Catering can drain your checking account faster than a leaky bucket. But you can plug the holes and still provide your guests a fabulous feast.
Check with your reception site about their rules on whether food can be brought in, or whether you have to use their food catering provider. Many hotels will not allow outside vendors to be brought onsite for a variety of reasons. Hotels charge a hefty price for their food service, sometimes as much as $15.00 per guest for a simple beverage service (no alcohol) just coffee, tea and soft drinks. A continental breakfast self service buffet can be over $20.00 a person.
A buffet is usually less expensive to provide than a sit down meal. You can also stretch a buffet to feed 10% more if extra guests show up. You can’t do that with a meal. Buffet service requires labor to set up, replenish the buffet and clean up. A meal service requires servers to bring the courses, remove them, refill drinks, fill special requests and clean up. That extra labor is an extra expense.
Breakfast and lunch are less expensive than dinner. Breakfast foods require less expensive ingredients while lunch means smaller portions than dinner.
A meal doesn’t have to be served at all. You could provide a fruit tray, a veggie tray and perhaps a few appetizers. Consider ordering the trays from your local grocers, which will cost considerably less than catering. Stick with food that tastes good at room temperature and doesn’t need to be kept cold for safety reasons. Deviled eggs are always a favorite and for the cost of two dozen eggs you get almost 50 appetizers. Crackers and spinach dip is another good selection at a reasonable price. Mini ham and cheese sandwiches served on a dinner roll is economical. If you use parmesan cheese and add a basil leaf you have a gourmet sandwich.
If you have an open bar hire a bartender. He or she will save you money by making sure that the drinks are proportioned properly. Guests may be too generous if they mix their own drinks.
The least expensive option is not to serve alcohol at all, and many sites prohibit the consumption of alcohol.
Champagne punch is an alternative to straight champagne. Sangria, a fruit and wine cocktail, allows the usage of a lesser vintage of wine, since the taste is camouflaged by the addition of the fruit. You can also add ginger ale or lemon-lime soda to stretch the wine even further. A white sangria can be made with a white wine, lemon, orange, tangerines and lemon lime soda. Pink sangria uses the same recipe but adds raspberries or strawberries to the mixture. Just about any juicy fruit can be used.
1 and half liter bottles of wine means a savings of about 20% over the standard 750 liter size bottle. Many stores offer additional case purchase discounts of 10%. A standard tactic is to serve a ‘good’ wine as the first glass and then switch to serving a lesser vintage as the festivities wear on.
You might see if there is a cooking school in the area that would agree to provide the catering as an exercise for their students. These students are not beginners and all the food preparation is supervised by the staff so the quality of food should be high. You may have to provide containers for the food and transportation from the school to the wedding site.