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  • Writer's pictureDarrin Clark

How to Cater for Cost Effective Weddings & Events


When you speak with any vendor about a wedding, dollar signs start to go through the vendor’s mind.  Weddings are very nice money-makers.  Inexperienced and stressed customers with a large guest count can lead to incredible margins for the vendor.  The first step is to ensure the catering quotes you receive breakout the cost by function (e.g. appetizer, dinner, service, etc.).  Discuss with your caterer each of the functions and options for modification.  Appetizers are a cash cow to many caterers and often the charge ends up being $20 per person.  Many caterers will convince you that more is better, but in my experience appetizers at weddings are rarely touched or served during a very limited time , such as the hour between the ceremony and the start of dinner.  After the ceremony you typically see people heading straight to the bar and then dinner starts shortly after.

Types of Food & Service

The type of food service has as much or more influence over the overall price you will pay as labor is a very large expense for caterers.

  • Plated:  Restaurant-type service where guests choose their main, the meal is plated and delivered to the table.  This type of service is complex and labor-intensive and can exceed $100 per guest. 

  • Family-Style:  Fun & interactive as guest pass platters of beautiful food to each other.  It also has a significant labor cost and platter cost.  If you have a wedding of 130 people w/10 to a table the caterer will need 5 platters per table – so that is 65 platters that need to be plated, served & cleaned.  While not ideal for large weddings, this is a great option for smaller to medium size weddings.

  • Buffet:  Setting up a buffet table is the most cost-effective way to feed a large number of people.  Done right this is a fun and cost-effective option.

  • Casual Appetizers:  An appetizer table with some butler pass can be a fun and cost-effective way to feed a crowd.  It limits the number of  tables, linen rentals, flowers, and food cost.

There are so many variations and options that I have not developed a calculator for this section but will instead provide guidelines.

Example of Controlling Costs while Delivering a Great Meal

Here is an example of how I work with my customers to control cost and deliver a great meal.  My customer was looking for a Mexican-themed wedding. We developed a very upscale menu that included ancho flank steak, mojo pork carnitas, tequila lime chicken, and a salsa bar.  The price of $28 per guest is well below the average wedding cost per person, but not very low for this type of meal.  To provide increased value we developed an appetizer menu that used some of the ingredients from the dinner menu, setting up a salsa bar, and adding a shrimp appetizer, queso and empanadas.  This improves my efficiency, saves on labor, and translates to cost-savings for the customer.  By choosing a light appetizer bar and leveraging some of the dinner ingredients, we drove down the appetizer cost from $20 per guest to $7 per guest.   This equals a savings of $1,300 for a 100-guest wedding.

By selecting buffet service, a cost-effective menu and working with the caterer to find an inexpensive appetizer station option, this customer went from an average cost of $48 +$20=$68 per person down to $28+7=$35 per person, resulting in a food cost savings of $3,300.00.  Also, please keep in mind that on top of food costs, most caterers will add a 20-22% gratuity/admin charge and then there is sales tax of approximately 10%.

In this example of the Mexican-themed wedding, the discussions I had with the customer resulted in a savings of $4,290 for the customer.

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