Shrink the Catering Bill

Brides Behind the Scenes, Budget, Food & Drink
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Photo by Gertrude & Mabel

The reception can take a big bite out of your budget. We surveyed wedding-industry experts (and a few brides) to find out how you can trim the fat without losing the flavor.

Skip the seafood: "I nixed shellfish, since my husband, mom, and MIL are all allergic. It saved us so much that we were able to add a wedding cake into our package at no extra cost." —Leba A., 24, Brooklyn

Eliminate choices: Offer just one meat or fish entrée instead of giving guests two or three options (but make sure you have a vegetarian alternative available for noncarnivores), says Annette Babich, a New York-area wedding planner.

Do a different dessert: Instead of a pricey wedding cake, create a sweets table or a cupcake, cookie, or brownie bar. "These budget-friendly options always wow the crowd," says Laura Ekker of Blue Plate Catering in Chicago.

Ask for a better price: Don't be afraid to negotiate, says Amy Aversa of Sweet Basil Catering in New York. If the caterer's deal is eight hors d'oeuvres for $20 per person, ask if you can have six for less money. If you're respectful and fair, no one will be offended.

Go ethinc: By choosing a nontraditional menu, like Chinese, Greek, or Indian, you can bring your food budget down, says Amy Nichols, a San Francisco-based event planner. Contact your favorite local ethnic restaurants and discuss catering options and prices.

Change the meal: Choose brunch over dinner. Since the meal runs at least an hour shorter, you'll spend less on space rental and waitstaff, says Babich. Also, guests will likely drink far less than they would at an evening event, so you'll save on the bar.

Glam the greens: A simple green salad—maybe the most economical first course ever—becomes special when you dress it up with one or two fancy ingredients, such as candied walnuts, hearts of palm, avocado, or pumpkin seeds, says Ekker. This will instantly upgrade the look, too.

Think before you drink: French champagne can overwhelm your wallet. For the toast, swap in sparkling wine, such as prosecco or cava. It's still bubbly, but it's more reasonably priced.

Play with basics: "We stuck with simple, local food, like pecan-crusted fried chicken and slow-roasted pork. No crazy, high-end items. The result was comfort food with a gourmet twist that my guests raved about." —Michelle D., 30 Asheville, NC

Take a stand: Cocktail receptions continue to gain in popularity, says Nichols. Rather than having a formal seated dinner with multiple courses, serve a variety of appetizers&mdsah;from spring rolls to mini veggies with dip&mdashand you'll cut down on the cost of tables, chairs, and centerpieces.

—Lauren A. Greene, BRIDES Magazine

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