How Much Can You Expect to Pay?
Reception food is usually calculated on a per-person basis. For instance, let's say you want to invite 200 people for a sit-down dinner, and the least expensive individual meal you can get at your reception site is $30. Simple math quickly shows this will cost you $6,000.
But what if you don't want to spend that much on reception food? You have two options: You can either keep the number of guests to a minimum, or you can avoid a sit-down dinner and save on the per-person fee.
Beyond Sit-Down Dinners
The time of day you get married determines what kind of meal you should serve your guests. In basic terms, the earlier in the day you get married, the less expensive the meal choices are.
Reception food for a dinner will cost more than a luncheon or a breakfast. Get married at sunrise, and you can have an elegant wedding breakfast or brunch. You'll save a lot of money and have a truly unique wedding event.
If you want to hold a dinner event, set up a buffet or dinner stations. Guests can serve themselves, and you won't have to pay for extra wait staff.
Letting guests select what they like also keeps wasted food to a minimum (some adults still won't eat vegetables!). Dinner stations are becoming increasingly popular at weddings. Stations can include entrées, vegetable side dishes, breads, and desserts.
Weddings and receptions that begin at midday or later tend to be more popular and better attended. That means more of your invited guests will show up; you need to take that into consideration for your head count.
Luncheon or tea menus cost a bit more than breakfast menus, but they're less expensive than a sit-down dinner. And dinnertime receptions pose another problem — whether you should serve alcoholic beverages and, if so, whether these should be “on the house” or sold at a cash bar. Offering your guests an unlimited (or open) bar will hike up your reception cost to an extreme.
A suggestion for a simple breakfast or brunch menu in the modest budget category could consist of scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, potatoes, fruit, sweet rolls, coffee, tea, and juice. This general menu can be adapted for a moderate budget. Offer omelets with several fillings, two breakfast meats, home fries or grits, an assortment of breakfast pastries, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and several juices.
A luxurious wedding breakfast or brunch includes eggs Benedict or a similar egg specialty, crêpes or Belgian waffles, spiral-sliced ham or shrimp cocktail, fruit compote, flavored coffees or cappuccinos, teas, several juice selections, and mimosas (champagne and orange juice cocktails).
Or plan an elegant lunch of a chicken or fish dish with a few elegantly prepared vegetable dishes. These menus will cost less than the meat menus often served at dinner receptions. Chicken can range from simple, inexpensive dishes up to coq au vin. Seafood can be broiled with a light sauce for a modest or moderate budget; luxurious budgets can splurge on lobster. Your caterer can make suggestions based on your budget.
Let's say you've decided on an early morning wedding. Don't think it needs to be a sit-down occasion. If you want to save money, you can offer a table set with breakfast pastries, coffee, tea, and juices. If you are working with a moderate budget, you could feature a buffet table with your menu choices.
Avoid a Meal Altogether
Some couples are skipping wedding meals by scheduling their reception at non-meal times, such as in the mid-afternoon or after dinner. Featuring a selection of hors d'oeuvres or a dessert buffet with appropriate beverages is a very classy option.