There’s no getting around the fact that weddings are expensive. But, with some careful planning, you can save yourself hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars, and when it comes to your wedding food, saving money is much easier than you might think.
So, before you agree to an astronomical price with your venue, take a few moments to look at this ultimate guide to doing your wedding food on a budget. Here, you’ll find some excellent tips and ideas that will keep your costs low while ensuring your guests are satisfied!
The Cost of Wedding Food
We aren’t kidding when we say that food is one of the most expensive things you’ll need to budget for when planning your wedding. Depending on your chosen venue, you can easily spend between $100-$300 per guest!
This is only for the sit-down wedding breakfast, too. Factor in canapes and an evening buffet and the price keeps on climbing.
The worst part is that a large percentage of the food you’ve paid for may be thrown away at the end of the night as well. People get caught up in conversations with friends and family they’ve not seen for months, and the drink starts flowing.
Food goes cold or gets removed by servers who are keen to go home and, in the end, you essentially end up putting your money straight in the bin.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way and you certainly don’t have to be guilted into spending a shedload of money on expensive wedding food by your venue. With a little creativity and some eager wedding party members, you can cut the costs of your wedding food by as much as half.
Best Ideas for Inexpensive Wedding Food
So, just how do you keep your wedding food budget as low as possible? There are a few avenues to explore here and each of them will suit different themes and venues better than others.
However, the one thing that they all have in common is that they are delicious, low-effort, and are guaranteed to give your guests an unforgettable experience.
However, before we start exploring these options, let’s take a moment to talk about guest expectations. Even the fanciest wedding food is going to be snubbed by fussy eaters or would-be food critics. The key thing to remember is that you simply aren’t going to be able to please everybody.
At the end of the day, your wedding day and every aspect of it is your choice. If you want to serve hot dogs and burgers, do it! Even if your Grandma thinks it’s a little common and was really hoping for something a little more “sophisticated”.
You can also avoid any questions about your food choices by managing your guests’ expectations ahead of the wedding. If you give them enough notice about what they can expect to receive, they have the choice of whether or not they still want to come.
And, more importantly, they’ll have no reason to complain about it on the day if they do.
Now, let’s explore some of the best budget-friendly wedding food ideas!
Order from a Local Restaurant
This one is an excellent way of keeping your costs low while guaranteeing that your guests are being fed delicious food. What’s more, you’ll also be helping a local business, which is always a nice thing to be able to do.
Many restaurants will provide serving equipment, crockery, and glassware along with the food. Some may even hire their serving staff out for the day. Both of these services are an excellent way to add that special touch without breaking the bank.
They are also especially useful if you’re getting married in a remote location, taking all the hard work out of sourcing and shipping your dinnerware.
You may also be able to negotiate a special deal with a local restaurant, and some will cater your wedding for as little as $7 per head! That’s a remarkable saving compared to the average $100-$300 you’d spend on your venue’s food choices.
It can be a little difficult to know how much food to order when you’re using a local restaurant but the chef will be able to work this out for you. This ticks another task off your list and leaves it in the capable hands of somebody who knows what they’re doing.
Create DIY Food Stations
DIY food stations have become a real trend in recent years and one of the best things about them is that they allow your guests to choose what they want to eat. Some examples of DIY food stations include:
- Hog roasts with various salads and condiments
- A make your own taco stand
- Donut stations with a variety of toppings
- “Dirty food” stands with a choice of toppings for nachos and fries
This is an excellent way allowing your guests to engage with the day and, even better, it’s super low cost. All you have to do is buy the ingredients and set the stand up. You can even ask a friend or family member to run it for you as a wedding gift.
The best way to organize a DIY food station is to create a list of everything you need. Start with the ingredients for your theme, then think about things such as disposable dinner plates and cutlery.
Once you’ve got everything you need, simply set up the station and let your guests get creative with their food choices! It’s also an excellent way of bringing people together as they admire each other’s flavor combinations.
Create a DIY Wedding Dessert
You can actually save quite a bit of money delaying your wedding food until after dinner time and having a dessert-only wedding reception. Ask any keen bakers you know to create some special sweet treats, set them up on a long table, and allow your guests to help themselves.
The only thing that you’ll need to make sure of here is that you’ve informed your guests of the catering situation ahead of time. This gives them the opportunity to find their own food from elsewhere before heading back to your venue for dessert.
And, of course, if you have some friends and family that have a sweet tooth, they may enjoy the luxury of having dessert for dinner!
