How to Plan Wedding Catering on a Budget

A waiter prepares trays of food at a wedding reception.

The meal at the reception is easily one of the biggest pieces of your wedding budget, and let’s face it—feeding over 100 people isn’t exactly cheap. So, how exactly do you feed that many people without sacrificing the quantity or quality of the food?

Here are a few tips on planning your wedding catering without busting your budget and still getting a delicious meal.

Take a Good Hard Look at Your Guest List

If it’s still relatively early in the wedding planning process and your guest list is still only tentative, you might want to consider paring it down for the sake of your budget. Although the thought of cutting guests from your lists might be difficult, if you are on a pretty tight budget, it might be necessary.

Start by going through your guest list and picking out acquaintances and friends you haven’t spoken to or seen in a while. Think about people like college suitemates that you haven’t seen since graduation, old coworkers from two jobs ago, and high school track buddies that you only talk to on Facebook. If they haven’t even met your spouse-to-be, this makes it an even easier decision to take them off the guest list.

It might seem like an impossible task, but go through your guest list with your parents and see if there are any family members who probably wouldn’t be able to make it, or who you haven’t seen since you were a baby (such as distant cousins of your parents who you only see at reunions).

Once your guest list is a bit more manageable, your wedding catering bill should go down considerably.

Plan for Brunch or Lunch Instead of an Evening Meal

A great way to save money on the food at your reception is to avoid serving the meal at dinner time. Dinner tends to be the heaviest and most expensive meal, whereas meals like brunch or a light lunch can be a little easier on your wallet.

Plus, with brunch and lunch foods you can afford to be a little more creative. Try a make-your-own sandwich bar for lunch, or a DIY waffle station for a brunch time wedding reception.

Buffet-style appetizers and salads

Serve Heavy Hors d’oeuvres Instead of a Meal

Most everyone would love to have a five-course meal concocted by a master chef at their wedding reception, but unfortunately for most of us, that’s just not going to fit in our wedding budgets. Instead of serving a plated meal or having a large buffet filled with expensive entrees, think about serving heavy hors d’oeuvres to your wedding guests.

Choose crowd-pleasing options like sliders, wontons, fried chicken tenders, a hefty cheese and cracker tray, bruschetta, shrimp cocktail, or toast points that will fill up your guests without spending too much money on food.

If you decide to go this route, be sure to space out when your hors d’ouevres are served throughout the evening to avoid running out of food too early and having a room full of hungry guests.

Upscale hors d'oeuvre on a tray

Go with a Main Vegetarian Dish Instead of a Meat Entree

Even if you’re a regular carnivore, you might want to consider going with meatless entrees at your wedding to save money. Ordering meat (especially great cuts of meat) is going to be much more expensive than just having a vegetarian entree like pasta, enchiladas, or quiche.

Resist the Temptation to DIY

Typically, choosing the DIY route for your wedding is the cheaper (and often better) option, but be wary of cooking your own reception meal. You might save a marginal amount of money, but cooking food for a large group of people is extremely stressful.

Trust us. You don’t want to be worrying about prepping the food when you’re supposed to be primping for your ceremony and enjoying the day with all of your loved ones. Instead, rely on the services of a professional caterer who will take care of serving, providing serving trays, and making sure everything is the right temperature. They can also work with you on your budget and provide suggestions on how to make your dollar stretch a little further with the right menu plans.

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