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23 Cheap Wedding Reception Food & Drink Menu Ideas on a Budget

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When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we wanted to keep it simple, elegant, and most importantly under budget.

So we were a little shocked when our caterer quoted us her lowest price of $35 per person for dinner – not including alcohol. With 160 guests, we were already at $5,600, and with an open bar were looking at a total bill of more than $10,000 just for food and drinks! Our total budget was around $10,000, so we needed to find a few ways to scrimp and save when it came to the dinner and alcohol.

If you want to save a bundle on food and drink at your wedding as well, here are 23 ways to do it.

Save Money on Appetizers

1. Provide Your Own Appetizers
This may sound time consuming, but it’s actually quite easy, particularly if you choose appetizers that can be made ahead of time and frozen, then just warmed up right before cocktail hour. Most caterers charge an overinflated price for appetizers, and you can save up to 50% of the cost this way. Here are some of my favorite, quick and easy appetizer recipe ideas you can use.

2. Do Not Have Servers
My mom thought it would be really fun to have servers walking around with trays of appetizers at my wedding. In the end though, we decided to pass on the idea. Your guests will care a lot more about actually eating appetizers than how it is presented to them, and you won’t have to pay the extra wait staff.

3. Go Simple
Your guests will probably be hungry when they arrive at the reception, and most of them will not care what they eat as long as they can have some sort of snack before dinner. So set out some simple crackers, cheese squares, and some fruit. Your guests will be very satisfied with just that.

affordable wedding appetizers

Save Money on Drinks

4. B.Y.O.B.
When you book your wedding reception venue, make sure to ask if it is okay to bring your own beverages (B.Y.O.B.). By bringing your own beer, wine, and liquor, you will not have to pay the inflated prices that the venue will charge if they were to provide that service.

5. Limit Open Bar
If your reception is for four hours, consider only having open bar for the first hour or two. Many guests will have a drink when they arrive at the reception while they are waiting for the festivities to begin and will not have a second drink. Others will leave after dinner is served and will not even be there for the second half to enjoy an open bar. Another option is to close the bar during the dinner hour. Most guests will be busy eating and conversing and won’t need a beverage during that time.

6. Serve Only Wine and Beer
Limit the types of alcoholic beverages served to just wine and beer so you will not have to pay for liquor. This will still give your guests who want to drink alcohol two good options to choose from.

7. Serve Non-Alcoholic Beverages
I went to a beautiful wedding on a farm once that served a bunch of fun, non-alcoholic drinks, such as frozen mocha and fruit smoothies. After my third frozen mocha, the last thing I cared about was having an alcoholic beverage!

8. Serve One Signature Drink
If you really want to serve liquor at your wedding, consider serving one signature drink, perhaps you and your future spouses’ favorite. It would be fun for the guests to try it out, and it would save you money since it would require limited alcohol.

wedding drink raspberries champagne

Save Money on the Meal

9. Don’t Have a Sit-down Dinner
Serving heavy appetizers instead of a meal has been a big trend in recent years. Guests can mingle more, and can still get satisfied with the appetizers. And your wallet will thank you too.

10. Pick a Venue that Allows Outside Catering
In order to find the best deal, make sure your venue allows you to use the caterer of your choice. This is not the case with many hotels that require you to eat their food.

11. Check the Prices of Both Plated and Buffet Meals
I have always thought that a buffet is more expensive because guests will eat more food, and therefore, more food is needed. At the venue for my wedding, this was true; the buffet was more expensive than the plated meal. Others will argue the opposite. My advice is to check the prices of both options, and go with the cheaper.

12. Consider Stations
Similar to the idea of a buffet, the stations concept allows guests to visit different “stations” to get their food. You could have a carving station, a pasta station, a taco station, a southern cooking station, and so on. This is a really popular option for modern weddings and is priced competitively.

13. Serve Family Style
Have you ever been to a restaurant that serves family style? The entire table orders a meal as a group, and the food is passed around the table just like at home. A big pan of lasagna is certainly less expensive than 10 plates of filet mignon for a table.

14. Order Take Out
There are no official wedding food rules, and if you and your future spouse like pizza, then order some pies. If you like Chinese food, order a couple pu pu platters along with some fried rice. It’s your wedding so serve food you love, and you could save big time.

15. Have Your Family Cook
You could have a cooking party the day before your wedding where the cooks in your family get together to make their signature dishes. This idea could work great with either a buffet or family style service.

16. Don’t Serve Out of Season
Many foods are seasonal, so make sure you do not serve anything out of season. This can be very costly because the food needs to be transported long distances, which inflates prices.

dinner buffet at a wedding

Save Money on Desserts

17. Have a Simple Display Cake
It may be tempting to have an extravagant seven tiered cake, but resist the temptation and have a simple two tiered cake and a large sheet cake in the back. Your guests will be none the wiser (and most people don’t eat the wedding cake, anyway).

18. Have a Cupcake Cake
Instead of a $400 cake, my husband and I spent less than $100 and had a beautiful tiered display of yummy red velvet cupcakes. You could also send your guests home with a matching boxed up mini cupcake as a wedding favor!

19. Have a Sweets Bar
Go to a drugstore and pick out bags of candy to serve in different dishes on a candy buffet. Or, you can have different desserts like brownies, pies, and cookies for your guests to choose from. This is much cheaper than a wedding cake and a lot more fun.

20. Serve Smaller Slices
If you have your heart set on having a particular wedding cake that is expensive, see if you can downsize it and serve smaller slices. Most bakers charge by the slice, and if they’re getting two servings per slice, they might be able to cut you a break.

small simple white wedding cake

Other Ways to Save Money on Wedding Food and Drink

21. Have a Daytime Wedding
Breakfast and lunch cost less than dinner so consider having a daytime wedding. I went to a wedding a few years ago that served breakfast at the reception. I got a made-to-order omelette and pancakes!

22. Invite Fewer People
As I mentioned, food is where a huge chunk of your money goes for a wedding. Since food is typically charged by the head count, invite fewer people as a way to save some dough. This applies to wedding invitations as well.

23. Check for Hidden Fees
If your venue charges fees for things like cake cutting and champagne toasts, avoid those fees if possible. Instead of having champagne passed out by the serving staff, have the best man raise whatever glass is in his hand, and all the guests will follow suit.

just married classic car cans

Final Word

There are plenty of ways to save money on food and drink at your wedding, without sacrificing style or having guests leave with an empty stomach.

What are some of your best tips to save money on food at drink at a wedding? Please share them in the comments below.

Casey Slide
Casey Slide lives with her husband and baby in Atlanta, GA. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and worked for a prominent hospital in Atlanta. With the birth of Casey’s son in February 2010, she decided to become a stay-at-home mom. Casey’s interests include reading, running, living green, and saving money.

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