How to Actually Afford Your Wedding Food and Drinks

Read our top 10 tips to saving money on reception catering.
by The Knot

Planning a reception on a budget? We feel you. After alotting funds for the venue, the entertainment and the décor, you can't forget about the other essentials: food and drinks. Catering expenses can definitely add up, but here are the 10 best ways to keep your food and beverage budget in check without letting your guests go hungry.

1. Moderate Your Bar

If having a fully stocked open bar is on your must-have list, you can go ahead and skip this tip. But if cocktails aren't that high of a priority to you, consider cutting costs here. Instead of hosting a bar stocked with every imaginable liquor, mixer and condiment, skip the hard stuff and serve only beer, wine and champagne (sparkling wine works too). If your heart is set on serving a true cocktail, add one signature drink to your beverage menu. You may also choose to create a semi-soft bar, adding one or two versatile spirits to the drink menu or serving hard liquor for cocktail hour only. (We recommend going with vodka or whiskey—both are extremely flexible and work alone or in a cocktail with a variety of mixers.)

2. Serve Only Two or Three Courses

After a sampling of hors d'oeuvres and drinks, a three-course meal that includes a soup or salad, entrée and finishes with wedding cake is plenty of food for your guests. Remember, most people don't even order this much food at their favorite restaurants. So if your caterer asks about including expensive additional courses in your reception menu, don't be afraid to veto them. They're really not necessary (and people will want to get to the dance floor anyway).

3. Go Easy on the Hors D'oeuvres

It's common for caterers to recommend several choices, but you can save a little here by selecting a maximum of three prepared appetizers to offer during cocktail hour. Of course you want to give your guests something to nibble on, but an abundance of food this early in the festivities is an extra expense you really don't need.

4. Skip Passed Appetizers

Avoid both preparation and serving staff expenses with spreads of crudités, dips, cheese plates, gourmet crackers, fresh breads and colorful fruit. Plus, guests generally like to help themselves instead of waiting for a server to wander in their direction.

5. Stick to the Basics

Certain menu items are notorious for raising the catering bill. Forgo expensive entree options like lobster,  oysters, filet mignon, Ahi tuna, caviar and truffles. If you absolutely must include one of these flavors in your event, ask your caterer to create an hors d'oeuvre that celebrates the ingredient, but uses it sparingly. A mini blini with a tiny dollop of crème fraiche and a smidge of caviar is a perfect example.

6. Simplify Entrées and Limit Choices

Labor-intensive or time-consuming dishes like a decadent beef Wellington or a multi-ingredient cassoulet will be more expensive than other equally delicious choices. To keep costs down, choose simple, easy to prepare entrées. And there's no rule saying your reception guests need a lengthy list of dinner options. To stay within your budget, ask your caterer to create one widely appealing main course and one diet-specific choice (like a vegetarian or gluten-free dish).

7. Supplement With Stations

Feed a crowd on a budget by adding one or two cost-friendly food stations to your reception. Anything from a sushi bar to a build-your-own grilled cheese station will impress your guests. 

8. Bring Your Own Bottles

Many caterers will allow you to bring your own wine and spirits, charging a nominal corkage fee for wine served during dinner. If you can, choose a wine and spirit supplier who has a "buyback policy," which says they'll purchase any unopened bottles of alcohol back from you after the festivities.

9. Choose Local and In-Season Ingredients

Just as you might with your florist about wedding flowers, work with your caterer to choose amazing ingredients that will be in season and grown locally around the time of your wedding. Fresh strawberries won't be cheap or easy to find if you're hoping to toss them into a mid-winter salad.

10. Educate Yourself

You don't need to become a seasoned chef, but don't be shy about familiarizing yourself with things like which cuts of beef or types of fish cost more than others. For example, organic produce often costs more than non-organic fruits and veggies. Work with your caterer ahead of time to determine which corners you're happy to cut, and which menu elements are non-negotiable.


Find an awesome local caterer for your wedding on The Knot Marketplace.

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