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49 Ways to Save on Wedding Food and Drink Costs – Tips and Ideas


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Early in our wedding planning marathon, my now-wife made a rather novel menu suggestion. Instead of multiple themed self-serve food stations or a traditional sit-down service, why not offer guests a pit-roasted hog with sides like roasted green beans, mac and cheese, and coleslaw?

It was easily one of the five most memorable meals of my life. Pound for pound, it was also one of the most cost-effective. 

Setting up a simple country buffet rather than a more elaborate meal was the linchpin of our relentless drive to reduce wedding costs. But if a pit-roasted pig doesn’t sound like perfection to you, there are many other ways to cut costs.

Tips to Reduce Overall Wedding Reception Food and Drink Costs

Reduce Wedding Food Drink Cost

Use these tips to get more from a smaller guest list and time your wedding or reception for maximum cost-effectiveness. They can help you limit what you spend on food and drink for your guests with minimal impact on how you experience your big day.

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1. Host a Smaller Party Days After Your Wedding

There’s no way around it — more guests mean more mouths to feed and more drinks to pour. The surest way to reduce your total food and drink bill is to cap your guest list, even if it means making some tough choices about who to leave out of your big day.

One way to avoid these choices is to skip a reception on the day of your wedding. Instead, host a smaller celebration (don’t even call it a reception) days or weeks after your ceremony, perhaps at your house or in a neighborhood park. 

Limit the guest list to close friends and family members and keep the food simple — think a barbecue potluck and coolers with canned drinks.

2. Write Off Venues That Require In-House Catering

The most important thing you can do to reduce the cost of your reception dinner doesn’t require much effort. Simply call the venues you’re considering and ask whether they allow outside food. If venues require in-house catering, eliminate them from your list.

3. Have a Friend or Relative Host Your Reception at Their Home

If you have a close friend or relative with enough space, ask them to host the reception (and possibly the ceremony, depending on your preferences). Make it worth their while by assuring them the venue more than suffices as their gift.

If your wedding is small enough and their love for you runs deep, they might help prepare and serve your food and drink too. Assuming the owner doesn’t have acres of lawn space for guests to spread out, hosting at a private home probably necessitates a smaller guest list too.

4. Maintain a Coherent Theme

Use thematic food and drink menus that rely on fewer, cheaper ingredients to save money. A consistent theme boosts the appeal of an otherwise basic or boring menu. 

For instance, fried chicken, fried okra, and macaroni and cheese are a lot more appealing as part of a Southern-themed menu than as an apparent afterthought at the end of a long buffet table.

Popular themes include:

  • Comfort food
  • California cuisine (think grilled cheese and avocado sandwiches, grilled fish or chicken, and green salads)
  • Southwestern cuisine or Tex-Mex
  • Healthy eats
  • Whole game (our wedding’s pit-roasted hog was insanely cheap per guest and gave us frozen leftovers for months)
  • Barbecue

5. Avoid Costly Add-Ons

Skip costly add-ons, which tend to be upselling opportunities for wedding venues, not true value-adds for knot-tying couples. Cake cutting is an egregious example. Asking a couple of guests to slice and plate your cake achieves the same result at a much lower cost.

6. Skip the Champagne Toast

On top of the substantial labor required to pour and measure dozens of Champagne servings, the booze itself is incredibly costly — at least $5 per bottle for bulk-bought, bottom-shelf sparkling wine and $5 or more per glass for venue-provided stuff.

As memorable as your first wedding toast should be, it’s simply not worth the cost. Toast with whatever you and your guests are already drinking instead. Hopefully, whoever’s giving the toast is saying something so interesting no one will notice the lack of bubbly.

7. Use Disposable Serving Ware

If you have a say in the matter — and for this and other reasons, it’s wise to avoid venues that deny you one — opt for eco-friendly, single-use serving ware. That includes:

  • Compostable plates and bowls
  • Compostable or recyclable utensils and cutlery
  • Compostable or recyclable cups and glasses
  • Recyclable serving dishes and trays

8. Ask for a Kids Discount

If you plan to use a catering service, ask for a youth discount. Many caterers cut kids under 12 a break. Some particularly generous providers go all the way up to age 16.

