Whether you’re planning a large, grandiose wedding or a smaller, more intimate one, at some point or another, you will have to confront wedding catering cost and how this will impact not only your entire budget but the experience of your celebration. To some families, cutting corners on cheaper catering options is a sensible move — whereas, to families with different belief systems around food, this might be seen as nothing short of sacrilegious.
There’s no denying the profound impact your food can have on your big night, whether you’re looking to inspire awe and wonder in your guests, comfort and indulgence, freshness and lightheartedness or even romantic feelings through aphrodisiacs like chocolate, figs, spicy peppers or other foods known to “put you in the mood.”
When it comes to wedding catering, finding a balance between your budget and culinary desires is crucial. Your choice of food can create a memorable dining experience that aligns with your wedding theme and desired atmosphere. From delectable dishes to creative presentation, the right catering option can leave a lasting impression on your guests.
While the venue is typically the most expensive and financially demanding aspect of your wedding night, the cost of catering can climb pretty high too, especially if you’re planning a large wedding. In this article, we will discuss how much it costs to cater a wedding, how to find the best affordable wedding caterer and even more ways to save money.
What Will Wedding Catering for 100 Guests Cost?
Depending on how much you’re willing to spend and how “fancy” you want the experience to feel, the typical cost for American wedding catering for 100 guests costs between $6,000 and $12,000, with the average being in the neighborhood of $8,000. Factored into the cost of the basic ingredients themselves is the labor to make it, staffing to serve it and keep it at food-safe temperatures and any alcohol options you may wish to provide your guests.
For example, an open bar at your wedding for a guest list of 100 could cost anywhere from an additional $1,500 to $4,500 or more. Before you set your budget, take inventory of the number of celebrants, how formal you wish your reception to be and the type of experience you want to provide for your loved ones — as all these factors impact the cost of wedding catering.
You will also need to decide if you are planning on catering both the rehearsal dinner and the welcome reception. Welcome receptions can often feel a little more casual, as the main intention is to welcome out-of-town guests to the locale and the venue. Consider charcuterie boards, champagne and finger foods — in other words, keep it simple.
Do the Bride and Groom Provide Welcome Reception Food?
Traditionally, the answer to this question is yes, but you don’t necessarily have to spend thousands of dollars on a welcome reception for those arriving from out of town. You can decide if you want your rehearsal dinner to be an intimate celebration with immediate family members or if you want everyone to come together to break bread in anticipation of your ceremony.
Depending on your budget and desires, you may only cater one event — a welcome reception or a rehearsal dinner. Talk it over with your partner and decide how you want to celebrate with your friends and family!
Average Wedding Catering Cost
For those who don’t have a guest list that fits nicely into the “100 people” category, you can still calculate the average cost of wedding catering based on how many people there will be. Count on an average cost per head to be between $40 and $75, though this might be a good area to add some budgeting “padding” in case someone shows up with special unknown dietary needs or restrictions, wedding crashers arrive or the service you receive is exceptional and worthy of a 15%-20% tip!
Is It Cheaper to Provide a Buffet for Wedding Celebrations?
Generally speaking, buffet style is cheaper than traditional, full-plate service, with some average estimates as low as $27 a person. However, depending on the food presented, the size of the guest list and the number of staff required to handle and distribute food, buffet-style wedding catering isn’t always the cheaper option — especially if you opt for a simplistic, limited, family-style plate service.
However, in most cases, full-plate service costs an average of $40 per person. One major benefit is that it can sometimes help to provide an intimate, familial atmosphere that is less easily achieved by standing in line at the buffet table, which can sometimes serve up cafeteria vibes. As the lovebirds planning your big night, only the two of you can make this call!
How Much for Wedding Catering with Bar Service?
One of the biggest determinants in the cost of libations for your wedding is which type of bar service you decide to go with. For example, some opt for a pre-packaged plan with set limitations — no surprises, no extra costs. Others choose an open bar situation, in which prices are based on consumption. Depending on your family members’ habits or inclinations, this can rack up quickly.
Keep in mind the average cost of an open-bar wedding is around $2,500. While this can make for a fun evening, that’s $2,500 that could be put towards a honeymoon fund!
Other bar options include creating a limited menu. For example, some couples offer a “signature cocktail” bar service with several cocktail options. Yet others cut costs by saving on mixologists and offering different types of wine and beer.
Depending on how you feel this would go over with your loved ones, you can also offer a cash bar option — that is, each guest pays for their drinks. This is not only a way to save money on budgeting, but it can also keep the celebrations from getting a little too rowdy from excessive alcohol consumption, especially if Uncle Tony shows up.
Don’t forget, you are under no obligation to serve alcohol at all at your wedding. Whether you have chosen to cut alcohol out of your life for personal, cultural or religious reasons, providing alcohol alternatives like sparkling juices, kombucha mocktails, flavored lemonades and other beverages can save you from a big bill — and a worse hangover.
How Much Do Traditional Wedding Cakes Cost?
Typically, when wedding planners refer to a traditional cake, the lucky couple conjures up images of elaborate, enormous, towering, tiered confections — and with good reason. (In fact, according to Guinness World Records, the world’s largest wedding cake came to be in 2004 at a casino in Connecticut as the combined effort of 58 chefs. It weighed nearly 7 tons, at roughly 13,600 pounds!)
