of the meal you’ve so lovingly planned. Plus, having a trained catering staff serve each guest individually is the height of hospitality.One mistake we see many brides make is assuming that they can cut costs on plated meals by having guests choose from a pre-selected menu. In reality, a pre-selected menu generally increases the cost per plate by 10-20% as well as slowing down service. If your heart is set on a plated meal but you’re looking to save money, offer a single or dual main entrée for all guests. Also, work with your caterer to find economical selections and use local ingredients that are in season.

Catering Budget

Family-Style

This is a very trendy style where courses are brought to the table and passed around as if you were sharing a meal at home.  There are lots of advantages to this style; for example, there are no lines to wait in, guests can choose between several options and accommodate their own dietary concerns. Family-style is typically one of the most expensive serving styles because it requires more staff than any other style, but it creates a more relaxed and communal vibe. It also offers abundant food choices as well as some of the face-to-face service and hospitality of a plated experience. There are ways to adjust family-style service that affect the overall cost. Work with your caterer to find ways to bring the cost down while keeping the most important elements to you.

Chef Action Stations

One of our favorite ways to serve (especially with large guest counts) is interactive stations where food is cooked live right in front of your guests. This crowd-appealing tapas style of service gives our chefs a chance to share their passion for gastronomy. A meal is even more enjoyable when guests appreciate the story behind the cuisine, and our chefs love sharing their expertise as they set a whole wheel of cheese on fire, carve a whole baron of beef with torched garlic compound butter, or spill the secrets of homemade pho. Action stations are a great way to keep guests on their feet and mingling, and it’s always a show! You’ll pay a little extra for the staff required, but they’re generally a less expensive option than family-style or plated meals.

Catering Budget

Buffet

With our hearts and minds still recovering from the pandemic, buffets have become less popular over the last two years, but they remain one of the least expensive forms of service. There are many great ways to trim costs with a buffet, from food to serviceware options. The number of servers you’ll need for a buffet is substantially less than a plated meal. Just make sure to confirm with your planner or catering manager to safely and timely excuse tables and socially distance your guests.

Catering Budget
Photo by Megan Robinson. Planning by Michelle Leo Events.

Dessert

In Utah, where dessert is king, it’s worth asking whether you even need to serve a meal at all. If you’re catering budget is low, offering a tantalizing dessert bar may be all you need! Either butler-passed or self-served, a selection of dessert will cost a lot less than a full meal. The down side, of course, is that it encourages guests to eat and leave, so if you want your guests to dance, socialize, watch the cake cutting, etc. it’s best to offer a full meal.


Need help picking your signature wedding cocktail? Read our top tips from local spirits experts here!