Kids discounts are also a valuable negotiating point. Once you find a caterer that charges less for kids, use that deal as leverage to elicit similar concessions from other providers you’re considering.

9. Hold a Daytime Wedding

Daytime weddings are cheaper than afternoon-into-evening gatherings on multiple counts. 

Private reception venues generally charge less for daytime events as long as the party can clear out in time for the evening block. And city parks typically charge nominal fees to reserve pavilions or grills.

Daytime wedding guests also tend to welcome lighter, simpler fare like tea or club sandwiches, basic grillables (hot dogs and burgers), or even snack foods (chips and salsa). Wedding Spot has plenty of daytime wedding food ideas.

10. End the Festivities Early

Even if you opt for a traditional start time, there’s no need to drag out the festivities. 

By doing away with cocktail hour and cutting off the dance music an hour or two after dinner, you can shave several hours off the run time, reducing venue costs and drink consumption in the process. Guests who want to keep the party going can organize their own after-party.

Tips to Reduce Wedding Reception Cocktail Hour Costs

Reduce Wedding Cocktail Hour

One of the easiest ways to cut back is to reduce the total cost of the stretch between the end of the ceremony and the official start of the reception. These ideas include solutions you can apply at nearly any wedding along with a novel idea or two that could come in handy at yours.

11. Encourage Guests to BYOB

Asking guests to bring their own booze isn’t as tacky as it sounds. Just make it clear on your wedding invitation or website that you won’t be serving alcohol during cocktail hour. Then set the stage for a respectable cocktail hour by doing any of the following:

  • Provide Mixers. For guests who bring hard liquor, provide several inexpensive mixers, such as soda and fruit juice. Don’t forget the glasses, ice, and disposable bar napkins.
  • Themed Happy Hour. Set a theme for your cocktail hour drink, such as craft beer, and encourage guests to bring their favorite examples of the theme.
  • Cocktail Potluck. Use a shared spreadsheet — or your preferred free organizing tool, like PotluckHub — to organize a cocktail potluck in which guests bring various drinks to share.

These are only examples. Your BYOB cocktail hour can look however you want it to look.

12. Stick to a Single Drink

If you’re not sold on a BYOB cocktail hour, keep things simple and offer just one drink between the ceremony and reception start time. Ideas to provide a single drink on the cheap include:

  • Tapping a keg from your favorite local brewery or cidery
  • Handing out recyclable Champagne flutes and breaking open the sparkling wine
  • Offering your venue’s house wine or purchasing your own lower-shelf red or white in bulk (see our wine-buying guide for tips)
  • Premix a signature cocktail, such as your joint favorite or one that matches your wedding’s color scheme

Your guests’ tastes won’t be uniform, so don’t agonize about choosing a drink that pleases everyone. White wine or hard seltzer is a safer choice since many drinkers avoid beer or hard liquor (and some prefer not to knock back cocktails before dinner anyway).

13. Keep the Booze Locked Away

Whether BYOB flies at your venue or not, keep the booze locked up until dinner. Instead, put out nonalcoholic beverages between the ceremony and dinner. 

In the meantime, provide dispensers filled with nonalcoholic beverages, like sweet and unsweet tea or water spiked with citrus, cucumbers, or berries.

14. Get Photos Out of the Way Before the Ceremony

At many weddings, the cocktail hour’s primary purpose is to keep guests occupied while the wedding party poses for photos. There’s no need to draw out cocktail hour if you can get wedding photos out of the way before guests arrive.

15. Serve Bar Snacks

Don’t break out the heavier reception menu fare like pigs in blankets or meatballs until guests are in the room where you plan to serve dinner. 

At cocktail hour, whet their appetites with a variety of bar snacks, such as nuts, pretzels, and dried fruit. Those who partake will probably eat less during the official appetizer round, keeping your wedding’s food costs in check.

Tips to Reduce Wedding Reception Appetizer Costs

Reduce Wedding Appetizer Cost

These tips could reduce the cost of appetizer service at your wedding reception, whether you’re passing out hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour or waiting until guests take their seats for dinner. 

16. Put Out an Open Call for Contributions

Why not crowdsource your appetizer options? In your wedding invitations and on your wedding website, invite guests to sign up to contribute homemade or store-bought apps of their choice.

