5 Creative Ways to Seriously Cut Your Catering Bill

Yes, it can be done

Updated 12/01/16

Photo by Melina Wallisch Photography

Planning your wedding is basically like planning the biggest dinner party of your life. The menu is kind of a big deal, and you want everything on it — the apps, plated courses, and signature cocktails — to please the most discerning of your guests, right? Got it. Now add to that the fact that feeding your wedding guests (and giving them enough booze!) will eat up roughly 42% of your total wedding budget. OK, you’ve got a project ahead of you, but don’t freak out just yet! Spending that chunk of change is stressful no matter how big or small your wedding budget. That’s why we called on a few friends in the food and beverage biz to find out how you can wow your wedding guests and save some money while you’re at it.

Spoiler alert for the cynical brides and grooms out there: You can (and will!) serve an amazing meal and cut costs without anyone — even that food critic cousin of yours — noticing. So grab a glass of your favorite vino, break open a notepad, and say “cheers” to creating a meal that you, your groom, and your wedding guests won’t soon forget. Here's exactly where (and how) to save on food and drinks.

1. Hors D’oeuvres
Shoot your photos before the wedding, says Angela Cava, director of sales at Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa. That way, you can limit your cocktail hour to an actual hour (everyone isn’t waiting on you to finish pics!), which lowers service charges and the amount of drinks and apps you need to serve. Bonus: A cold-food station — like an olive-oil-and-bread bar or a cheese display — is an awesome alternative to passed canapés. “It looks cool but doesn’t require cooks or cocktail staff,” says Matthew Antoun of Modern Art Catering in Los Angeles. If you do cheese in lieu of, say, five passed apps per person, you could cut your costs nearly in half.

2. First Course
Ask your caterer to suggest locally grown options. “Our chef does a butternut squash soup that’s super cost effective,” says Cava. “It’s a staple on his menu, so he’s able to source from a farm here in Napa.”

3. Second Course
Serve one entrée that appeals to everyone. Grilled chicken over pasta is a crowd pleaser, it’s easy to modify for special diets (vegetarians can skip the chicken, celiacs can sub in rice, et cetera.), and it saves you big. “You want to throw in really light, fresh, local ingredients like herbs and vegetables to make the dish stand out,” says Cava. FYI: By skipping surf and turf, you could trim your entrée costs by a minimum of 30 percent. And if you’re set on having beef or fish, ask your chef to create dishes using less-expensive options. “If you serve a skirt steak instead of a filet and a fish like cod instead of halibut, you could save around $13 a person,” says Antoun.

4. Coffee & Dessert
Coffee service alone can cost $5 per person, whether guests drink it or not, says Cava. Set up a coffee station and a dessert bar of milk and cookies or your fave doughnuts so people can help themselves to a treat if they want it.

5. Cocktails
Create a signature drink for cocktail hour! A wine-based beverage that’s batch-made — like sangria — is especially budget-friendly. Why? You’re saving on the hard liquor (by using wine as a base) and the service charge of having bartenders whip up martinis for your squad of 150. And don’t hand out champagne as guests arrive. Cava finds that men (or nearly 50 percent of your guests) typically take a glass, sip some, and then set it down nearly full the minute the actual bar opens.

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