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A Caterer Weighs In on Saving Money

These tips are for everyone wanting to save a bit of money. And who can’t do with that? Okay, if you’re a partner at Goldman Sachs, saving money may not be top of your list, but for the rest of us trying to get the most for our money, a few pointers from someone in the know can always help.

But before you go to your caterer

Essential to your planning is for you and your spouse-to-be to have a well defined idea of what you would like in your reception–your vision and your venue need to be agreed upon before you go jumping into planning your food.

But Maggie, we don’t have a well-defined idea. We just don’t know, I mean, we kind of know we have 45 guests who will want to eat, but what do we do?

That’s perfectly okay. Sometimes many couples get so caught up in the cost of things, they forget to take a deep breath and weigh their options before they flip out. But don’t flip out. Read these tips and then you’ll be ready to plan. Promise. And you’ll save some money to boot.

Tip #1 If you sit down, prices go up.

It’s just one of those things, but a formal, sit-down reception, even though you may be serving burgers and fries (which are fun and good by the way) will raise the price of your affair–a lot. And that’s because there are more working parts like: chairs, tables, linens, centerpieces, plates, silverware, servers and valets. A buffet station will be less expensive than a sit-down. Even if you have butler-passed trays of food, with casual seating, you will spend less than a formal sit-down dinner.

Tip #2 Keep the bar simple.

Ask your caterer, if they are the ones providing the alcohol, to keep it simple. Beer, wine and maybe one mixed drink as the “special” drink of your reception will help contain costs. While technically not a mixed drink, Paul and I served Bellinis (along with beer and wine) at our wedding–they were a huge hit, especially with all my girlie friends. Do some research on a fun cocktail and make it your “special” wedding drink.

If your caterer does not provide the alcohol, purchasing it yourself and decanting the wine will look beautiful and no one has to know how much you spent on those bottles of red. Trust me, there are many good, good wines out there for under $10 a bottle, some under $8 a bottle as well.

Tip #3 Think more turf than surf.

You may love seafood (I am a clamophile) and you may want to shower your guests in scallops, shrimp and lobster tails, but it will cost you. Seafood is spendy purely because of the economics of it. Your seafood, which first has to be caught in the wilds of the ocean, passes through a few middlemen before it gets to market where your caterer will finally purchase it for preparation. Mark-ups follow along the way, and if you want fresh over frozen, that’s going to raise your costs as well.

Tip#4 Keeping your expectations about cost firmly grounded, will keep you happier.

I like to bring up Costco here as a perfect example of why keeping your expectations grounded will keep you happier and sane. Costco has a great deal of buying power behind it, coupled with human power and because of that they can produce take-home foods for a really good price. Take their chicken pot pie, it’s tasty-good and at around $12, it easily serves 8-10,if not more, and that’s a great deal. Your caterer cannot do this because your caterer does not have the immense buying power of Costco or Sam’s Club.

Also, keep in mind your caterer is developing a menu, specifically to order, shopping, cooking and then delivering food for you and your guests, and that is a job worth paying for.

Tip #5 Consider drop-off service as an alternative.

If you are a DIY bride or a Bride-on-a-Budget or maybe you’re just having an intimate wedding with few guests, then do find a caterer who offers drop-off service. Drop-off service means just that, your caterer drops-off the food at your reception and the rest is up to you. Food will usually arrive on disposable catering platters or in disposable chaffers to keep food warm. Your guests will be able to serve themselves and clean up is a snap. Drop-off gives you great flexibility and you’ll be able to extend your catering dollar even further.

Tip #6 Organic may have to wait–for a day.

You may eat organic all the time, and that is great. But know, organic anything will usually cost more–a lot more. It’s a shame that less (pesticides and processing) means more money, but there it is. Your guests will not hold it against you if you skip on organic just for one day.

Tip #7 Look for unique and fun styles of eating.

You can save if you start to look for different styles of dining–something way more fun than a plate of chicken cordon bleu and baby carrots. Say you do like seafood, a lot, and only want seafood, you can save by pinpointing luxurious ways to eat and then deconstructing them a bit. If you are having an early afternoon reception just after lunch, you can serve a group of seafood appetizers like blinis and caviar, smoked salmon with red potatoes, mini crab cakes and champagne–simple yet elegant. Time of day and weekday may be a factor with your caterer and price, so make sure to ask. Some ideas:

  • A BBQ chef who can cook on-site is good for an outdoor reception in warm weather, and on-site chefs usually include serving in the price,

  • Paella parties (shameless self-promotion here) are done outside and a good way to get your guests talking and happy,

  • Food trucks are all the rage and big fun,

  • Clam bakes on the beach are perfect for the bride-on-the-beach and especially good for smaller weddings,

  • Buffet bars where the focus is on a single type of food, like a chili bar with all the fixings, will save you money and are crowd-pleasers and,

  • Go retro–think Mad Men cocktails and hor d’oeuvres and canapés of the era; pigs in blanket, gherkins and bacon wrapped scallops. A good and willing caterer will have as good time with this as you.

Tip #8 Not all wedding cakes have to be traditional.

Now before all the wedding cake bakers come and wrap me up in fondant like a mummy then stick me in hot ganache, let me clarify something: If you definitely want a traditional cake, then by all means go to a wedding cake specialist and get one; they are gorgeous, mind-boggling fine works of art, delicious and worth every cent. If however, you are not wed (see what I did there?) to tradition or are a DIY bride, Bride-on-a-Budget or are having an intimate wedding, then consider some alternatives to giving your guests cake. Yes, your guests do want cake and yes, you can save money.

Cake pops or cake balls are a whimsical taste treat sensation and you can give everyone several flavors of these cuties. Many of the cake pop makers also customize the pop with fun and colorful icings or they make wedding cake pops, which are so adorable it’s ridiculous. And our good friend, the cup cake, is another way to save some money while still making everyone cake-happy. Just Google wedding cup cakes in your area and you’ll see!

And if you live in the Los Angeles area, give me a call or send me an email. I’d be glad to cater your next wedding reception, tapas or small plate-style, or cater your next paella party–it’s what I love doing, (310) 929-0243

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