7 tips on stretching your wedding food budget

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Photo by Honeysuckle Photography
Photo by Honeysuckle Photography

We know that you can NEVER have a shortage of budget-stretching ideas. I previously gave you these recession-friendly wedding budget ideas, but let's get food-specific in this installment, shall we?

1. Time is on your side

Have an afternoon wedding and stick to appetizers, serving heavy appetizers instead of a seated meal. Remember, appetizers don't always have to be fancy! Think fresh fruit, gourmet cheeses and crackers, salsa bar, mini tea sandwiches, local veggies, or deli platters.

Alternately, consider a brunch wedding. Take it from Tasha and Andrew:

Our reception was a brunch with lots of music and dancing. We saved so much money having a brunch wedding.

2. Potluck weddings!

Ah yes, the ever-controversial potluck weddingIs it tacky? Is it the best idea ever? I'd say that depends on how well your friends and family members can cook. 😉 In Sarah & Chris' case everything went wonderfully:

I handmade all of our invites and asked the guest to bring food instead of a gift, something home made, special to them — their favorite food. Everybody ate, and raved about each other's recipes.

Luke & Suzanne's Muppet wedding

3. Rent a food truck.

I know MY favorite wedding reception dinner has been from the In and Out truck. But not all food trucks have to be um… not so great for your health. Food trucks are going gourmet these days, but the prices are staying reasonable. Try googling “food truck catering” in your area! Plus the photo ops are always fun:

4. Bake it yourself

Bake your own wedding dessert. You can always do cupcakes or make wedding cookies instead of a fancy wedding cake. Or combine the potluck idea with the cake baking idea and pull off a collaborative wedding cake quilt.

5. BBQ

If a potluck sounds like a lot of work (logistics and what-not) then a barbecue wedding might be right up your alley. Turn your wedding reception into a cookout with hamburgers, hot dogs, and grilled veggies. (Ok, I'm getting hungry now.) If you don't want to man the grill yourself, hire a local barbecue joint to cater a la Charla and Joel:

As graduate students, we had to do it on the cheap. The main cost was the catering — pulled pork, ribs, chicken, honey rolls and sides a la Slow Ride BBQ out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. At $11 a plate, the yummy food didn't break the bank.

6. Skip fancy cocktails

Just serve beer and wine. You can always use our tutorial on how to use custom wine labels to save money on your wedding booze. Or, hell, save a bunch of dough and skip alcohol all together.

7. Friends are your friend!

Know one or several people who are culinary whizzes? Talk to them about whether they'd feel comfortable sharing their cooking skills as their wedding gift. I've seen this exchanged pulled off flawlessly at many a wedding.

Now I turn it over to you — what ways did you come up with to save money on your food and catering?

Comments on 7 tips on stretching your wedding food budget

  1. We made the food and drink for our wedding, catering for 150 to have two hot meals, champagne for toasts and a couple of cocktails each. It cost us around £400. We did it by brewing our own elderflower champagne for toasts, making Ginger beer and strawberry vodka for cocktails. Food wise, for evening meal the week before we cooked two massive pots of chilli ( one meat, one veggie) and froze them, defrostig them the day before the wedding, and heating then up on the day. We barbecued chicken too, and bought cheese, nachos and tortillas to accompany the chilli. We asked friends to bring salads and deserts if they liked instead of wedding gifts. At night time we barbequed baked potatoes, and served them with haggis and cheese and left overs.

    • “brewing our own elderflower champagne”?! my elderflower loving heart skipped a beat reading that! What pray tell does that mean and how do I get this magic in my life?!
      Any info or details would be much appreciated!

  2. Our venue is a summer camp and it’s part of the agreement that we use them for catering. So for us, some of these options won’t work. But what we did do is pick a menu that is cheaper to make, and thus cheaper to serve. We are doing pasta dishes, which are way cheaper than a typical chicken/beef dinner plate, and easy to customize for our special diet guests (for vegans and veggies we can get vegan pasta and for my uncle with Celiacs we can do gluten-free pasta). We’ll spend more than if we did potluck, but at least we’re doing the cheapest option while still using the camps kitchen.

    • i really hate when venues do this. they will lose my business if they try to do something like this with me. my boyfriend and i are both chefs, and so for our dinner (for our hypothetical future wedding lol) we want our other chef friends to each cook a course. venues that you have to use their catering just wont even be an option for me…..

