Whether you have a caterer do all, only part, or none of the food preparation, there are ways to save on wedding food costs. If you take this “you, me, or us?” approach to the food you can discover cost saving solutions you may not have thought about otherwise. Here–whether you completely outsourced, totally DIY, or somewhere in between–are some ideas to consider for your wedding.
1. Make sure you know how the caterer determines final cost. If it’s by number of people at the event, keep a careful count and follow up on RSVPs ahead of time so you know how many to tell them. You want enough food, but not have to pay for people who didn’t show.
2. Know kids’ prices and check that you are charged accordingly. Does under a certain age eat free? What’s the reduced price for children in a certain age range?
3. Discuss buffet versus served, sit down meal costs. Contrary to what you may have read, there is no hard and fast rule about which is more economical. It depends on the dishes, how many courses, and other factors.
4. Ask if there’s a way to alter a dish you particularly like to fit within your budget. Discuss what you like so much about it and use the sauce or seasonings on a different meat or on pasta instead, for example.
5. Cut down on courses in order to be able to afford a shorter, but more premium, meal.
6. Have a potluck meal, where the guests bring the food. This can be the ultimate DIY–no cost OR cooking for you. But consider the guest experience as well. Not everyone will be enthused at the prospect of bringing their own food to a wedding. So add a quirky twist. For example, make it fun by having a cooking competition or other food-centric event; have them bring food in lieu of a gift; or make it a recipe exchange.
7.Buy bulk, pre-made entrees and side dishes from a restaurant. You may even be able to have them delivered.
8. Serve take out such as pizza, pasta, or Chinese. Give the place plenty of notice to order in extra ingredients.
9. Order a food truck. Depending on where you live, you may be able to have grilled cheese, tacos, lobster, hot dogs, pizza, waffles, burgers, or just about any ethnic food.
10. Cater the entree and DIY the sides. This is a way to make the meal special by serving a famous “to die for” entree or other dish from a local chef and combining with homemade family favorite.
11. Cater the meal and DIY the appetizers. You can turn to Pinterest or a search engine for ideas. I Googled easy elegant appetizers and found some options. As of this writing, The Food Network has some interesting ideas.
12. DIY it all. Buffets at small weddings are most conducive to DIY, but family style (where dishes are served on the table and everyone passes them around) is doable as well. In any case, do not underestimate the time and commitment involved.
13. Limit protein options. The more complex meal preparation and serving, the more labor and ingredients will cost.
14. Serve filling food. Potatoes, apples (because they contain filling pectin), beans, whole grain bread, pasta, and proteins such as chicken salad or ground beef are all contenders for helping to both satisfy your guests’ hunger and stay within a limited budget.
15. Do pre-meal appetizers. They can help fill your guests up before the featured food, allowing you to decrease the entree’s serving size or go with a more premium selection. Choose well and you can lower the overall food bill.
16. Use in-season produce. Anyone who’s purchased tomatoes or other summer produce mid-winter knows prices go up and taste goes down during the off season. So it only makes sense to use in-season produce in your wedding meal.
17. Serve in-season wild meats, poultry, and fish. Not only may you find them less expensive to buy through stores or have catered, but in rural areas you, friends, and family can hunt or catch your own.
Foods from all cultures have dishes that are generally less expensive than others. Entree ideas for different ethnic meals include:
18. American: Hamburgers, hot dogs, and sub sandwiches
19. Chinese: Traditional chicken or pork dishes, chow mein, lo mein
20. Greek: Build your own gyros bar, Mousaka (Greek sheppard’s pie), pastitsio (Greek lasagna)
21. Indian: Vegetarian dishes (let the delectable seasonings take center stage)
22. Italian: Baked pasta with meat sauce, Italian sandwiches, meatballs, pizza, Italian sausage
23. Mexican: Build your own nachos or taco bar, enchiladas, burritos
The above is based on an excerpt from the Dream Wedding on a Dime; 7 Secrets for the Budget-Savvy Bride ebook.