By Julie Buchwald Haley
Your wedding reception is as much a reflection of you and your spouse-to-be as the wedding. It is likely to be the largest portion of the budget, especially when a lot of guests are coming. There are some important things to keep in mind when planning and working with the caterer.
As you start to plan the food and budget for your reception, think about your favorite restaurant; the foods they serve and the prices of their dishes. If that restaurant you like offers a pasta made with fresh basil pesto, olive oil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese sautéed with peppers, onions, and fresh fettuccine with a grilled chicken breast for $16.75, and you like the idea of serving it at your reception, then use that number as a starting point for your per-person budget. Your caterer has very similar costs to the restaurant including ingredients, dishes, equipment, staff, rent, and other overhead, but delivery and off-site setup by the caterer are line items that are not included in restaurant pricing. Once you have determined the overall catering budget using a restaurant price guide, you’ll be in a much stronger position to talk with caterers about the food choices and pricing for your wedding reception.
Per-person pricing may include just the meal and exclude fees for linens, tableware, space rental or delivery charges, cleanup, and gratuities. Be sure to ask how your caterer figures the total cost so there aren’t any surprises when the invoice arrives. It’s also important to understand these charges if you need to lower the overall catering bill. Understanding that 30 percent of a per-person price is not food related may help you figure out that changing from 150 people at the reception to 100 or changing from a dinner to a brunch is more affordable.
Casual doesn’t mean less expensive since the same costs, like the tableware and space rentals, apply. While a buffet-style meal tends to be more casual, they also tend to be more expensive since caterers must make more food to accommodate the larger portions and multiple servings associated with a buffet. A plated meal where the caterer controls the portion size is less expensive. Limiting the number of courses will make a difference, too, so stick with a salad, entrée, and the cake for dessert. Depending on the time of day, you could skip the traditional meal altogether and simply serve appetizers and cake.
Many couples today pay for the rehearsal dinner and wedding reception themselves rather than the more traditional route of the groom’s family paying for the dinner and the bride’s family paying for the reception. If you are paying for both, don’t forget to make the rehearsal dinner a separate budget item. These meals are generally less expensive than the reception because they include a smaller guest list – often just the wedding party and any out-of-town friends and family. Since the guest list is smaller, this is an opportunity to choose a more complex menu. This is also the perfect chance to set the tone for the wedding and reception by introducing the spirit of the couple to the events.
Whatever you decide about the caterer, venue, menu, and wedding, be sure it suits you, your spouse-to-be, and the budget. Congratulations!