Catering can be one of the more daunting parts of the wedding planning process because it has so much impact on the bottom line of the budget. With so many options to choose from, a lot of couples don’t even know where to begin. And have you ever seen a catering proposal? Line item after line item can leave couples feeling totally overwhelmed.
The great news is that catering is so versatile! It can really be whatever you want it to be. Based on weddings you’ve attended in the past, you might have a vision of what “traditional” wedding dining looks like: a cocktail hour with passed hors d'oeuvres followed by a seated meal usually including a salad, an entree, and some sides, followed by cake for dessert.
Whether you don’t have the budget for a full four-course seated dinner or if a seated meal feels too formal for your vision, you don’t have to go this route! Like we always say, it’s your wedding, and there are always other options.
Here are 3 of our favorite creative catering options, along with some important notes to remember when planning these dinner styles.
1. Cocktail-Style Reception
Instead of feeding guests a full dinner, guests are treated to heavy hors d’oeuvres during a cocktail-style reception. This greatly decreases the cost of food compared to a traditional plated-style meal.
Now, you may think that this style of catering could get a little monotonous. If guests are only offered the same 3 hors d’oeuvres for two hours, they’re likely to either get bored or hungry, right? There are a few ways to avoid this.
The first is to offer different rounds of appetizers. For instance, your first round could include 3 hors d’oeuvres; after an hour of serving those 3, your servers would then switch over to a set of 3 new hors d’oeuvres. This keeps it interesting for guests, and you’re able to offer a wider variety of food.
Depending on your budget, you could also add on a station or two to go along with your cocktail-style reception. This likewise adds a little more excitement to your dinner and keeps guests engaged. You could also introduce a station later on in the evening as a dessert bar or late-night snack.
You’ll also be saving money when it comes to rental items. Generally, there won’t be seating to accommodate your entire guest count at a cocktail-style reception. We still recommend offering at least some seating for guests that can’t stand the entire evening or may not be partaking in reception activities like dancing. Since there’s not seating for everyone, you’ll erase the costs of extra tables, chairs, place setting items, table numbers, escort cards, and more.
Keep in mind that guests may arrive to your wedding expecting a full meal, so make sure no one goes hungry by adding some info on your invitations or wedding website about your apps-only celebration.
2. An Intimate Dinner
One of the silver linings of COVID was the rise in popularity of intimate weddings. Smaller weddings create such a special atmosphere and really allow the celebration to focus on what matters.
But if you find yourself stuck between wanting an intimate celebration with just close family and friends and wanting to party all night long with your 300 favorite people, there is a way to have the best of both worlds! Cue the intimate dinner followed by a cocktail-style reception.
Another great way to cut catering costs, an intimate dinner would follow your ceremony. You would keep your ceremony and dinner guest lists shorter - usually only close friends and family. After the dinner, you would transition into a cocktail-style reception that your full guest list is invited to.
This option is great for couples that want a formal, plated dinner but don’t have the budget to feed hundreds of guests. Just like with the cocktail-style reception, make sure to give guests that are not invited to the dinner a heads-up about what to expect food-wise during the reception.
3. Drop-Off Catering
Drop-off catering is just what it sounds like: a caterer or restaurant will drop off your food to your venue. The biggest difference here is that the caterer or restaurant would not provide staffing. For this, you would need to go through a staffing company.
This is going to save you money on your food bill, as well as on staffing. But just because you’ll be saving money doesn’t mean you’ll be sacrificing variety when it comes to the menu. So many caterers and restaurants offer drop-off catering that you’ll still be able to have those fun and unique bites like barbeque, tacos, seasonal dishes, and more. Keep in mind that you’ll need to be at a venue with an open catering policy for drop-off catering to work, so check out your venue’s policies before diving in.
When planning for drop-off catering, you’ll want to double-check your planning list to make sure you have all your bases covered. Will the catering company be providing you with disposable dinnerware or will you source China through a rental company? Will the staffing company need to provide bartenders? Who is providing alcohol, mixers, and barware? Because you shed the usual inclusions of a traditional catered meal with drop-off, it becomes even more important to think through the meal and ensure you have everything you’ll need.
Another perk with drop-off catering is that you can work with multiple food vendors if needed. For example, say your main dinner meal is a more traditional buffet selection of proteins, starches, and vegetables. But, if the company that provided the food for dinner doesn’t offer the burger bar you were dying to have for a late-night snack, you can just source this from another company! The flexibility of drop-off catering means that you’ll still have the freedom to structure your wedding food options as you envision without breaking the bank.
Sourcing catering for your wedding can definitely be an overwhelming experience. Getting that first proposal with dozens of line items each with a price next to it and a horrifying total at the end can easily send you spiraling.
But, with a little creativity and (shameless plug) a cool wedding planner with some great connections can simplify the process and get you back to being excited about your wedding!
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