How to Choose a Wedding Caterer That Fits Your Budget

  • Publication date: 10/14/2023
  • Updated: 01/11/2024

Let's get one thing straight: tying the knot shouldn’t mean untangling a financial mess. And while everyone's got their two cents about where to splurge and where to save, we believe that good food shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg! If you’ve been lying awake at night, dreaming of that five-course meal but seeing dollar signs instead of dishes, we’ve got your back. Today, we’ll share with you some good tips for choosing your perfect wedding caterer to fit your budget. That’s right! It's about feeding your guests without starving your savings.

Be Real with Your Budget: The First Step to Choosing a Wedding Caterer

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Photo Kalon Event + Food Design

Before you go pinning every gourmet dish to your wedding board, let's have a heart-to-heart. When it comes to figuring out how to choose a wedding caterer, your budget isn't just a number; it's your roadmap. By getting clear on what you can truly afford, you'll be better equipped to navigate the catering seas without sinking your financial ship.

Now, the burning question: "How much does it cost to hire a caterer for a wedding?" Answer? It varies—big time. Depending on your location, guest count, and choice of menu, you could be looking at anything from a modest few dollars per head to a triple-digit extravaganza per plate.

But! With a realistic grasp on your budget, you can sail those choppy waters like the captain of your own love boat. It's all about balance, compromise, and ensuring the menu reflects both your tastes and your wallet. So, whip out that spreadsheet, crunch those numbers, and let's get this foodie fest rolling without rolling into debt!

Do Your Homework

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Photo Abigail Kirsch Off Premises

With the myriad of options out there, the quest for wedding catering on a budget might seem like searching for a needle in a haystack. But with a systematic approach, you can cut through the noise and find a caterer that's a match made in culinary heaven. Ready to discover how to choose a caterer? Here are some steps to finding your culinary soulmate:

  1. Gather Recommendations: Your cousin's beach wedding with the amazing seafood? Your colleague's garden party with the best BBQ? Start by asking around. Personal experiences can be gold!
  2. Go Digital: Platforms like Wezoree are a godsend. You can filter options based on budget, city, and more.
  3. Deep Dive into Reviews: After you've made a list, it's time for a reconnaissance mission. While a couple of negative reviews shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, consistent complaints might raise a red flag.
  4. Organize Tasting Sessions: This is the fun part! Set up tasting sessions with your top picks. Experience the menu, presentation, and service firsthand. Bring a hungry partner or friend for a second opinion.
  5. Uncover Hidden Costs: Some caterers might have additional fees like corkage, service charges, or setup fees. Get a detailed breakdown to avoid surprises.
  6. Check Their Calendar: Before getting too attached, confirm if they're available on your chosen date. Popular caterers can get booked months in advance!
  7. Discuss Customization: Perhaps you have dietary requirements or cultural dishes you want to include. Ensure the caterer is flexible and open to your ideas.
  8. Contract Clarity: When you’re zeroing in on 'The One', read the contract thoroughly. Discuss cancellation policies, payment plans, and any other details to avoid last-minute hitches.

Consider Drop-Off Catering

Photo Acquolina

Drop-off catering is a legit, elegant, and – here's the kicker – budget-friendly option, especially when you're on the hunt for ways to save some dough without compromising on taste. So, what's the scoop on drop-off catering?

Drop-Off Catering Explained

At its core, drop-off catering is pretty much what it sounds like. Instead of having a full-service catering team prepping, cooking, and serving at your venue, your chosen dishes are prepared off-site, transported, and then dropped off at your venue, all ready to be devoured.

Why It's a Budget Win

  1. Less Staff, Less Cost: Since you're not paying for a team of chefs and servers to hang around for hours, the labor costs drop, making many drop-off options some of the most budget-friendly wedding caterers around.
  2. Simplified Service: Without the need for a full kitchen setup or serving paraphernalia, overheads are minimized, passing those savings onto you.
  3. Control Over Presentation: You can decide how to display the food, whether buffet style, in food stations or even using family-style sharing platters.

Comparing It to Traditional Catering

The key difference between drop-off and traditional catering isn't just the delivery method but the level of service. With traditional catering, you're not just paying for food; you're also paying for the experience – think chefs, waitstaff, bartenders, and often even cleanup crews. It's an all-inclusive package, and while it can be super convenient, it can also super-size your bill.

For couples who are more hands-on or have a crew of eager-to-help family and friends, drop-off catering can be a fantastic solution. It allows for customization, personal touches, and, most importantly, significant savings.

Don't Overdo the Menu

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Photo Gaurav Anand

We totally get the excitement of wanting to showcase a smorgasbord of flavors on your big day. Who wouldn't want their guests to travel the world through their taste buds in one night? But here's a little wisdom for you: When it comes to choosing a wedding caterer on a budget, sometimes simplicity is the secret sauce.

