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Planning Your Wedding Budget: Catering

By Lisa Beth Miller

When budgeting for a wedding, most couples budget around 30% of their total spending on the edible aspects of the day.

Once the approximate guest count is calculated, the couple should sit down with the caterer to figure out how much they wish to spend on food and drink for each guest. The good news is that there is a lot of flexibility here.

Here are some important decisions that will greatly impact one’s budget:

Will you have a full open bar, or simply offer beer, wine, and a few signature cocktails? If you opt for an open bar, will you insist upon only top-shelf liqueurs? The decisions regarding alcohol can have a huge impact on your budget! If your wedding reception is at a winery, there is nothing wrong with simply featuring wine and champagne as your selected beverages. In most instances, a cash bar seems a bit tacky. Treat your guests to what you can afford to provide. It is YOUR party.

Will you have a cocktail hour with hors-d’oeuvres stations, or will waiters circulate with passed hors-d’oeuvres instead? This is another choice that sounds minor, but guests will consume substantially less if food is passed–thus keeping the budget under control a bit. Another way to save is to ask the caterer to balance the hors-d’oeuvres selection with both upscale and budget-friendly items.

If you go to a tasting with your caterer and absolutely fall in love with the selection of hors-d’oeuvres, consider simply having a cocktail reception! Spacing out the offerings throughout the reception will ensure that guests get enough to eat and can mingle and relax! If this is the plan for your reception, be sure to make that clear on the invitations by calling the reception a “cocktail reception”.

Ask if the caterer can include a wedding cake. Most caterers have a “cake connection” with a local bakery. The included cake might be a bit basic, but you can always use flowers and decor to create a perfect presentation. The included cake is often less expensive than the one you might order from a bakery on your own.

For the actual meal served, you will need to decide between a buffet or a plated meal. Many couples assume that a buffet will automatically be the cheaper option, but this is not always the case. In many instances, excessive food may be prepared (and billed to you) for a buffet because it is difficult for caterers to predict how much will be needed. Since guests sometimes return to the buffet for additional servings and some foods are more popular than others, caterers play it safe by providing plenty of everything! For a plated meal, an exact number of plates is prepared, one for each guest.

A plated meal, however, could require that additional servers are on hand. Be sure to ask the caterer many questions regarding cost comparisons!

Another idea to keep food costs down is to consider serving a meal other than dinner. A classy and elegant brunch buffet after a morning wedding can be less costly, but just as memorable!

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