Wedding Catering: How to avoid an Expensive Stress

Planning food options on your big day inevitably brings up one of the bigger headaches on the task list: wedding catering. The balance of ensuring your guests are well-fed and keeping your budget under control can quickly turn into a rethink on the guest numbers and put things into a new perspective.

The selection of a cost-effective wedding caterer requires thorough research, meticulous planning, and careful consideration of various factors such as budget constraints, guest count, and menu preferences. And then venue and caterer contract clauses need be scrutinized to avoid hidden charges. In-house catering advantages, like reduced service charges, need to be considered against DIY options.

There’s a lot to do, including tasting sessions and knowing key dietary requirements. But wedding catering doesn’t always have to be a source of great stress or strain on your pocket.  Here’s how you can navigate this necessary task with flair and frugality.

wedding caterer pours champage

You can use Prosecco or Cava instead of Champagne for the toasts


Luxurious Drinks On A Budget

While this article isn’t focusing on wines or beverages, it’s worth mentioning that drinks can be another significant expense. Consider offering a signature cocktail or mocktail instead of a full bar. That reduces costs and adds a personal touch to your event. One thing people always seem to do is include bottles of wine and beer on the table – the price of a bottle Margaux isn’t bad value for the quality and taste and removes the need for a skilled bartender.

Bringing you own alcohol is potentially a huge cost saver, although some wedding caterers will have a corkage charge. Bulk buying booze rather than an open bar is a better option than cutting back on the food. Plus there are swaps, like using any fizzy wine for the wedding speeches and toast.

Understanding Your Guest List

Before diving into catering options, have a clear understanding of your guest list. And hopefully, you’ve taken our advice and have categorised your intended guests already. This is when it’s handy to know their preferences, any dietary restrictions, and, most importantly, who to cut if needed. The venue size and total food costs are heavily influenced by the number of attendees, and staff members needed.

A smaller intimate gathering might enjoy a bespoke menu, while larger events might benefit from a diverse buffet. And crucially, you need to know in advance of choosing your wedding venue if they allow outside caterers or will only use their in-house team.

While vegetarian options are considered standard now, you may need to cater for vegans, gluten-free, lactose or nut allergies, and more. And the sooner you know this the better.

Go Seasonal and Local

One of the secrets to cost-effective and delicious catering is to base your menu on what’s seasonal and local. Seasonal cocktails and harvest themed menus underscore the farm to table movement, central to locavore weddings. Sustainable ingredients that are in season are often more affordable and fresher.

Plus, supporting local vendors and farmers can have a delightful impact on your community. Think summer berries in your salads during warmer months or root vegetables in stews when it’s colder.

stained wedding dress

Choose menu options wisely to avoid ruining your wedding photos


Buffet vs. Plated Service Cost Comparison

Plated meals often mean a more refined dining experience but come with higher costs for service. Buffets, on the other hand, can be more economical and offer variety, but they might lack the formal touch some events need and can have higher food wastage.

You could consider a compromise: a served starter, a buffet main course, and a plated dessert. This way, you get the best of both worlds.

But personal opinion only, a buffet can feel more chaotic and more suitable to an evening service rather than a sit down meal. To me, a plated service exudes an elegance needed for any grandeur at a wedding where the bride and groom should never be standing a queue or risk spillage on the wedding dress. No-one minds when the top table gets served first, but it might be a bit awkward with you all queuing up.

There are other alternatives, a finger food reception can be very affordable, and sandwiches is an easy light bite. But think of it like an all inclusive hotel on holiday, do you prefer the gourmet a la cart dining? Or aimlessly wandering the restaurant for something that will excite your taste buds from the lukewarm food under heat lamps?

DIY Doesn’t Mean Lower Quality

You don’t always need to hire a top-tier catering company for quality food. Sometimes, doing it yourself or enlisting culinary-talented friends can lead to a more personalized and memorable meal. If making everything isn’t feasible, consider catering only for the main dishes and preparing the entrees, appetizers, salads, or desserts.

Assessing the cost-effectiveness of DIY elements in event planning, particularly in the realm of food and beverage services, is based on menu choice and culinary expertise. But for me, it has to be a cold finger buffet to work unless your caterers would be happy to do the main meal only (unlikely).

My personal opinion only, I think your helpers should be able to celebrate your nuptials rather than be in the kitchen, and watch you walk down the aisle and not be preparing hors d’oeuvres. And at the end of the wedding reception, they should not be tidying up while you have your first dance.

Arguably you could have a team of wedding guests preparing food while you are having some pictures taken. But ultimately it’s an extra stress, plus risk of food spillage and the unexpected problems that could occur. Professional catering services literally do this for a living and it’s their job for it to run smoothly and flawless.

Unless it’s a small wedding, I think there are better DIY options to save money. For example homemade decorations add personal touches, often at a lower cost, and can be made well in advance. Besides, could you imagine receiving a wedding invitation that asks you to make or serve food when someone gets married? The only people you’d likely be comfortable to ask, and likely the bridal party, groomsmen or the mother of the bride. And surely you’d want them there to enjoy the special day with you.

Tastings, Contracts and Negotiations

Before finalizing a caterer, always request a tasting session for any matrimonial event food service. This not only helps in ensuring the quality but can also be a time to negotiate. Many caterers are flexible in their offerings, and by discussing your budget constraints upfront, they can often suggest creative solutions without compromising on taste.

And you need to carefully read any vendor contracts, including the caterers. Look for setup and breakdown charges, hidden service charges, and menu customization costs.

Rethink Traditional Meals

Breakfast or brunch events can be less expensive than dinner ones. Or consider a high tea in the late afternoon with finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries. By moving away from the traditional dinner event, you can often find more budget-friendly catering options.

Catering doesn’t have to be the looming shadow over your event planning. With a bit of creativity, research, and flexibility, you can provide delightful meals without breaking the bank. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s the shared experience, laughter, and memories that guests will cherish the most. A thoughtfully curated menu, even if it’s not the most extravagant, will always hit the right spot when served with love and joy.

What are full service catering services?

Full service catering services refer to a comprehensive catering package that includes all aspects of food and beverage service for an event or occasion. It typically involves a team of professionals who handle everything from menu planning and preparation to setup, serving, and clean-up.

This means they cover food preparation with professional chefs and kitchen staff,  using high-quality ingredients and culinary techniques to ensure delicious and visually appealing dishes.

A beverage service with drinks refills during dinner and a bar area. Plus serving staff, table setup and decoration and clean-up.

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About Author /

Emma is the editorial director and has been with the brand since 2021. She is is a writer and editor with over 5 years of experience covering Weddings, Fashion and beauty.

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