8 Super Smart Tips to Control your Catering Costs!

“It’s all relative!” How many times have you heard that phrase? Likely too many to count but that doesn’t mean that it is not true. In fact, when it comes to throwing a major party or an awesome wedding that tired saying is definitely true!

Markets determine costs and our DJ team serves two very distinct markets: Washington DC | Northern VA and the Harrisburg | Lancaster | York area.

Weddings and parties are not cheap! In the Central PA region that we serve the average cost is just over $30,000. To the brides and grooms in Washington DC and Northern VA that probably sounds like a great deal! The average wedding in their market is just under $37,000. Due to income and average venue rates it is indeed, all relative.

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If you read our recent blog “What would your guests say about attending your wedding?” you know that among the most important things to your guests is the food that is served. Your catering bill is one of those areas where your budget might just start to feel stretched. Between providing a delicious meal, desserts, drinks and china, many wedding catering estimates can quickly run over $10k if you're not careful!

So how do you provide a great dining experience for your guests without spending more than you want? You do your due diligence and research of course! And these 11 handy tips for how to save money can't hurt too.

Before getting started I want to be clear on what this article is not. It is not an article on how to throw a cheap wedding. Cheap is not difficult. Buy plastic flowers, feed the guests chicken from KFC, or use “Chinet” plates instead of china.

This article is intended for those who want to create a great experience for their guests. They are not on a “shoe-string budget” but would like ideas that wouldn’t impact their guest experience in fact; it may allow them to be able to make a better party by being able to afford things that may have been outside their budget.

If that is you, read on for simple tips and tricks to help you trim down that catering invoice to a more manageable figure!

1. LOOK PAST TRADITIONAL CATERERS

Using Google to find wedding caterers in you’re the Washington DC or Harrisburg PA area is a great place to start your catering search. However, if you end your search there it just may be a mistake, especially if you're looking for a creative and cost-effective vendor to serve your wedding day food.

Look beyond the traditional catering companies and try local food trucks, farmer’s market stands, or even your favorite cafe or restaurant. There are many food providers in the Washington DC and Harrisburg area that will create a beautiful meal for you and your guests without the obligatory wedding markup. All it takes to find them is some due diligence!

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Food trucks

Food truck weddings are becoming more and more popular, and they are an excellent, less costly alternative to traditional catering. That is, if you’re having the kind of wedding where food trucks make sense. Food trucks are a lot of fun—you’ll just need to consider a few things before deciding they are right for your wedding.

First off, you’ll need to check with your venue. Unfortunately, many venues won’t allow food trucks, so it’s important to know before you delve into the planning. If there’s no rule against having food trucks, you’ll still need to work out where they’ll park. Be sure to check to make sure you have the proper permits and you’re following local ordinances. Some food trucks may also require power generators, so they’ll need to have space for those as well. And as with any outdoor affair, you’ll want to weigh the risks of the weather not being ideal.

If you’ve decided the conditions for your wedding are right for food trucks, figure out how many you will need. Remember that your guests will be standing in line to get their food. You can avoid having a mob of hungry people by making sure you have at least one truck per 75 guests. This is also an opportunity to give your guest more options to suit different tastes. If there are food trucks in your area that sell tacos, Korean barbecue, or pizza, your wedding could have all three!

Depending on how formal you want the occasion to be you may also want to account for rentals. At the very least, you’ll probably have to rent tables and chairs. To get started, you can search Yelp to find food truck options and call them to inquire about catering.

Local Restaurant

Choosing a local restaurant instead of a traditional wedding caterer is something that can save you money on your big day!

Typically, this means you'll be serving the food buffet style, which will cut down on costs incurred by hiring servers to pass out the food by a traditional caterer. Choosing a local mom and pop restaurant can save you as much as 50% of what a traditional caterer would cost.

As an example: choosing a local restaurant that specializes in southern style barbecue; think fried chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, etc. You can likely feed our large group of wedding guests (150 people) for about $17 - $22 per person, buffet style.

We've seen wedding catering prices range anywhere from $50 – $100+ per person. So based on that figure, you will save a significant amount by using a restaurant to cater your wedding.

It's important to note that though the food from a restaurant may cost less, many caterers include lots of other items in their overall fees including service, cleanup, setup, dishes, etc. As with everything else when it comes to your budget, make sure you take the time to calculate out ALL the costs and consider all options before making your final decisions!

Comparing the two options:

Local Restaurant

$22 x 150 guests = $3,300

Traditional Caterer

$50 x 150 guests = $7,500

Savings = $4,200!

Now you can get that Photo Booth and the uplighting and provide even more enjoyment for your guests!