      • For small specialized venues that are not generally geared for weddings, this policy actually protects their facility and their equipment. Also, if the kitchen is used to run the camp, that means there is probably no way to cordon off the “camp food” from whatever “event food” might be on hand, and they simply can’t afford to risk some irresponsible group deciding to eat something earmarked for camp next week. Neither can they afford someone wrecking a major piece of equipment. If you use the kitchen, you use it through the kitchen staff, period, and the kitchen staff has a set repertoire. This is just a risk of using a venue that is not designed for weddings.

  3. So, my fiance and I decided to do a brunch wedding as well, but the problem we’ve run into is that the venue we’re using does not allow outside catering and they’re somehow trying to charge us $60/head for brunch!! Everytime we try to lower it, the menu just looks sparse. I love the idea of serving predominantly appetizers, but what other suggestions do you have for this one?

    • Ditch that venue and find another one. It can’t be worth it for $60 a head. That’s nuts.

      We got married at a modern art museum that charged us only 24$ per head for brunch WITH an omelet station, fresh fruit, bacon, pastries, eggs, home potatoes, french toast, and mimosas.

      • Agreed. Sounds like “wedding tax” to me. Have you looked at their menu for non-wedding (eg corporate) events? If you really can’t leave the venue I would try to leverage any price difference you see to argue that they’re trying to price-gouge you.

    • I loved this one venue but they wanted $65 plus a head. nope we are having a 140 people that’s just crazy to spend on a afternoon wedding. so we are going with pulled pork sliders ( which my fiancé is a great cook so he is smoking all the boston butts) then doing mini sandwiches and like 4 different salads and fruit cheese trays. which a friend is helping us out by making these.

  4. We had BBQ from our favorite place here in Raleigh, NC! It’s my favorite food, so I was happy to be able to eat what I really loved. We also made our own beer and served wine from Trader Joe’s that we love. We still have food left over (that I need to rescue from our kind friends with the deep freeze…) and people still talk about how great the food/beer was. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

  5. We had HUGE food budget issues. Our original plan was to do a cookout DIY, but the size of the wedding (130 folks) and the fact that we were also hosting made it untenable.

    Eventually, we went for pizza and subs from a local joint and grocery store sides. Everyone was satisfied, vegetarians were accommodated, and it shaved $400 off our budget. The pizza was way more popular than the subs – there were a ton leftover.

  6. We knew we wanted Mexican food, mostly enchiladas, at the wedding, but were a little concerned about the cost, and practicality of having kind of a messy food options. We found out that a local family owned taqueria we eat at at least once a week will cater a buffet. Guest will get to choose from 2 or 3 entrees with their choice of meat and rice and beans all around $7 a plate.

    • YAY for local ethnic eateries!! If you aren’t locked into a catering thing via your venue, this is the BEST choice EVAR! Local Indian place, or Chinese place, or Thai place, or Mexican place, or whatever you love. So affordable, so yummy, and so kind to your local economy and your own pocket book!

  7. This is pretty much exactly how we did our afternoon wedding, and we spent $280 on food for 60 people. We had fruit and vegetable trays from Publix, chips, hummus, salsa,guacamole, mini bagels and tubs of cream cheese. My stepmom made punch and cheesecake,and one of my girlfriends baked a gazillion cupcakes. Extra win: These were all cold foods, so no one had to worry about stuff coming out of the oven or staying warm.
    I felt a little guilty for not having nicer food, but no one complained.

  8. We used Hy-Vee (grocery store) for a buffet dinner of fish, ham, Chinese, & tacos. 80 people, less than $800. We had lemonade, coffee, and water for drinks. We paid a woman from the church to do a dessert buffet $350 with tons left over. Considering the catering route would have cost at least $25 per person, we had good food at a great price.
    That said, if we hadn’t had so many guests traveling to attend our wedding, I would have suggested having a pot-luck wedding dinner. I LOVED pot-luck dinners when I was a kid. You can’t beat spaghetti at a pot-luck dinner.
    At the bowling alley after dinner, we spent about $300 for beer, soft drinks, and snacks. I’m very happy with what we spent on food & drink, and we could have spent less b/c we ordered too much food from each vendor!

  9. It’s almost like I special requested this post! Thank you, OBB! Having good food is SO important to me at our wedding, but I am not swimming in money! I am feeling a brunch reception. A potluck is definitely something we’ve thought about doing, but IDK how it’s actually going to go. Thanks for reassuring me that tacky is okay :D.

  10. At our wedding we saved a bundle by only paying for a wine bar. If guests wanted cocktails, they had to pay for them themselves. We also skipped a fancy hor dourves course and only served fresh fruit and veggies. No one noticed the difference!

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