If you decide to go that route, note that there may be some hoops you have to jump through and tasks you need to handle, such as:

  • Checking with the venue beforehand to confirm it allows outside food
  • Using a spreadsheet to organize contributions
  • Capping total contributions at a number you’re comfortable managing (you may need to field questions from contributors in advance and accept their submissions on the day of the wedding)
  • Specifying serving count in advance (most guests won’t be able to cook for 150 or 200 guests, but 25 contributors making 25 servings each means more than enough to go around)
  • Asking guests to disclose serious food allergies in advance
  • Specifying any universal dietary restrictions (for instance, if you’re having an all-vegetarian wedding or hosting guests with life-threatening food allergies)
  • Following applicable safe-serving regulations (in some jurisdictions, you may need to prep food on-site)

17. Have a Wedding Party Potluck

A more manageable twist on the crowdsourcing theme requires asking each member of your wedding party to make their favorite app (or an app you assign) for the reception in lieu of gifts.

But the same guidelines apply. Since you’ll have fewer contributors, take extra care to confirm sufficient supply. Depending on party size, each contributor might need to make 50 or 75 servings to ensure every guest can try more than one bite.

If the entire wedding party is available the night before the wedding, you can host a cooking marathon in a low-cost commercial kitchen near the venue. It’s common for houses of worship to rent out their kitchen facilities for nominal fees, for instance.

18. Use Off-the-Shelf Appetizers

Forgo the kitchen altogether with a selection of relatively low-cost store-bought apps, like crudites trays, pita and hummus, and cheese plates — sans exotic or fancy cheeses, which quickly add up. 

If you or someone you know has a membership with a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club, shop there if you can.

But you don’t want your guests to think you’re phoning in the appetizer round. Try these tricks to elevate your off-the-shelf offerings:

  • Put colorful fresh veggies on skewers for maximum visual impact, and tap guests to help if you need extra labor. Examples include Gimme Some Oven’s rainbow veggie skewers and Our Best Bites’ caprese appetizers.
  • Arrange apps in recyclable spirits or wine glasses or Champagne flutes rather than on disposable plates. For example, you can serve crudites in a cup with the dressing already in it like they did on The View From Great Island. Or serve gazpacho in Champagne flutes like they did on The Food Channel.
  • Break out old family recipes for sauce and topping ideas.
  • Type up cards to label dishes and origins, especially for unique or locally sourced ingredients, such as cheese.

19. Avoid Passed Appetizers

Although passing apps — having servers walk through the crowd offering individual appetizers to guests — invariably reduces consumption compared with buffet-style apps, it’s not necessarily cost-effective. 

You have to pay those servers, and passed apps tend to be pricier since they’re made from more expensive ingredients and require more prep. (Think shrimp cocktail, bacon-wrapped scallops, warm goat cheese and beet sliders, and miniature savory pies.)

Cut the servers and pomp from the appetizer equation and have guests help themselves at well-spaced stations. This strategy also encourages mingling.

20. Offer a Hearty Soup Option

As long as it’s not sweltering outside, offer a hearty soup option to fill guests up before dinner. Creamy clam chowder or savory tomato bisque paired with airy crostini is far cheaper per serving than seafood ceviche or caprese salad. 

If you decide to forgo dinner altogether, your soup option could be the centerpiece of a lighter food service that stretches into the window when dinner would typically occur.

21. Play Up Color Contrasts

Visually attractive appetizer ingredients are often cheaper than drab fancy alternatives. In summer, a colorful garden salad sourced from your local farmers market typically costs less than a two-toned shrimp cocktail or monochrome lamb skewer. It also looks equally fancy.

Make the most of cost-effective, colorful app options by:

  • Making them in larger quantities
  • Giving them prominent placement on buffet tables or stations — for instance, on the ends where guests are likely to see them first
  • Slimming down low-color options’ portion sizes
  • Replacing costlier ingredients with colorful, cost-effective alternatives, such as swapping Manchego cheese for sharp cheddar

Tips to Reduce Wedding Reception Dinner Costs

Reduce Wedding Dinner Cost

Follow these tips to cut the cost of your wedding reception’s dinner service. They include sensible menu and service changes made to control costs as well as out-of-the-box ideas that could leave guests positively buzzing about your wedding for weeks to come.

