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Why is Wedding Catering So Expensive?

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Although choosing the right venue and getting the decor right is essential, you must also consider what food options to have at your wedding. Catering is one of the costs that can quickly make your wedding budget skyrocket. 

Why is wedding catering so expensive?

Wedding catering can be expensive depending on the number of guests, food service options you’ve chosen, meal serving style, the type of celebration you’re having, and if you need any personalization. The costs may also increase based on rentals like dishes, cutlery sets, linens, and the service provided.

Read on to learn more about the reasons why wedding catering is expensive. We also look at the average cost of wedding catering and what’s included in a wedding catering package.  

Luxurious wedding catering decoration

What is the Average Cost of Wedding Catering? 

Research done by revealed that most U.S. couples spend an average of $4,000 on food services and close to $2,400 on bar services.

However, this is just an average, and the cost may vary depending on other factors. 

What Does a Wedding Catering Package Include?

A wedding catering package will depend on whether you’re working with an outside caterer or you’ve opted to have everything provided by the wedding venue. 

Most caterers will give you a calculation based on a “per person” basis and may include the following:


Food Buffet Catering

Food is the main item included in the package. You’ll be paying for the main meal and any added snacks during cocktails or after the wedding. You can also decide whether a buffet-style or plated option works for you.


The package includes all alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks you plan to serve at the wedding.

Pour champagne into glasses at wedding party


This item pays for the chef, servers, bartenders, and head of catering. You need to have enough people attending to your guests.

Rental Equipment

If you don’t plan on having your venue provide catering services, you’ll have to work with an outside caterer. That means budgeting for dishes, cutlery, chairs, tables, linens, and more. 

Photo of beautiful white wedding hall with big tables

Extra Fees

Some caterers may include additional fees like corkage and cake-cutting fees.

Ask if there are any extra costs you should be aware of to understand how much your wedding catering will cost.

Reasons Why Wedding Catering is Expensive

Wedding catering can be expensive based on factors like these:

Number of Invited Guests

The more people you invite, the higher the catering cost. Note that most venues and caterers charge per head or per plate, which quickly drives up the price if you have a lot of guests on your big day. 

Additionally, serving food to many people means having to include more staff, which results in higher labor costs and adds up to the overall wedding catering cost. 

The Wedding Venue

Decorated Table for a wedding reception in a restaurant

Some wedding venues have catering restrictions.

They may either do the catering themselves or suggest a list of vendors. These options can be more expensive than hiring your preferred caterer. 

Ask questions about catering options when choosing your preferred wedding venue. That will help you avoid any surprises. 

Personalized Menus

Every couple wants their wedding day to be unique and memorable.

Some couples are opting for personalized food options for their big day. You can opt to include Asian, Mexican, or Latin American cuisine at your wedding.

However, personalized cuisines require extra ingredients that may be expensive, and preparing some foods is also time and labor intensive.

Exotic menus will cost you, and you have to consider this when budgeting for your wedding catering. 

Meal Service Type

The type of service you choose to have on your big day will significantly impact the overall cost. Some of the serving-style food options include:

  • Buffet
catering wedding buffet on wedding reception

A buffet is a more casual and relaxed style of serving where guests serve themselves at a designated station. 

Although buffets were an affordable option back in the day, that’s not the case in modern weddings.

The chef will have to prepare enough of each dish to ensure everyone is fed, which leads to extra ingredients and increased overall costs. 

  • Plated

Plated or sit-down meals are where the guests are served food when sitting at a table.

Depending on your budget, you can opt for different entree options or a single option. However, your guests must order their preferred food in advance to ensure it’s prepared on time. 

Although plated meals used to seem expensive, they could be affordable as the caterer can charge per plate and knows the amounts of ingredients to use. 

  • Cocktail Style

A modern cocktail style involves serving food as hors d’oeuvres and at food stations. Your guests get to mingle as they walk around rather than being stuck at a table.

