8 Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding Food

Experts share how to majorly cut costs on your reception meal.

Ahi appetizer on spoons and wood plate for wedding

Photo by Lev Kuperman

After you’ve finished the formalities of your wedding day, you can finally spend quality time with your friends and family at the reception. Sharing a delicious meal with your loved ones is one of the best ways to connect with them on a deeper level and express your gratitude for their unwavering support. The food you serve also gives you the chance to provide more insight into your relationship with your partner.

“The food at a wedding is an opportunity for each couple to tell a story and create an event that is uniquely theirs,” Jill Freiberg of Jillicious Foods & Events says. “The food can say a lot and paint a picture of who they are.” Whether it’s recreating a dish you had on your first date or sourcing ingredients from your hometown, your reception meal invites guests to learn more about you. 

Even though it’s an essential part of your big day, the catering bill is the second most costly wedding expense (with the venue being the most expensive). According to Value Penguin, the average cost of food for a wedding of 66 guests in 2020 was $4,075, which is equivalent to $62 per plate. If you’re hosting a wedding with an even larger guest list, the bill will only increase. Although the exact total varies by region, planner Chanda Daniels says the price usually accounts for rental fees, food, beverages, staffing, and taxes.

Luckily, these prices aren’t fixed. There are certain steps you can take to drastically reduce the overall cost of your reception meal. Keep scrolling to learn eight budget-friendly hacks to save money on your wedding food, according to the experts. 

Meet the Expert

  • Jill Freiberg is the owner and executive chef of Jillicious Foods & Events based in Brooklyn. She’s been catering weddings for more than 25 years.
  • Chanda Daniels is an event planner and designer, the creative director of Chanda Daniels Planning & Design, and the owner of A Monique Affair. She is located in Oakland, California and has 25 years of experience. 
  • Gabi Dorsch is the director of catering sales and operations of LM Catering & Events, which is a Chicago-based catering company. She’s been working in the industry for 15 years.

Find a Venue That Allows Outside Catering

While some venues are flexible with outside catering, others require that you only use their on-site services. If you haven’t booked your venue yet, look for one that allows you to bring in another caterer of your choosing. That way, you’ll be able to compare prices across the board and select the most affordable option based on your budget. 

Pare Back the Appetizers

Of course, giving your guests something to tide them over until dinner is a must, but there’s no need to go overboard. If you load your guests up on appetizers, they won’t be hungry for dinner and the main meal may likely go to waste. Instead of an elaborate assortment of bites, stick to two or three options. Opt for low-maintenance hors d’oeuvres, such as crudités or chips and guacamole. These require less labor, which will cut back on service fees. Settling on a spread versus passed appetizers will also reduce service-related expenses since you won’t need servers.

Skip the Plated Dinner

Plated dinners are one of the most popular wedding menu styles out there, but they’re also the most expensive. By hosting a formal sit-down dinner at your reception, not only are you paying for the food itself, but you’re also spending money on staff to portion out every plate, distribute the dinner, and clean up afterwards. A buffet-style meal is a more affordable option since it requires less prep and guests serve themselves. “Buffets save money by using fewer wait staff and kitchen staff than a plated or family-style meal,” Freiberg notes. 

Consider a Food Truck

For another alternative to a sit-down meal, a food truck is a budget-friendly and fun option. By paying a flat fee for the rental and choosing portioned items on the menu, your bill will look a lot more affordable. Plus, your guests will have a blast ordering their meal and will be impressed with the immersive dining experience. 

Offer Fewer Courses

For those whose hearts are set on a plated dinner, you don’t have to throw your budget out the window—just limit the number of courses you serve. A full meal beginning with a starter salad, followed by an entrée and multiple sides, and finished off with a slice of wedding cake is more than enough. Gabi Dorsch of LM Catering & Events recommends lowering costs by serving one less course. “Offer only two courses versus three (either soup or salad and an entrée) and choose a singular entrée rather than a duo,” she advises. “Surf and turf options can get pricey quickly.”

Select Local and Seasonal Ingredients

If you’re eager to serve a watermelon salad at your winter wedding, you’ll end up spending more money than you bargained for. Infusing your meals with seasonal ingredients and items grown in the local area will keep costs down because you won’t need to cover transportation costs. As an added bonus, a local and seasonal menu will burst with more flavor. “Things will taste so much better, and you’re not paying extra to bring out-of-season items to your menu,” Daniels mentions. 

Simplify the Dishes

For a more cost-effective catering experience, be strategic with the items you select. “What’s on the menu can help stay within budget, and guests will be just as impressed,” Dorsch explains. A main dish of lobster, oysters, or filet mignon will rack up the bill, so stick with more inexpensive options, such as chicken, turkey, or pork. Keeping the preparation and presentation simple will also help you avoid blowing a hole in your wallet. Let the natural flavors of your roasted potatoes or sautéed mushrooms be the focal point rather than doctoring them up with extravagant sauces and overlooked garnishes.

Opt for a Vegan or Vegetarian Menu

Not only are vegan or vegetarian menus loaded with health benefits, but they’re also more affordable than meat-centric meals. Your bill will look a lot more reasonable after dining on cuisine that incorporates fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. You can still serve a flavorful, satisfying meal without dropping hundreds on the finest cut of filet.

Article Sources
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  1. Value Penguin. "Average Cost of a Wedding: By State and Feature." October 12, 2022.

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