wedding caterer prices wedding reception

Wedding Caterer Prices: The Ultimate Guide + Tips

WeddingForward

We’re here to teach you all about wedding caterer prices. Should you pay a few hundred or a few thousand dollars? There are a lot of factors that go into the answer. Read on and you’ll find out why.

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What Is The Average Cost Of A Wedding Caterer?

Between wedding reception menus, beverages, favor foods, staffing, and rentals, the average wedding catering cost sure adds up quickly.
Here’s what couples are paying across the country:

National Average: $9500 or $70/plate.
Low End: $18/plate
High End: $100+/plate

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A Wedding Catering Package: What’s Included?

Professional wedding caterers have come to understand what’s expected of their teams, and have packaged their services to satisfy what most couples are looking for. There are always exceptions to the rule – which is why you should specifically ask what’s included – but the average cost of wedding caterer usually covers:

  • Food – This is the bulk of your costs and can vary quite a bit. This usually includes the reception meal, but can also include cocktail-hour hors d’oeuvres, dessert, or multiple courses.
  • Beverages – Alcohol is sometimes covered by the banquet hall and sometimes covered by the caterer, or a combination of the two. Beyond that, you also have to consider water, sodas, coffee, tea, and other soft drinks.
  • Staffing – The more guests you have the larger your catering staff will need to be. Cooks, servers, bartenders, and staff managers all have to be coordinated to ensure that guests aren’t rushed or left waiting as they dine.
  • Rentals – Your guests are going to need a place to eat, which many couples forget about when trying to budget their wedding caterers cost. Make sure to account for tables and chairs, utensils, and linens.
  • Additional Fees – Be sure to read the contract carefully. There are often service fees like corking and cake cutting that are on top of the main fee.

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Average Wedding Catering Cost Per Person

$10,000 for a meal may sound a lot when you look into the average price for catering a wedding. But, not if you have 1000 guests. It’s much easier to wrap your head around your catering costs per person.

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Minimum Guest Counts

From a business perspective, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for professional wedding caterers to work for groups that are too small, they end up paying more than they make.

Tips
This doesn’t mean that you have to pay extra if a few guests don’t show up. It just means that there’s a bare minimum to pay regardless of how small your party is.
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Average Wedding Catering Cost For 100

Roughly, it costs around $7000 total to feed a guest list of 100. So that would be $10,500 for 150 people, right? Not necessarily. Straight math works if you’re only accounting for the cost of food. But considering all of the peripheral costs, the economy of scale begins to kick in as you add guests.

Average Wedding Catering Cost For 150

The average cost of wedding catering is rounded to $9200. Why so low compared to 100 people? Larger guests list prompt brides and grooms to start looking at cutting corners to lower their budget. For example, bottles of table wine could be subject to a slight downgrade.

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Serving Style Options

When talking to your vendor about wedding catering costs, make sure to inquire into different serving styles. Choose from:

  • Plated – Your guests will enjoy a sit-down meal as wait staff serves their appetizers, entrees, desserts, and whatever else you’ve chosen for the menu. This option usually calls for an RSVP with a pre-ordered main dish.
  • Buffet – Many couples (around 50%) choose the buffet stations option to keep their wedding food costs on the lower side. However, if you aren’t conscious of the food you’re serving costs can be just as high.
  • Platters – This is similar to the sit-down plated option. But instead of individual meals, large platters are placed in the center of the table and guests serve themselves portions of what they want.
  • Cocktail – This is a more modern option that combines stations and circulating waitstaff holding platters. This encourages guests to eat less all at once and to wander around and mingle more.

Is A Buffet Wedding Cheaper?

The buffet option is quite successful at lowering wedding caterer prices. There are less associated rentals, less need for staff, and often less ‘additional fees’.

Be cautious, however. Since guests are feeding themselves chances are that they’ll eat more than a Plated portion. High-end gourmet food doesn’t pair well with buffets if your goal is to keep your wedding budget in check.

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Average Cost Of Alcohol For A Wedding

Alcohol is the easiest way to see your wedding catering cost spiral out of control. The first step to preventing this is to understand your options.

Wedding Bar Options

  • Cash Bar – Simple. Guests pay for each drink. This is a fantastic option since not all guests want to drink and some guests just shouldn’t.
  • Cash Bar Plus – This is pretty much the same as the first option with a little something extra. Beyond the cash bar, couples provide drink tickets, a bottle of red/white wine on each table, or a flask of their wedding’s signature drink.
  • Open Bar – This is when the bride and groom are responsible for the entire bar tab. Most caterers offer a flat rate for this option so that you don’t have to go crazy all night stressing about what the final tally is going to be.

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Tips On Finding The Right Wedding Catering

Do they clean up afterward? Are they familiar with vegan, kosher, and other diet requirements important to your guests? Do they come recommended by someone you trust and have good online reviews?

Choosing a wedding caterer is just like most decisions.

The winning caterer:

  1. Has to be within your budget
  2. Have a track record of success
  3. Be able to adapt to the unexpected.

Most importantly, there has to be a certain level of trust and understanding. It also doesn’t hurt if a caterer happens to have a Specialty Dish that you’re in love with.

An important wedding step are interviews, and caterers are no exception. Do your research to make sure that all of your boxes are checked and create a shortlist of options. From there, set up some interviews and tastings to make sure that their claims are legitimate.

Should You Tip Your Wedding Cater?

In short, yes. Use the same approach as you would with a restaurant. If you received “fine dining” quality and experience, tip the usual 15-20%.

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Ways To Save Money On Wedding Food And Drinks

  1. Guest List. The first tip is obvious. If you’re concerned about how much catering fees are going to impact the cost of your wedding, you’re likely trying to cut corners wherever you can. Keeping your guest list tight means fewer rentals, less food, fewer drinks, and less overall expense.
  2. Fewer Drinks. If you’re simply trying to balance your budget, feel free to dedicate more to the menu and less towards the drinks. Open bar + Champagne toast + signature drink + table wine equals thousands of dollars that could be redirected to higher quality food or even back into your pocket.
  3. Smart Menu. Cocktail hour, appetizers, the main course, dessert. It’s best to break out the spreadsheet to ensure that you’re not spending so much on lobster and avocado bites that you have nothing left over for the reception.
  4. Plan Ahead. Serving less food to fewer people may seem pretty obvious but what’s often overlooked is the value of an organization. Planning ahead empowers you to get an accurate guest list. This ensures you’re not ordering more food than you need. It also means that you can get an accurate RSVP count and avoid ordering too much of one type of plate.

Now that you know the average catering cost for weddings, the rest is easy. Give yourself enough time to find a great caterer, keep a spreadsheet with all your guests’ names to keep track of your rentals, check out all wedding caterer prices, staff needs, and menu details, and be very conscious about your bar offerings.

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