Have a Picnic
There’s something quite classy about a wedding picnic where your guests are able to choose what they’d like from a variety of platters. It’s also much less expensive than a traditional sit-down dinner.
Contact a local restaurant, baker, or caterer and ask them to create platters of sandwiches and other picnic-themed items. You can keep your costs even lower by making the sandwiches yourself the day before, covering them, and refrigerating them overnight.
Another fun option with a wedding picnic is to ask some of your guests to bring side dishes along with them. Not everybody will be up for doing this of course, but it does give your foodie-guests the opportunity to show off their culinary skills!
Keep it Simple with Cheese & Charcuterie
Sometimes, it’s the over-complication of wedding food that causes the costs to rise. Why pay a ton of money for food that’s drizzled with truffle oil when you can keep things simple?
Many betrothed couples are making the switch from fancy wedding food to cheese and charcuterie stations. Some stores sell huge wheels of cheese and fresh charcuterie platters for a very reasonable price. All you need to do is add some salad options, dips, and fancy crackers to the table and you’ve created a stunning display of wedding food for a low cost.
There are a couple of important things to consider with this option, though. First of all, if the majority of your guests are vegetarian or vegan, it’s simply not going to work.
Secondly, you’ll also need to make sure that your guests are aware of what they can expect in terms of food. For example, rather than saying “ceremony followed by food” on your invitations, say something along the lines of “ceremony followed by a light bite and drinks”. This gives your guests the opportunity to fill up on something else a little earlier if needed.
Use a Food Truck
Food trucks are trendy, exciting, and inexpensive. The main reason they are so budget-friendly is that you’re offering them the opportunity to make extra money from super-hungry guests. So, even though you’ve bought everybody a meal, anyone that wants to try something else on the menu will be able to buy it from the food truck.
There are a couple of things to think about, though. How hungry are your guests and how likely are they to order more food? If the answer to both of these questions is “very”, then there may be large queues forming at the truck for most of the night.
Other things to consider include:
- Does the food truck connect to the venue’s power supply?
- Will it require a generator and, if so, how loud will it be?
- Is there adequate parking at your venue for a food truck?
- Is dinnerware included and, if not, how much will renting it separately cost you?
This is an idea that is often met with a certain amount of snobbery, but having a potluck is an excellent way to bring all of your guests together. In fact, in many cultures friends and family cater weddings rather than outside caterers being brought in.
Again, this is something that you’ll need to include in your wedding invitations. It also needs to be thought out quite carefully and it’s worth assigning different courses to different people. Otherwise, you may end up with more potato salad than you know what to do with!
Buy Premade & Frozen Appetizers
Premade and frozen food has come a long way in the last few years and you can find some very swanky food for quite a reasonable price. This is ideal for your wedding canapes which, in some venues, can cost almost as much as the wedding breakfast food.
Ask a team of trustworthy friends to heat it up and assemble it on platters on the morning of your wedding. Lay it all out across a long table and let your guests help themselves. Sure, it’s not as posh as champagne and horderves being carried around on trays by a waiter, but it’ll save you an astonishing amount of money.
Canapes & Cocktails Only
Another way to keep your wedding food costs low is to go for a canapes and cocktails only reception. You can use a catering service or entrust friends and family members – the only thing you need to remember to do is inform your guests ahead of time so they’ve got the option to eat beforehand if they feel the need.
One of the reasons this works so well is that, when dealing with the traditional wedding food setup, a lot of guests fill up on canapes ahead of the sit down meal. This means that a lot of their food goes into the trash. By offering a good variety of canapes instead, you’re keeping everyone happy and nothing gets wasted.
Something that you need to remember with this option, however, is that you need a good variety of canape choices. This caters for allergies and intolerances as well as vegetarians and vegans.
Go for the Buffet Option
Many wedding venues will try to make you buy both a sit down meal and an evening buffet. And, in most cases, half of the evening buffet will be thrown out at the end of the night as your guests are either too full or having too much fun to eat it.
If you have the option, we would recommend going for the buffet option only. This will be far less expensive than each plate of a sit down meal and you may find that your guests actually enjoy buffer food more! The food is less likely to go to waste as well, as your guests will be ready to eat by the time it’s all laid out.
Affordable Wedding Menu Ideas
Some couples choose to self-cater their wedding in an attempt to keep costs as low as possible. This is an excellent idea as you’ll only have to pay for ingredients (rather than the service) and you’re able to cater to different needs better.
