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The catering at a wedding is rarely limited to the preparation and service of dishes and cocktails. Complete wedding catering packages also take into account pre-event setup, including tables, chairs, plates, glasses and crockery. Menu design and decorative decor can also factor into pre-event setup, and caterers help with staffing during the reception and cleanup at the end of the day.
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Many couples planning their wedding may wonder where they can splurge and where they can save when it comes to lowering their catering bill. These money-saving tips will help you reduce catering costs and ensure that all guests in attendance enjoy the big day.
Determine what matters to you
Before hiring a catering company, couples should decide which elements of the wedding catering experience are most important to them. Will your wedding dinner be more formal or casual? Do you want an open bar with a wide choice of drinks? Do you prefer a plated meal at a wedding reception or do you prefer happy hour? Is there a specific menu item you would like to have as your main course?
Cheron Rubenstein, Senior Director of Catering Sales at Lancer Hospitality, recommends deciding what’s most important to you. Then only add the extras if you have room in your budget for them. As an example, Rubenstein said you can host a smaller bar service with a limit that you will cover. Once this limit is exceeded, customers can buy their own drinks and have an amazing experience.
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Reconsider a buffet-style dinner
One of the biggest restaurant myths is that a buffet-style dinner is cheaper than a sit-down or plated dinner. Rubenstein said buffets, in some cases, can actually be more expensive because more food has to be prepared and provided.
Ness McGovern, owner and chief planner at Ness McGovern Events & Design, said family style at the table is the best of both worlds. Because it doesn’t require full-service staff and guests are always seated, family-style usually costs about the same as a buffet.
Another non-traditional option instead of a buffet or family dinner is to host a cocktail-style reception.
“That’s where there are appetizers and a few dinner stations, but entirely cocktail-style tables and limited seating,” McGovern said. “We might recommend bringing lounge furniture so people can sit and mingle without having assigned seats or enough seating for everyone.”
Need another dining option? McGovern said couples can try a wedding with food trucks or a more casual picnic style like a barbecue. Guests will always have a good time and have enough to eat.
If you’re planning to have a wedding where guests are invited to the bar for drinks, especially at an open bar, McGovern said newlyweds can cut costs by limiting bar selections or eliminating alcohol strong, except for a couple of signature drinks.
Courtney Smith, owner of Chesapeake Bartenders, recommends calling the liquor or wine store ahead of time. Ask if they have any specials about two weeks before the wedding, as many stores often don’t know what items will be on sale for a week or two.
Here are some more tips from Smith to save on wedding bar drinks
- Hard liquor: Whenever possible, buy 1.75 liter bottles of liquor. Opt for railway alcohol instead of a name brand.
- Wine: In the blink of an eye, you can serve economical boxed wines to your guests.
- Beer: Buy cans, which are cheaper, instead of glass bottles.
- Sangria: “It’s a very economical drink that can be prepared in advance and presented in a transparent dispenser. Everyone loves sangria and it’s one of the cheapest drinks from a cost standpoint,” Smith said.
- Cocktails: Buy two-liter soda bottles to reduce the overall cost of sodas and mixers. Ounce for ounce, says Smith, it’s much cheaper with a liter.
- Mocktails: Smith recommends buying seltzer water and adding a gourmet flavored syrup like white peach.
- Water: Instead of offering customers bottled water, opt for filtered water instead. Find out if your caterer can bring a Brita filter with them to the wedding so they can use the running water on site, filter it on site, and serve it to guests.
You can also ask the liquor or wine store if you can return any unopened or undamaged wine, liquor, or beer after the wedding.
“We do this with our distributor partner, and couples love getting great reimbursement after the wedding for the booze they didn’t consume,” Smith said.
Bypass Glassware rental
Glassware may look nice, but it’s expensive, and Smith said delivery costs have been higher as gas prices rise.
“Use nine-ounce plastic cups and look for cups under 20 cents per cup,” Smith said. Couples can find the best deals on mugs online and can calculate how many mugs they need assuming guests will use one mug every 30 minutes.
Watch out for cake expenses
The cake, one of the biggest centerpieces of a wedding, can be full of hidden fees and higher costs than couples realize. McGovern said many caterers will charge enough cake for everyone, when in reality only about 50% of guests will eat cake, especially if there are other desserts present.
McGovern recommends having a cupcake to cut out, then having a sheet cake in the back to cover a number of guests.
DIY your own centerpieces
Wedding couples can save a few extra bucks by making their own centerpieces instead of letting the catering company take on the centerpiece responsibilities. Visit your local farmer’s market for flowers to find beautiful options at affordable prices and watch YouTube videos to create elegant arrangements.
While wedding catering costs may escape you, Rubenstein said doing your homework will ensure nothing is hidden, especially if you’re working with a reputable caterer and venue.
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