25 Ways To Cut Your Wedding Catering Costs

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By Sharon Naylor for Bridal Guide

Take a bite out of your food and drink budget with these clever ideas.

1. Hand pass pricier appetizers, like shrimp, scallops or other seafood items, rather than setting them out for guests to serve themselves. Caterers say guests consume 40 percent fewer pieces this way.

2. “Put out big bowls of colorful, lush salads with grilled vegetables, which allows you to show generosity without spending a whole lot,” says Shai Tertner, award-winning chef at Shiraz in New York City. Tertner suggests adding punch to your presentation by using colorful bowls, giant woks and other unusual platters.

3. Comparison shop for seafood. For example, calamari and mussels are often half the price of shrimp cocktail and scampi. Ask your wedding caterer for a list of less costly seafood appetizers.

4. Skip the big cubed-cheese platter. It’s often the least popular item at a wedding cocktail hour, because most guests have had cheese platters at office parties and family get-togethers. No one will miss it.

5. Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean your crudités have to show it. Instead of carrot sticks and cucumber rounds, choose artichoke hearts, broccoli flowers, radishes cut in heart shapes or other creative choices, with flavored dipping sauces.

6. Use unique plates. Leila Miller, award-winning event planner at Feastivities Catering in Philadelphia, says, “People eat with their eyes first, so focus on the presentation. Serving trays that are a bit different, like small tapas-style plates, can add a twist to the fare without adding to your bill.”

7. Serve macaroni and cheese in martini glasses, mini grilled cheese bites made in sandwich presses and tiny crab cakes with tartar sauce. These perennial crowd-pleasers come at about one-third the cost of traditional cocktail party fare.

8. Offer theme stations, such as a fajita station or Thai station. “The Asian station, where it’s more about the display, is very popular now,” Tertner says. “We set out large woks or serve food in take-out containers that coordinate with the wedding’s theme or colors. We also create pyramids of basmati and jasmine rice, lots of egg noodles and a range of condiments. These ingredients are not costly, but it looks as though you’ve invested a lot.”

9. Skip the raw bar — though trendy, it's one of the most exorbitant kinds of stations. Instead, Miller suggests a hand-passed hors d’oeuvre, like tequila-cured salmon served in martini glasses.

10. You don’t need to have a carving station. Prime rib, ham and pork loin are too heavy and filling, not to mention quite pricey, for the cocktail hour, says Bill Chriswell, catering director at The Park Savoy in Florham Park, New Jersey.

11. In cool weather, serve mini cups of clam chowder (again, you’re serving seafood at a minimal price), lobster bisque, acorn squash, or any other flavors that are easy on the wallet.

12. No one will need a five-course feast after cocktails — three will do just fine. If you offered salads at the cocktail party, eliminate the salad at dinner (double savings!).

13. Keep the salad and combine it with an appetizer. A salad with two grilled shrimp is a budget success because the chef can buy less for both courses.

14. Use a great sauce on less expensive chicken or pasta dishes. Tertner suggests doing something unusual — an espresso sauce over chicken, for example.

15. Miller says, “Forget a top-dollar filet! Less costly braised boneless short ribs are a wonderful choice, served plated or at food stations.” Ask your wedding caterer to show you price options for different cuts of lamb and pork as well as beef.

16. Make pasta more interesting by choosing pumpkin ravioli, or spinach and goat-cheese manicotti.

17. Instead of offering a choice of three entrées, design a platter with beef medallions and grilled shrimp or crab cakes. You’ll use far less food than if you had to plan for a large quantity of all three entrées to have on hand should guests change their minds.

18. For savings of up to 20 percent, consider family-style dishes. Try platters of sliced meat or pasta that guests can pass around.

19. If you plan to have children at the reception, choose a wedding caterer who offers free or half-priced meals for children up to age 16.

20. If you design a tasting menu of seven or eight small courses instead of four big ones, you’ll save about 15 percent.

21. Go bite-size with desserts, like tiny chocolate-covered cheesecakes. By controlling portions, you’re saving one-third the price of a full dessert buffet.

22. Instead of a full bar, serve beer and wine with one or two signature cocktails that you’ve personalized with a clever name and your wedding colors.

23. Dress up your signature drinks with fun garnishes, suggests Miller. Ask the bar manager to provide curled lemon and lime peels, orange slices or mini fruit kebabs on toothpicks to coordinate with your wedding colors. These garnishes are often free, and because they add to the festive look, everyone thinks you’ve spent more than you really have.

24. If you can’t negotiate the corkage fee out of your contract entirely, at least discuss lowering it. At up to $2 per bottle, it’s worth a try. If you’re stocking your own bar, research less expensive wine vintages on winespectator.com.

25. Skip the champagne for your wedding toast. Guests can toast you with the drinks they have in hand. Or look into serving easily available sparkling wines from France (cremant), Spain (cava) or Italy (prosecco) instead.

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