22. Research Ingredient Costs Ahead of Time

You don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of ingredient pricing or availability. But it can help to have a general sense of the cost of various types of vegetables, meats and fish, and common sides.

The more you know about the costs of ingredients and finished dishes, the better you can negotiate menu pricing or swap costly components for cheaper ones. That’s crucial if you’re building your own menu rather than choosing from a preset menu.

23. Serve a Single-Course Dinner or Skip Dinner Entirely

Here’s a bold idea: Why not skip the full dinner entirely? Instead of a formal, sit-down dinner service, break out heavy apps during the cocktail hour and keep them flowing until toast time. For example, you could serve:

  • Beef, bison, or ground lamb sliders
  • Bacon-wrapped grilled shrimp
  • Spinach-and-ricotta pastries
  • Chicken or pork satay skewers
  • Tuna tartare cups (mixing in diced fresh veggies to add volume without adding fish)

If you’re not prepared to break with tradition quite so dramatically, try a hybrid app-and-dinner strategy. 

One wedding that’s always stuck with me kept the apps going right up until they served a small single-course dinner that was far less memorable than the app round. The idea was to get guests full enough that they wouldn’t care about the skimpy dinner (I certainly didn’t).

24. Focus on Nontraditional Cuts of Meat

Swap pricey cuts of meat — such as filet, prime rib, and lamb chop — for cheaper or nontraditional cuts. For instance, well-marinated flank steak or sirloin tips are nearly as tasty as your basic filet mignon at a fraction of the cost. 

Remember to do your research so you can counter your caterer’s suggestions with cheaper alternatives. MyRecipes has an article on less expensive beef substitutions, for example.

25. Go Completely Vegetarian

If skipping dinner is too bold for you, you can still save by skipping the meat. Most animal protein is expensive, particularly the fancy types and cuts wedding caterers push, such as filet mignon, prime rib, lamb, and sea bass. 

Swap these pricey proteins for hearty vegetables and plant-based proteins like tofu, seitan, portobello mushroom, eggplant, and cauliflower. Use artistic presentations and complex sauces and dressings to keep things interesting. 

Get inspired with vegetarian wedding menu guides from Bon Appetit, The Knot, and WeddingWire.

26. Set Up a Build-Your-Own Bar

Traditional dinner service is boring. Engage your guests and cut down on ingredient costs with a build-your-own meal bar that’s heavy on low-cost sides. Popular ideas include:

  • Burger or Meat Sandwich Bar. Stock your bar with burgers or meat sandwiches with plenty of fresh veggies, cheese, and condiments. Weddingomania and Good Cheap Eats have dozens of ingredient and presentation ideas.
  • Tex-Mex Meal Bar. Serve tacos or burritos, emphasizing cheaper types or cuts of meat, such as chicken or hanger steak, and traditional low-cost sides. Serving both taco shells and tortillas allows guests to pick between burritos and tacos with many of the same ingredients. See Food’s taco bar guide for inspiration.
  • Traditional Salad Bar. Let them load fresh salads with chicken, fish, or vegetable-based proteins to bulk things up. The Kitchn has salad bar tips and a sample menu.

If you go the build-your-own route, set up at least two double-sided stations to allow up to four guests to serve themselves the same ingredient at once to reduce bottlenecks.

27. Do a Basic Buffet

Cheap buffets emphasize filling, low-cost sides, such as:

  • Potato salad
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Rolls
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Corn on the cob
  • Rice and beans
  • Cooking greens
  • Casseroles

Limit protein choice to a few reasonably priced meat and vegetable protein options, such as:

  • Grilled tofu
  • Grilled portobello mushrooms
  • Grilled eggplant
  • Chicken breast
  • Cod filet
  • Pulled pork
  • Stir-fry

Elevate your buffet service by setting out straightforward themed serving stations with one or two offerings. It’s a sensible, visually engaging way to split guests who prefer chicken or pulled pork and those seeking grilled tofu or eggplant, reducing congestion. 

Label stations clearly and optimize station placement for flow. You want every guest to have easy access to every station and to avoid bottlenecks as much as possible.

