How to: Slash a Wedding Food Budget

Posted by on Monday Aug 15th, 2011 | Print

Photo courtesy of Brooke Courtney Photography

Don’t worry–neither of us is tying the knot just yet! But that doesn’t mean that some of our friends and readers aren’t in the process of getting hitched. Today we’re happy to bring you a guest guide from a contributor who’s wise beyond her years. Alexia, a writer at Small Kitchen College, is a recent grad and newlywed (!) living in Lancaster, PA, who planned and executed a foodie wedding without somehow gouging her bank account. Her tips on getting the food right–on a budget–are priceless. Eat, drink, and dance the night away!

–Cara & Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOKS

**Tips and Tricks**

In my town it’s the hipsters, the Christians, and the high school sweethearts who get married right out of college. Because I surround myself with all of these crowds, I thought getting married at 23 was a normal thing. Apparently not, according to the U.S. Government Census of 2010. It was actually normal in 1984. Nowadays, college grads are waiting to get married until they are in their late 20s. Most people want to start a career and be financially stable before they get married. I thought I wanted that too, but when my high-school-sweetheart-Christian-hipster boyfriend proposed back in November, I realized I was wrong.

So while my college friends studied for LSATs and GREs, I was picking out linens, flowers and – most importantly – food…to feed 250. Catering is possibly the biggest expense when planning a wedding. Not to mention, when a wedding reception runs out of food or alcohol, you can be sure the guests are leaving early. So how do you keep the food and wine flowing when your cash flow is limited?

Choose a venue that doesn’t require you to use their caterers (ex: a park, a backyard, an art gallery, etc.). This way you can customize food choices and bargain with vendors. At our wedding, we served small plates by way of self-serve stations. Each station had a different theme and, therefore, a different caterer. This allowed us to hand pick our food and our prices.

Ask your favorite restaurant to cater a small selection. More than likely you will be able to bargain with them and because you are loyal customers, they should be willing to work with you. It’s also a cute way to personalize your wedding with your favorite dish, or your first-date food.

Choose a caterer who’s just starting out, or works out of their home. Unlike big catering companies, they are still feeling out their value, so their prices will probably be lower. There is a risk factor here, so make you sure you do plenty of research by asking around. The best way to find a great, lesser-known caterer is by word of mouth.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for a little help. Having family or close friends make your favorite dishes for the wedding in bulk will make the food more meaningful to you. For our wedding, my grandmother made her famous mac ‘n cheese with stewed tomatoes. It was a hit, especially with picky eaters.

BYOB. Probably the best financial decision we made at our wedding was purchasing all of the wine, liquor and beer ourselves, instead of being charged by a company or a venue for each drink or bottle. We hired bartenders at an hourly wage and saved thousands of dollars.

--Alexia Miller

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  • http://sunnyseedstories.tumblr.com/ Lisa @ Sunny Seed Stories

    Great tips! I would add this one: only spend big on the things that are personally important to the two of you! It’s your day after all. :)

  • Monica Wang

    good ideas!!  i think another good idea is to look for wedding venues and catering companies that have discounts during the low wedding season.  i was able to save 50% off of the catering costs because i had my wedding in february.

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      Great idea Monica! I guess a Feb wedding saves across the board.

  • http://www.catelinden.com Cate

    Another tip: Don’t skimp on the food! Your guests will be hungry, and if you serve something nasty (or teeny tiny portions), they’ll leave early with rumbling tummies…and remember your wedding for the bad food.

    My husband and I had our favorite Indian restaurant cater our wedding. It was delicious, inexpensive (we had a small wedding, but it would have cost a lot more if we’d used a fancy catering company), and everyone loved it. It also felt very “us,” as we love Indian food and had our first date in their restaurant.

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      that sounds delicious! great rec!

  • Michele F.

    I did my own catering and family handled the set up and maintained the display. What did I serve? 2 spiral cut honey-baked hams. One at each end of the buffet set-up. Each was accompanied by baskets of assorted sliced cocktail bread, bowls of homemade (in the food processor) mayo, yellow and Dijon mustard, and a tray of assorted pickles. I made a gallon of our family recipe white meat chicken salad which was divided and also served at both ends. The center of the table was set with a large bowl of mixed greens/salad with bowls of cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, celery and several bowls of dressings. I also had a large bowl (nested in an even bigger bowl of ice) filled with peeled, boiled shrimp (30 lbs. Total) and dishes of plain cocktail sauce and horseradish cocktail sauce. I had a bowl of fresh strawberries and some dip for them. I also had a watermelon basket filled with fruit. Stacks of plates and containers of cutlery were scattered throughout so people didn’t have to line up for service. I had a French bakery provide both a wedding cake (to serve 75) and a grooms cake (to serve 50). I served punch, had a case of champagne and two cases of sparkling cider.
    I made the chicken salad two days before time, boiled and peeled the shrimp the day before and made the melon basket the morning of the wedding. I had never made a basket or melon balls before that day, but they were easy and non-stressful.
    50 people attended. Consumed wedding cake for 125, 2 whole hams, 30 lbs. Boiled shrimp, a gallon of chicken salad, 10 qts strawberries and they ate for 4 hours. They drank 8 bottles of champagne and all but one bottle of sparkling cider.
    The cost.. Just under a grand including the two cakes and alcohol.
    Best compliment.. They knew the bride had to have done the catering because it was so much better than anything they had previously seen.