Nothing brings folks together quite like food. That’s all well and good, but when it comes to the logistics of feeding dozens to hundreds of people all at once for your wedding—well, that’s when it gets complicated. This week we try to digest the quite complicated topic of food at your wedding.
Catering can be one of the most expensive aspects of your wedding day, so understanding what is expected from guests, different options, and how to reduce costs to fit your budget are all important pieces of wedding planning.
It’s not uncommon for our clients to say their wedding will be 200-300 people, and then they meet with a caterer and need to trim that number down either a little bit or significantly. Catering is one of the most expensive pieces of a wedding, and the number of guests plus the amount of food you are ordering will make or break your budget.
As you look through your budget and catering expenses, it’s also a great idea to work through your wedding day timeline as well. Some people opt to have cocktail hour, a plated dinner, and a late-night snack, while others do a small hor d’oeuvre and buffet-style dinner. It all depends on what makes sense financially for your guests.
Something to eat during cocktail hour is strongly advisable! Not only because your guests will be hungry after the ceremony, but also because cocktail hour means the liquor is flowing so you want to have food in your guests’ stomachs so there aren’t too many tipsy people. It also gives your guests something to do while they wait for you and your spouse to have some time together before going into a room full of people!
Cocktail hour can be as small as chips and queso or a charcuterie board, or it can be a bigger production with servers carrying trays full of hor d’oeuvres around to your guests. Mini-sized fan favorites always get people excited such as shrimp cocktails, fruit skewers, meatballs, or jalapeno poppers!
There are a few different options when it comes to how food is served for your main meal. We most often see buffet style, stations around the room, or plated meals. We will walk through what all of these are, but remember that the best option is the one that fits within your budget.
This is typically the less expensive option. It can be put together by family and friends for smaller weddings, or by a caterer if it’s within your budget. Usually catering staff is stationed behind the buffet to monitor portions and help dish up plates. The buffet style allows everyone to choose what food they want on their plate, which can help with personal preferences as well.
Stations can be a really fun option if you want to keep your guests mingling. Some great ideas for stations are a taco or potato bar. These are often a little more spendy because of the setup, but they add a fun vibe to your reception. Another option for stations is to have one table as a carving station, one as a salad station, etc. so your guests go around the room to build their meal.
Plated dinners are a great option if you are going for a more elegant style wedding. Each of your guests will go to their assigned tables and staff will bring out the meals. Usually, everyone gets the same meal, however, there is the option to provide your guests with options on their RSVP such as fish, chicken/steak, or vegetarian. If you give them the option, then you’ll need to note where those people are sitting to your catering staff so they get the appropriate meals to each person.
Food trucks are another option that we’ve seen rise in popularity in recent years. This can be a fun idea, however, we really only recommend this for weddings with less than 50 people. It can get overwhelming and push out your timeline if you have over 50 guests who are waiting in line and order different things, or if there is only one person working inside the food truck. If you decide to go this route, definitely touch base with them and let them know this is a wedding so you can make sure they are prepared and capable of handling the number of guests you have.
Money-saving tip! Ask your caterer if they offer kids’ plates. At times, for ages 8-13 catering companies charge a smaller fee since there will be less food eaten at those ages.
Just a reminder, there will be a wide variety of taste buds at your wedding. There will likely also be dietary restrictions and those with gluten sensitivities or nut allergies. It’s great if you are able to provide vegetarian options as well as accommodate food restrictions, but don’t make yourself go crazy trying to fit everyone’s needs in! Most people who have allergies or food preferences will either accommodate for themselves or eat ahead of time.
Providing late-night snacks has also been something we’ve seen increase over the last few years. We’ve seen some really fun ideas with food trucks or people bringing in a bunch of Whataburger’s for their guests.
If you are pushing your budget limits, this is really something you can skip over. Often times there has already been a cocktail hour and dinner plus the cake or other dessert, so many people aren’t hungry by the time it hits the late-night snack food. If you do decide to go this route, you definitely will not need to order to your full guest count, as people will either be full or will have left by the time the snacks come out.
Understanding the contracts you are signing is vital to avoiding any additional fees. Most of the time you (which usually ends up being family) are responsible for cleaning up after the wedding. This includes picking up left-out beer bottles, plates, etc., and taking everything out to the trash.
Before letting this all fall on your family and close friends, check with your caterer to see if the contract includes staff staying and bussing tables/taking out the trash. The last thing you want is for people to be scrambling to clean up at the end of the night.
You’ll also want to check the contract for your vendors to understand if you are required to provide them with a meal. Oftentimes vendors will work this into the contract so you’ll want to add them in to your food count or have a separate option that you are going to provide your DJ, Wedding Planner, Photographer, Videographer, etc. with.
Food is a major contributor to your wedding day expenses. We hope this helped you get a good idea of what options are out there as well as the things to look out for. Remember this day is all about you, do what works best for you, and don’t drive yourself crazy trying to meet every guest’s dietary needs. Contact us to set up a free virtual consultation if you are looking for wedding support, we’d love to help! You can also find weekly tips during our Instagram and TikTok live videos!
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