  • Family Style
Wedding guest table with flowers and food at wedding hall.

A family-style setup involves large platters of food placed on the tables. Guests get to serve themselves as they pass the trays around. 

  • Multiple Courses

Furthermore, adding multiple courses can stack up catering costs. 

You can also opt for a cocktail hour with appetizers and drinks before your guests proceed to the reception.

Multiple courses may push the catering costs up depending on whether you choose a signature drink instead of an open bar, the types of appetizers, and the number of servers. 

Type of Food and Beverages Served

Another factor that quickly adds to the wedding catering cost is the type of food you plan to serve. Making some dishes may be more expensive due to the ingredients used.

For example, seafood like crab and lobster dishes will be more expensive than beef or chicken. 

The type of beverages being served can also push the costs up.

Although an open bar with only wines and beers may be expensive, having an open bar with all premium liquors or imported beers and wines will be more costly.


Wedding reception decoration near pool and sea

Another reason wedding catering may be expensive is the rentals involved.

If your wedding venue does not provide catering services, you may need to hire a caterer and account for ancillary rentals like dishes, cutlery, glassware, and chaffing dishes.

All of these rentals can quickly add up to your costs. Some caterers provide these items as a package, while others price them separately. 

Hiring a caterer who coordinates all the rentals ensures timely delivery, setup, and execution. You also don’t have to worry about the cleanup after the wedding. 

The Number of Staff Involved

When planning your wedding catering budget, you need to account for the staff involved on that day.

Hosting a large wedding requires chefs, waitstaff, bartenders, and supervisors. 

Determine the number of waitstaff and bartenders you need to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Remember, the more guests you have, the more staff you’ll need and the higher the overall costs will be. 

Catering Delivery Fee

catering delivery team unloading chairs and other equipment for catering

The wedding catering industry also includes fees that depend on the travel distance, the venue’s location, and if there’s a specific time the delivery needs to be made.  

There’s often an extra fee for delivering on a statutory holiday or set time requests. 

Additionally, if the delivery requires a temperature-controlled car, that may cost you an additional fee.

Wedding Date

It’s common to pay more during the peak wedding season.

Planning a wedding during summer, spring, and weekends will cost you more than scheduling your wedding on a weekday, autumn, or winter. 

Bridal background with planner checklist and calendar date for wedding

Extra Fees

When working with wedding caterers, some lesser-known fees may crop up. Some of these may include:

  • Landmark or Venue Fee

An invoice may have a landmark or venue fee included. That means the cost that a venue charges the caterer to operate in their space.

The caterer will pass this cost to you, ranging from 4%-20%.

  • Rescheduling or Cancellation Fee

Most caterers include a cancellation or rescheduling fee as part of their package. For example, a last-minute cancellation may not warrant a refund.

Nonetheless, some caterers are open to a refund if adequate notice is given. 

  • Menu Tasting Fee

A few caterers will include menu tasting as an extra charge. Find out if your caterer has this included as part of their quote. 

  • Deposit

Note that some caterers and venues also ask for a deposit.

Although this is not an extra fee, you need to pay your deposit in advance to allow the caterer to start preparing for the event, source ingredients, schedule staff, and ensure the date is booked only for you. 

  • Gratuity

Adding a gratuity to your wedding catering costs can also increase prices. You can set aside some money for the chefs, bartenders, and waitstaff to reward them for ensuring everything runs smoothly.

A few caterers allocate a set gratuity percentage to their bill, while others will allow you to tip freely.

Get clarification on whether gratuity and tax are part of the total catering cost. 

Organization of weddings, parties, catering for events. Female on the background banquet decorated

Final Thoughts

Wedding catering is more than the food quality and what’s included on the menu. It also includes the presentation, the way food is served, and its safety.

Catering costs can quickly skyrocket depending on the food served, meal service type, wedding venue, rentals, and any additional fees. Ensure you consider this when negotiating with your caterer or wedding venue.