Ah, the wedding meal: indulgent, delicious, memorable—and probably the most expensive line in your entire budget. BRIDES magazine tells you how to painlessly trim the fat in 10 easy steps.
1. Be choosy. Look into party venues that allow you to hire any caterer, not just one from their approved list (who may not fit your budget). Do the math before booking.
2. Tap the new guy. Consider new talent: a chef who's young, eager, and, since he's just starting to build his wedding-catering business, likely to charge less than his more established colleagues. But do some research before hiring him: Ask for referrals from recent wedding clients—and call them!
3. Keep it simple. Streamlined preparations require less work on the chef's end. Wild mushroom soup? Easy. Wild mushroom soup with crab ravioli? That takes a lot more time to prepare, and time is money.
4. Stay in season. Serve foods whose peak freshness coincides with your wedding date. Want tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad in winter? You'll pay dearly for imported tomatoes from Mexico. (Try arugula with Parmesan instead.)
5. Veg out. Make most of your hors d'oeuvres meatless. Besides a crudites platter, go with interesting combos, like crostini topped with a sweet-pea-and-fava-bean puree, says New York City caterer Marcey Brownstein. Ric Orlando of New World Home Cooking Co. in Saugerties, New York, likes to serve vegetable skewers, stuffed grape leaves, and dumplings.
6. Recession-proof your beef. Sirloin is less than half the price of filet mignon, Orlando points out, but it's still super-flavorful.
7. Count carbs. Pasta can be a budget-conscious bride's best friend. But it doesn't have to be spaghetti and meatballs. "Try a southern Italian peasant-style dish, like orecchiette with broccoli rabe and white beans," says Orlando.
8. Beg, borrow, steal. When you're not in a fully equipped space, renting serving pieces can add up. Got a guest list that's under 50? Ask relatives to loan their favorite serveware. (Appoint someone to round everything up at the end of the night.)
9. Resist the upgrade. Many caterers offer basic packages with optional surcharges. We've seen scallop appetizers that cost an extra eight dollars per person. For 125 guests, that comes to another $1,000—ouch.
10. Enlist a friend. Ask a pal who loves to bake to make a dessert in lieu of a wedding cake (an ambitious project that's best left to a pro). A tower of cupcakes or brownies is easy to do and looks festive. It's a sweet ending at a sweet price.
—Lexi Dwyer, BRIDES magazine