Choose affordable foods for your wedding menu.

There are lots of food options for weddings from restaurants that can be wallet-friendly as well! Consider a taco bar from your favorite Mexican restaurant, or select a variety of pasta from a local Italian restaurant.

Barbecue is another great option for affordable wedding catering. And brunch foods can be really cost-effective to feed a large group. Basically, anything that is made cheaply in large quantities is a great option to consider.

If you're looking for affordable food ideas for your wedding reception menu, we recommend reading this post.

2. SHOP AROUND. AND THEN SHOP SOME MORE.

If you send a bit of time shopping, you will find that caterers come in all shapes and sizes — and this is reflected in the final estimated invoice you'll get after talking over a potential menu with a caterer. Make sure to shop around with a few different catering vendors before making a decision on whom to go with. You'd be surprised by the range of prices offered!

Do keep in mind thought that your guests feel that the quality of food is important. Do not make the mistake of not trying before you buy. Have a few tastings and select the caterer offering the most value.

3. MAKE THE BUFFET WORK FOR YOU!

One of the quickest ways your catering bill can add up is for the labor your catering company provides to the event. Take a close look at how many servers, chefs, or other staff they have allocated to your event on the invoice, and ask your caterer if there's any way to cut down those costs. It can be as simple as opting for stationary vs. tray-passed appetizers.

I know what you're thinking — you'd like your wedding day and the high school lunch line to be as far apart in the similarity scale as possible. But if we're going to be realistic (and your budget is real, so your expectations should be too!), a buffet at your wedding really is one of the most economic ways to serve all your wedding guests a good meal without blowing the bank. And let's face it — your guests aren't going to think twice about a wedding buffet; it's so common that it honestly doesn't even warrant a second thought!

4. READ THE ITEMIZED LIST!

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Before signing any contracts or invoices, make sure to go over an itemized list of all costs line by line. You'll be surprised at what you find — markups for cake cutting, passing glasses for a champagne toast or the super-fine china is common. Zero in on those extraneous costs and ask your caterer what you can do to limit the cost of these services or eliminate them altogether.

5. PROVIDE YOUR OWN LINENS, SILVERWARE AND TABLE SETTINGS

A quick way to mark up your catering bill is by using the high-quality linens, silverware and china that your caterer provides. Oftentimes it can be much more economical to provide them yourself, or even to rent them from a local event rentals company.

6. LIMIT YOUR HORS D'OEURVES SERVED

While having a plethora of delicious hors d'oeuvres for your guests to snack on sounds like a must, in reality you really don't need more than 2-3 different bits and bites to serves your guests before dinner. Especially when you consider that the more appetizers you add, the higher your catering bill will be.

7. CUT DOWN THE NUMBER OF ENTREES AVAILABLE

Who says you need to offer three different entrees for your wedding day dinner? Having a beef, chicken and vegetarian option may seem like a no-brainer, but it's actually probably more extravagant than you need, especially if you're on a tight budget. Having one great entree that is done well (think a delicious stuffed chicken breast or tasty main pasta dish) with a couple sides will probably satisfy even the pickiest guest. And if not, don't worry. It's your day — they can live with a chicken entree for one evening.

8. HAVE FEWER GUESTS

Okay, so this is a no-brainer. But, your catering bill is going to climb quickly for every guest added to the list. Twenty dollars per head doesn't seem like a lot until you see it written down in an invoice! If you can, try to keep your guest list to a minimum to get the most cost-cutting catering bill possible.

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I hope that you have enjoyed this article. By doing a bit of research and planning I think you will find that there are many ways to reallocate your wedding budget to get even more for your money than you thought possible. By doing this versus that analysis you can decide where you can get your biggest bang for the buck.

Here are some examples:

This: Local Restaurant + Photo Booth + Uplighting

That: Traditional Caterer?

This: Appetizer Table | Buffet Dinner | A Live Acoustic Duo during Cocktail Hour | A Roaming Photo Booth with a Live Hashtag Display | Local Restaurant

That: 6 Hors D’Oeurves | Passed Trays | Seated & Served Dinner | Traditional Caterer | Champagne Toast | Cake Caking Charge

Thank you for reading and if you found this helpful I hope that you will share so that others may benefit as well. If you have suggestions for other topics you would like more information please post in the comments.

At Perfect Harmony Entertainment we provide DJ | Photo Booth | Lighting Services to the Washington DC | Northern VA area. We also serve all of Central PA including Lancaster | York | Harrisburg and neighboring areas.

Our DJ team is dedicated to making it easy for our clients to create legendary parties and events!