(image courtesy of Project Wedding)
Since I knew catering was going to be our biggest expense, I have literally been looking since we were first engaged back in 2008. At first, my ideal wedding budget was around 5000 dollars. 1000-1500 of that I had alotted for catering. In my mind, I was hoping to spend around ten to fifteen bucks per person for a buffet style dinner.
Ha. I was in for a huge surprise. Most caterers around here are charging at the very, very least in the twenties for food, and then even more for service, tax, rentals, etc. And then on top of that we still have a cake to purchase and will need to provide our own alcohol. YIKES!
So my budget was extremely unrealistc. That's okay. At least we had a looong engagement to save right? When our budget doubled to right under ten grand, I realized that catering was still going to be incredibly expensive and eat up at least forty percent of my overall budget. I do not want to start my marriage out in debted to credit card companies. Been there, done that.
The biggest lesson I've learned in shopping for a caterer is really be creative...and be flexible. If you are willing to look at alternative routes, you can save a ton of money. For example, I got a quote from Fazolis (a local italian fast food spot) for a pasta buffet with salad, drinks, and their freaking delicious breadsticks for 17 bucks a person including service! How sweet is that? Once you throw in rentals it would probably be a little more, but you could have a delicious italian feast for 100 guests for about 2500 dollars (after rentals).
I also heard from a few caterers that unlike what I've heard on wedding sites like theknot.com and projectwedding.com, heavy hors doeurves are NOT cheaper due to the fact that you need a lot more and they are much more labor intensive. That's one reason I reluctantly decided against them. As much as I really love the cocktail party vibe, I knew I could get more for our money with a buffet dinner.
Another thing to consider when you're thinking about your catering budget, is your rental budget. Is it important for you to have all china? Or is the types of food served more important? Most caterers include a high quality plastic plate within their quote. If this is okay with you, you can save five or six hundred dollars just on renting china! I ended up having to add about a thousand into my budget for random rentals. Since I'm having an outdoor ceremony, chairs will actually eat up a good amount of that. If your venue price is lowish like mine, you could always roll chair rental into that.
My last catering tip (for now) is to always, ALWAYS ask for a discount. Are you military? A teacher? Work for an employer that uses the caterer on a regular basis? Having an off season or mid-day wedding? Ask if they can cut you any deals. It doesn't cost you anything to ask, and the worst you can hear is no.