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Before you start calling caterers, ask yourself if you know the average cost of wedding catering. It can help you determine which quotes are reasonable when you know what to expect beforehand. How much do you think it costs?
What Is the Average Cost of Wedding Catering?
Pinning down an exact cost for wedding catering is a bit tricky because it depends on a lot of different things. Typically, you only want to spend 25% or less of your entire budget on catering. Knowing that may help you choose a caterer even if there isn’t a certain number to aim for.
Although there isn’t one specific number, you can get a range. On average, the price tag could be anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000 for a celebration with 100 guests. Such a broad estimate probably doesn’t help too much, so let’s take a look at some variables to narrow things down.
What Types of Catering Are There?
Many soon-to-be brides planning their upcoming reception would feel more comfortable budgeting if they knew what to expect price-wise. A 2023 wedding costs about $30,000 on average, so it’s normal to want to see a breakdown for each vendor. Knowing how you will serve the food means you’re already much closer to the actual cost.
There are nine main ways you can serve meals at a wedding:
- Drop off: People bring pre-cooked food and drop it off at the venue. This is usually the most affordable option.
- Plated: Waitstaff brings meals straight to everyone’s tables.
- Buffet: Guests line up and serve themselves at a table of food. It’s more affordable because you don’t have to pay for servers.
- Food truck: A food truck parks at the venue and serves guests. It can be a lot less expensive than a formal dinner.
- Hors d’oeuvres: Bite-sized snacks are available for guests to graze. It’s one of the most affordable options because you’re not paying for food or waitstaff.
- Cocktail hour: A cocktail hour is an optional addition. Guests mingle, drink alcohol and eat appetizers while waiting for the wedding party to arrive. An open bar typically costs $15 to $50 per person, depending on what you serve and how many bartenders you employ.
- Food station: Guests head to individual food stations to be served specific items. Picture a meat carving station or a mashed potato bar. It’s similar to a buffet but uses servers to reduce the length of lines.
- Family-style: Servers bring meals to the wedding party’s table and everyone else serves themselves.
Besides the type of food you serve, the style of service is one of the biggest price factors for catering. For example, a cocktail hour typically costs $35 per person, while family-style catering can cost up to $150 per person on average. There’s still a broad range for each because it depends on how big your guest list is and how long you employ the waitstaff.
What Factors Into the Cost?
Are you curious how certain things factor into the average cost of wedding catering? You can get a more accurate estimate by looking them over.
These are the main cost factors of wedding catering:
- Number of guests: You usually pay per person, so the more people you invite, the bigger the price tag.
- Dietary restrictions: Does anyone have allergies or other dietary restrictions? It’s more expensive to get special meals.
- Food: This is the most significant factor, which can make things tricky because the total cost varies depending on the type you serve. For example, you spend much less serving mashed potatoes and pulled pork than you do for crab legs and steak.
- Vendor meals: The people that work hard to make your wedding great need to eat, too. Vendor meals aren’t always necessary, but they might be.
- Tips: Always budget for the tip when deciding on catering. Since tips are based on a percentage rate, you’ll pay more if you go with more expensive options. Typically, people pay about 20% of the catering cost as a vendor tip. It might not be required, but it’s definitely expected.
- Employing servers: You pay more for servers depending on your catering type. It’s necessary to pay for their time outside of the actual service they provide. You may have to pay more to keep them at the venue longer.
- Cutlery and dishes: Although most caterers factor the cost of cutlery, plates and linens into their estimate, it’s not guaranteed. Always check with your vendor to see if you’ll have to supply your own, as it would be an additional cost.
- Full service: It costs extra to have the catering vendor set everything up, tear it down and take care of the dishes and leftovers.
This list is almost everything you should expect to budget for. The overall cost depends on your location and if the venue you’re at has an exclusive contract with certain caterers. You might not be able to narrow the price down to an exact number, but knowing of unforeseen fees and the difference between services can help you find a price range you can work with
Wedding Catering Budgeting Tips
The average cost of wedding catering is relatively high, so it’s totally normal to want ways to make it more affordable. Take a look at some of these wedding catering budgeting tips and see if they’ll work for you.
- Pick a Particular Venue
Since all-inclusive venues include catering in their cost, you can get a good deal with them. The possibility depends heavily on your location, but it’s a great way to not have to think about catering costs or logistics. Shop around if you still need to choose your venue and see what you can find.
Remember to compare the pricing of all-inclusive options to the cost of a regular venue and catering service to see if you’re getting a good deal. It’s also worth it to check out the vendor they’ll provide and see if they offer the services and food you prefer.
- Choose Simple Foods
Plenty of brides enjoy extravagant meals that impress their guests, but it may be worth it to opt for sliders over caviar. Catering is essential, but consider if your budget is better spent on memorable experiences or more permanent reminders of your big day.
Also, inexpensive food can still taste amazing. For example, charcuterie boards, chicken breast or baked potatoes are all incredibly affordable and are a favorite dish for most people. Sit down and look over your options with your vendor.
- Limit Your Guest List
Consider limiting your guest list if you haven’t already sent out invitations. Since most options are priced per person, you can save a ton simply by feeding fewer people. It’s a good choice if you want to serve fancier meals or have some extra wiggle room in your budget.
- Save On Other Things
It’s okay to have your heart set on lobster and lamb — your wedding is an excuse to treat yourself and indulge in fancy foods. If you need more flexibility in your budget, consider saving on other things. For example, you could choose a less expensive cardstock for your invitations. It’s all about finding balance and prioritizing what you think will make your wedding amazing.
- Comparison Shop
Comparison shopping is one of the best things you can do to get a better price without compromising on your food or service type. Get quotes from as many local wedding caterers as possible to see which is the most affordable. You may even be able to use your quotes as leverage to encourage them to bring their prices down.
The Cost of Catering
The average cost of wedding catering varies widely, but you can find an accurate range if you figure out what service you’ll have and which factors apply to you. You can also save some money by budgeting and planning ahead.
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