Weddings are generally one of the most expensive events in life. The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is a whopping $20,300, and that’s not even counting the honeymoon!
No wonder couples save for years before tying the knot. However, food is one area where you can cut corners without compromising quality or quantity.
We’ve put together a list of wedding food ideas that will save you money without skimping on taste. Our top picks include:
- Serving family-style meals
- Sourcing the wine yourself
- Choosing seasonal produce
So, we’ve got you covered if you want to slash your catering costs without sacrificing on the food front.
Please keep reading for our nineteen top tips on how to serve delicious food at your wedding without breaking the bank.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s look at some critical questions you should ask yourself before finalizing your wedding menu.
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What Is a Good Budget for Food at a Wedding?
How much you spend on food will depend on several factors, including the size of your wedding, the time of year, and the location.
And the most important factor of all is your personal preference.
Some couples prefer to splurge on the food and skimp on other areas, while others would rather save on the catering and use that money for a fancier venue or dress.
Budgeting for $50 a person should cover everything from hors d’oeuvres and cocktails to the main course and dessert. Of course, this is a rough estimate – you may spend more or less depending on your specific menu.
What Is the Cheapest Way to Cater a Wedding?
One option is to have a buffet instead of a sit-down meal. This can save you money on labor costs, as you won’t need to hire servers to plate and serve the food.
Buffets also tend to be less expensive per person than plated meals.
Another option is to cut down on the number of courses or serve only hors d’oeuvres and finger foods. Alcohol can be a significant expense at weddings, so cutting back on the booze can save you money.
Hiring an off-site catering service may give you more control over your menu and save money. However, you’ll need to find the venues that allow you to bring in your own caterer.
Many more practical ideas are included in our list below.
What Kind of Food Should You Serve at a Wedding?
The type of food you serve will depend on the time of day and the formality of your wedding.
If you’re having a daytime wedding, you might want to stick to lighter fare like sandwiches and salads. You could go for a more formal sit-down meal with multiple courses for an evening wedding.
Since we’re focusing on budget-friendly ideas, let’s be creative and adapt the menu.
For example, you could serve sliders or mini hot dogs instead of steak and grilled chicken instead of salmon.
And for dessert, skip the big wedding cake and opt for cheaper (but equally delicious) alternatives like cupcakes or pie that your guests can take to go.
Now that we’ve answered some of the big questions, let’s get into the fun part – the food!
19 Food Ideas for a Wedding on a Budget
1. Have a Brunch Wedding
Brunch food is generally cheaper than dinner food, and you can get away with serving a lighter meal since it will be early in the day.
Think about serving items like waffles, pancakes, sausage, bagels, muffins, fruit, yogurt, and juice. And don’t forget the coffee!
You could even have a bloody mary bar or mimosa station.
2. Stick to Tried-and-True Favorites
Classic favorites like roasted chicken, chicken pot pie, or grilled cheese sandwiches are always popular (and affordable). These dishes are comforting and familiar, and your guests will be happy to see them on the menu.
3. Serve Family-Style Meals
Family-style meals are a great way to stretch your budget. Instead of plating individual meals, put large platters of food on each table and let your guests serve themselves.
Family-style works well for heartier dishes like lasagna or roast chicken.
4. Offer a Build-Your-Own Station
Build-your-own stations are a fun and interactive way to feed your guests.
Set up a toppings bar for foods like tacos, salads, or burgers. This is an excellent option if you have a lot of guests with different dietary restrictions.
5. Go Meatless
Meat is one of the most expensive items on a catering menu. So, if you want to save money, consider having a meatless wedding.
Plenty of delicious vegetarian and vegan options are available, and your guests might appreciate the healthier alternatives.
6. Think Outside the Box for Appetizers
Skip the predictable (and expensive) shrimp cocktail or bruschetta and get creative with your appetizers.
First, avoid passed hors d’oeuvres and save on labor costs by setting up a self-serve appetizer buffet.
Second, get creative with your presentation. For example, you could serve bite-sized appetizers on skewers or mini Mason jars.
7. Save on the Wedding Cake
Consider buying an off-the-shelf cake and then decorating it yourself with fresh flowers or icing.
You can also have a smaller, more intimate cake for cutting and offer your guests cupcakes or pies. This will save you money on both the cake and the labor costs.
Or you can skip the cake and opt for a dessert buffet with various sweet treats.
8. Have a Dessert Bar
Dessert bars are all the rage these days, and for a good reason – they’re delicious and customizable.
Plus, dessert bars are usually cheaper than custom-made cakes.
Set up a buffet with various sweets like cupcakes, cookies, brownies, and candy.
9. Serve Seasonal Foods
In-season fruits and vegetables are generally cheaper than their out-of-season counterparts.
So, when planning your menu, consider what ingredients go together and are in season.
Springtime weddings might feature asparagus and strawberries, while winter weddings could showcase root vegetables and apples.
10. Go Buffet Style
Buffet-style catering is usually cheaper than plated meals. Plus, it’s more casual and relaxed, which might be more of your style anyway.
Set up a few stations with different food options, and let your guests choose what they want to eat.
11. Limit the Drinks
Alcohol is one of the most significant expenses when it comes to catering. Offer only a signature cocktail or have a cash bar to help limit your costs.
You can also close the bar during dinner, so your guests are more likely to eat instead of drink. If you’re worried about your thirsty guests, offer nonalcoholic options like water or juice.
12. Source the Wine Yourself
If you have a wine-drinking crowd, consider sourcing the wine yourself.
You can usually get a discount when you buy in bulk, which is often cheaper than the catering company charges.
Just be sure to ask your caterer if they’re open to this option.
Allow your guests to bring their own beer (BYOB) or wine to the wedding. This is a great way to save money on alcohol, and it’s usually a hit with guests.
14. Have a Potluck
If you’ve many friends and family who love to cook, why not have a potluck?
Ask everyone to bring their favorite dish, and you’ll have a delicious – and affordable – meal. This idea should work for smaller weddings especially.
15. Hire a Food Truck
Food trucks are a great alternative to traditional catering, offering a unique experience for your guests. Plus, they’re usually cheaper than conventional catering companies.
Do your research and find a food truck that offers the type of food you want.
16. Do the Catering Yourself
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can always cook your wedding food. This is a great way to control what you serve, and you can save a lot of money in the process.
But you’ll need to start planning early, and don’t bite off more than you can chew.
17. Ask for Kids’ Discounts
If you’re having a lot of kids at your wedding, be sure to ask for discounts. Many caterers offer child-friendly menus at a lower price point.
18. Be Clever With Plating
Get creative with your plating and presentation to make your food go further. This can be as simple as using smaller plates or cutting your food into smaller pieces.
Arrange your food in a way that looks filling, even if it’s not.
19. Ask for Help with Serving
Ask your friends and family members to help with serving cake, bartending, or refilling water glasses. This can save a lot on labor costs, and it’s a great way to involve your loved ones in your big day.