If you’re thinking about self-catering your wedding but you’re not quite sure what to include on your menu, we’ve created some affordable wedding menu ideas below.
The Simple Menu
As the name suggests, this menu features simple, easy-to-make food that your guests will love. It’s also super inexpensive, so it’s ideal if you’re doing your wedding food on a budget.
The Simple Wedding Menu
- Tea Sandwiches
- Fresh Trays of Fruit
- Assorted Cheeses with Artisan Breads and Crackers
- Fresh Vegetable Crudites with Dips
- Mixed Nuts
- Assorted Cupcakes and Pies
The Canape Menu
If you’d like to go slightly fancier, this menu features an assortment of canape items that are inexpensive to make but have a real luxury look.
The Canape Menu
- Shrimp and Crab Meat Delights
- Chicken Salad Pastry Swans
- Homemade Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
- Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries
- Assorted Cheeses with Artisan Breads and Crackers
- Asparagus Wrapped in Parma Ham
- Marinated Vegetables
- Coffee and Tea
The BBQ Wedding Menu
Whether it’s a spring wedding or a fall-themed barn dance, nothing says ‘outdoor food’ like a barbecue! Here are some excellent ideas for wedding BBQ food:
The BBQ Wedding Menu
- Barbecued Chicken
- Devilled Eggs
- Corn on the Cob
- Pork and Beans
- Green Beans
- Potato Salad
- Artisan Rolls and Butter
- Iced Tea and Coffee
Wedding Food Catering Checklist
As you can see, there are plenty of options for saving money on your wedding food. However, unless you’re organized, it’s quite easy for things to start falling apart. This is one of the reasons why wedding venues and caterers are able to charge so much money – they’re taking the hassle out of planning.
But, by creating a simple checklist, you’ll be able to keep things running smoothly and save loads of money on your wedding food. Here’s what you need to include when planning:
1. Figure Out What You Need
Does your venue have dinnerware, flatware, and glassware? And, most importantly, will they allow you to use it if you’re not going for their food option? If the answer to both of these questions is “no”, you’ll need to look into hiring them.
2. Hire or Buy?
Do some research and you may find that it’s actually cheaper to buy your dishes and glasses than it is to hire them. Sure, you’ll have a lot of dinnerware left over at the end, but this can be gifted to family and friends or donated to goodwill.
Unless you’re keen on serving food yourself on your wedding day, you’ll need to think about bringing somebody else in to do it for you. The cheapest option here is to task a trustworthy friend or family member and tell them to consider it their wedding gift.
You may also have a friend who knows somebody willing to staff your wedding for a reasonable price. Just make sure you aren’t paying them as much as you would if they were a professional server.
It’s essential that you check whether or not you need insurance for self-catering your wedding, especially if it’s on private property. All it takes is for one wayward spark to float up from a barbecue and you could be liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.
5. Research Recipes
Take the time to go through some recipe books or trawl some food blogs to find recipes that you know will work and that aren’t going to be too expensive to recreate. They’ll also need to be fairly easy to cook if you’re self-catering.
Bridesmaids and groomsmen are there to help, but they can only do that if they know what’s going on. Make sure you share any shopping lists, recipes, and duties with them ahead of time so they can keep on top of things and help ensure that everything runs smoothly.
How Much Wedding Food Do You Need?
This is a difficult question to answer as some of your guests will be hungrier than others. It’s also better to be slightly over-catered than it is to not have enough food for everybody. With these two things in mind, here’s an estimate of how much wedding food you’ll need:
Appetizers (per hour / per person)
- 3 – 4 bites if followed by a meal.
- 8 – 10 bites if not followed by a meal (or if you’ve chosen the canapes and cocktails only option).
- 6 – 8 ounces of protein per person
- 4 – 6 ounces of sides per person
- 1 cup of salad per person
- 1 – 2 bread rolls per person
- 1 slice of wedding cake per person
- 1.5 cupcakes per person
- 4 mini cupcakes per person
Again, these are only estimates and you may find that your guests need more food. You know your friends and family better than anybody so think about how much they’re likely to need. It’s also worth having some extra just in case somebody needs to soak up some excess alcohol!
We hope this list has given you the knowledge and inspiration you need to start creating a wedding menu that doesn’t cost too much money. If there’s one key thing to take away, it’s that you need to remember to tell your guests what to expect.
This gives them the opportunity to plan their day accordingly. It also means that they can get excited for the culinary delights that await them following your ceremony!