Why a Streamlined Menu Makes Sense

  1. Less Waste, More Savings: A sprawling menu can lead to heaps of leftover food. And tossed food is essentially tossed money. By narrowing down the options, you ensure more plates come back clean, and fewer of your hard-earned bucks go to waste.
  2. Focused Flavors: A more concise menu allows your caterer to focus on quality over quantity. It's better to have a few dishes that are truly mouthwatering than a long list of 'meh' meals.
  3. Simplified Logistics: Fewer dishes mean fewer ingredients, less prep time, and a smoother service. This can translate to cost savings, as some caterers charge less for a more straightforward setup.

Balancing Variety with Budget

While the idea is to streamline, you don't want to feel limited. Consider these steps:

  1. Pick a Theme: This helps in narrowing down choices while ensuring a cohesive menu. Maybe a Mediterranean spread? Or classic American comfort food?
  2. Listen to the Pros: Your caterer knows their stuff. If they suggest a dish that is a crowd-pleaser and budget-friendly, it might be worth a spot on your menu.
  3. Include Vegetarian Options: Not only does this cater to different dietary needs, but vegetarian dishes can often be more cost-effective than their meaty counterparts.

Flexibility is Key

Photo CxRA

As much as we all want our big day to unfold exactly as we've dreamt it, sometimes the universe (and our wallets) have other plans. When diving into the whirlwind of wedding prep, one word should be your mantra: flexibility. Being adaptable, especially when deciding how to choose catering for a wedding on a budget, can open doors to some scrumptious savings.

Flexibility in wedding catering isn't just about being open-minded; it's about smart compromises and clever alternatives. Let's say you had your heart set on a five-course meal, but the quotes are making your eyes water more than your upcoming vows will. Consider trimming it down to three courses or switching to a buffet-style dinner. The gist is, that by tweaking certain elements of your initial plan, you can still have a delightful feast without breaking the bank.

One of the most enlightening wedding catering cost-saving tips? The power of negotiation. Caterers, like all of us, prefer a sure gig over a potential one. If you show a willingness to adjust your needs based on their suggestions or package deals, they might be more inclined to offer you a better price. This could mean shifting your wedding date to a less busy day, opting for in-season ingredients, or even choosing a different menu style.

Another nugget of wisdom: think outside the box. Traditional wedding meals are lovely, but who said you can't have a gourmet taco bar or a themed potluck? Often, non-traditional options come with friendlier price tags and add a unique touch to your celebration.

Remember, flexibility doesn't mean sacrificing quality or settling for less. It's about making informed decisions, prioritizing what truly matters, and ensuring every dollar is well-spent. By embracing adaptability, you'll not only discover ways to stretch your budget but also find joy in the unexpected surprises that come your way.

Buffet or Family Style > Plated Service

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Photo Michael Scott Events

When you're weighing up those fancy plated dinners against buffet or family-style options, don't let the glitz blind you. Beyond the shine of individual courses lies the gleam of affordable wedding catering options. Buffet or family-style setups can be your best pals in selecting a caterer within your wedding budget without compromising the yum factor.

While plated service does have its charm and offers a more personalized touch, the budget-friendliness of buffet and family-style setups can be enticing for couples conscious about costs. Plus, these setups offer a communal, relaxed vibe that many guests appreciate. There’s something heartwarming about passing dishes around or bonding over choices at a buffet table.

But, a word to the wise: just because it’s often cheaper doesn’t mean you should skimp on quality. The trick lies in selecting top-notch ingredients and ensuring a varied menu, so every guest finds something they adore.

Think Seasonal and Local

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Photo Peter Callahan

If you're looking for the secret sauce to mastering wedding catering menu budgeting, we've got a tasty tidbit for you: Think seasonal. Think local. Let’s serve up the deets on why this approach isn’t just delish, but also delightfully budget-friendly.

Choosing local and seasonal ingredients isn't just about hopping onto the sustainability bandwagon (though that’s a fab bonus). It's about understanding where the best flavors and the best prices intersect. Here’s the lowdown:

  1. Freshness Factor: Local means fresh. Fresh means delicious. When ingredients don't have to travel halfway around the world, they retain their flavor and nutrients. The result? A meal that's not just lip-smacking but also vibrant and full of life. Your guests will definitely notice!
  2. Seasonal Savings: When produce is in season, it's abundant. And what's abundant usually comes with a friendlier price tag. That means you're not just serving up the tastiest options, but also the most cost-effective.
  3. Supporting Local: By opting for a local caterer, you're investing back into your community. It’s a win-win: you get quality service, and your money supports local businesses.
  4. Caterer’s Insights: Local caterers have their fingers on the pulse of the area's best suppliers and freshest produce. This means they can offer invaluable insights on cost-effective wedding catering ideas and design a menu that captures the essence of the region.
Photo Gaurav Anand

So, the next time you're in a meeting discussing menus and ingredients, don't just think about what sounds good. Think about what's available nearby and what’s blossoming in the season of your wedding date. This approach doesn’t just stretch your budget; it elevates the entire dining experience.

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Natali Grace Levine Editor-in-Chief

Manages The Wezoree's content strategy
Writes and edits articles for the Inspiration Blog