Fortunately, most couples don’t need their cake to be able to literally feed an army. With the average wedding cake in the United States costing around $350, some find deals closer to $125 and others are willing to spend over $1,000 on the sweet treat! When planning an inclusive event, make sure you have dessert options for everyone. Promoting gluten-free, dairy-free or nut-free options is a classy way to give all your guests a chance to indulge and offering sweet, seasonal fruit is always a safe bet!
Check out these other wedding cost to budget for your big day:
- The Average Cost of a Wedding Dress in 2023
- How Much Does a Wedding Ring Cost?
- Rustic Wedding Ideas on a Budget
What to Look for in an Affordable Caterer
Especially if you work hard for your money, it’s reasonable to want to shave dollars off your wedding bill wherever you can. However, there are aspects that you should look for in a caterer that cannot be left behind in favor of a lower price tag. Here are some things to look for in a wedding caterer:
1. Prompt communication:
Is it clear that your business is a priority? Does the caterer actively listen to your desires and any dietary limitations of your guests? Are they willing to collaborate with you until you are satisfied and can agree on a price and a menu? Is pricing clearly defined? Will there be any opportunity for surprise expenses, like corkage fees? These are all important questions to ask yourself.
If you’re looking into local catering options, ask if your chef and crew are familiar with your wedding venue. This can make a world of difference when prepping food in the space, safely and hygienically hot handling food or keeping things chilled, knowing how to access equipment and electrical outlets, etc. This can make the experience easier for everyone — and you may be surprised to find certain caterers and venues already have working relationships.
3. Creativity and ability to satisfy:
When designing your menu, will your caterer provide tastings? Are they going to hear what kind of feast you want to provide and be able to deliver the right meal for the atmosphere? And perhaps most importantly, how will they work within your budgeting constraints? Finding a creative chef who can innovate and craft delicious dishes without adding luxury ingredients like lobster or caviar can be a treasure worth seeking.
4. Positive referrals:
Of course, a caterer could sell you the moon and the stars until they’re blue in the face — but what do their previous clients have to say about them? Don’t be shy when reading reviews or asking for references. This can go a long way toward making an easy decision and instilling confidence in your choices.
5. Licensed and insured:
Finally, it may seem obvious, but clarifying that your caterer is licensed, has liability insurance and that all staff or skilled and qualified at food handling can help prevent potential disasters on your big day. Whether you lead the conversation with this bullet point or close it that way, it’s important to verify.
Are Wedding Finger Foods Worth It?
It’s hard not to feel classy, indulgent and pampered when plucking perfectly manicured hors d’oeuvres from a tray with a glass of champagne in your other hand. However, somewhat surprisingly, these wedding finger foods can sometimes be more costly than buffet-style or full-plating-style catering options.
In fact, appetizers at weddings can cost from $60 to $85 per person or more due to the fussy nature of their presentation, the skill at combining flavors and the cost or quality of the ingredients. To some people, gold-leaf-topped aperitifs are worth it. Other couples might invest in an aged bottle of good champagne to take to their honeymoon suite instead.
Is a Wedding Without Catering an Option? Here’s How to Save:
There’s no denying that throwing a party without food would be like getting into a car to drive to town without wheels. It’s simply not the best way to throw a party. Food can move mountains in terms of repairing family rifts, bringing different cultures and religions together and setting the tone for a good time. However, you don’t have to throw your entire budget into catering. Here are some ways you can save on wedding catering expenses:
Base your menu on seasonal abundance:
Do you like local fruits and veggies? Nothing’s cheaper than a green bean during green bean season — so if you’re getting married during peak harvest times, look for a caterer who can base the menu on fresh, abundant and cheap ingredients!
Limit animal products:
This may be hard to hear for some couples, but animal products can be spendy. From butter to cheese boards to T-bone steaks or racks of lamb, these are areas where you may want to spend a little more mindfully when working with your caterer.
Look for deals or special offerings:
Does your caterer offer discounts? Find ways to save a few bucks here and there!
Plan the reception on a weekday:
Catering service is generally more expensive on weekends — as is booking a venue, for that matter. Take the day off work — you deserve it!
Consider a buffet service:
The buffet route may be the most economical wedding catering available.
Offer a cash bar or a BYOB situation — then everybody can have just what they want and you won’t have to pay upwards of $2,500 for bar service.
Are wedding potlucks a thing?
While less common, yes, wedding potlucks do happen. And while some people might see this as a tacky, cheapskate move, it can also be a thoughtful way for guests to contribute — especially if Aunt Tilda makes your favorite lemon blueberry pie in the whole world and your Father-In-Law happens to know his way around a brisket.
This can end up layering intimacy and deeper family connection into your event — it just depends on your perspective. Plus, the price is right! Just make sure you have a way to keep the food at safe temperatures during eating hours.
So, How Will You Feed Your People?
Traditional weddings can add up quickly and for many, this is worth the expense. However, savvy brides know many ways to parse down costs, look for deals or specials, talk their way into a better price, crowdsource and seek alternative solutions. Catering your wedding doesn’t have to be painful! So, tell us — how will you feed your family?
Serena & Dominic are a married couple and parents to 3 wonderful children. They plan weddings, run multiple small businesses, and curate wedding events.
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