28. Serve Family-Style

You can reduce labor costs for dinner prep, plating, and service by serving family-style meals. Family-style service means seated guests serve themselves from communal dishes placed on their tables — an instant conversation-starter and opportunity for portion control.

Dishes that work well for family-style service also happen to be cost-effective, such as:

  • Lasagna
  • Mac and cheese, perhaps with an animal protein for added bulk
  • Stir-fry
  • Casseroles
  • Pulled meat sandwiches
  • Fajitas
  • Rice-based dishes

29. Limit Entree Options

If you’re set on traditional dinner service, limit the menu choices to two: one vegetarian or vegan option (ideally vegan to ensure all guests can partake) and a low-cost meat option.

Limiting the choices reduces prep and plating costs as well as the likelihood of service errors. For your meat option, opt for poultry instead of hoofed proteins. Chicken is cheaper than beef, lamb, or pork.

30. Order Takeout

Skip pricey caterers, and bulk-order takeout from your favorite local restaurant. A stack of takeout pizza boxes on the wedding buffet may not be the most elegant visual, but it’s cost-effective. 

Besides, when push comes to shove, how many guests are going to turn down free pizza? That’s especially true if you live in a place with celebrated local pizzerias, like New York City or Chicago.

Takeout is an excellent accompaniment for casual daytime receptions. And for basic options like pizza, Tex-Mex, and sandwiches, your final cost should be well under $10 per person.

With enough advance notice — a week or longer, most likely — most decent-size restaurants can accommodate catering for 150 or 200 guests. Fast-casual chains like Chipotle are safer bets and may be amenable to day-before or even day-of orders. 

But don’t pay menu prices without negotiating first. Many restaurants are willing to charge less to move perishable product.

31. Skip the Wine With Dinner

If you think about it, it’s odd to compel guests still finishing their cocktail hour drinks to double up so early in the night by serving wine with dinner. And at four or five glasses per bottle, depending on the pour, even a modestly sized wedding’s dinner wine amounts to a 12-bottle case or more.

Instead, break the mold, and let your guest finish their cocktails or enjoy their meals with a glass of water or tea.

32. Price Out Local-Only Menus

Since local producers don’t always enjoy the same scale as industrial food producers, pricing isn’t guaranteed to work in your favor, but it can pay to check it out. Local, in-season menus often cost less than luxe menus with ingredients sourced from the four corners of the world. 

Note that a local-food-only requirement can affect your choice of caterer. You may even need to purchase and prepare some menu elements yourself with the help of guests or the wedding party.

33. Opt for a Tasting Menu

Compared with a take-it-or-leave-it main course, a six- or eight-course tasting menu means greater logistical complexity and higher prep costs. But smaller portion sizes and slower pacing may justify these drawbacks. 

If you serve less food overall, you spend less on ingredients. Think of this as a creative alternative to heavy app-only dinners.

Tips to Reduce Wedding Reception Bar Service Costs

Reduce Wedding Bar Service Cost

These ideas could reduce your final beverage service bill — a massive, often overlooked outlay for most nuptials. They include practical changes to how you purchase and serve drinks as well as creative ideas that engage and entertain your guests without breaking the bank.

34. Buy Booze & Cocktail Ingredients in Bulk

Most full-service wedding venues require you to pay by the drink, not by the bottle or case. If you can find a venue that offers bulk pricing to parties pouring venue-supplied drinks, jump on that deal.

But some venues permit outside booze, usually in exchange for a corkage fee charged on each bottle opened by bar staff. High-end venues in big cities charge a pretty penny for corkage — anywhere from $10 to $40. 

Corkage policies are likely to be laxer for single-serve containers, such as beer cans. You might not have to pay to serve your own beer at all, though you should check with the venue to confirm.

Even after accounting for corkage fees, buying alcohol in bulk at your local liquor outlet dramatically reduces your bill. 

My wedding’s total alcohol cost came in just shy of $1,000, about $7 per guest, the price of a single open bar drink. Thanks to a couple of supplemental kegs of our friend’s signature homebrew, we had more than enough left over for an impromptu after-party at a nearby campsite.

It helped that we chose a venue that didn’t charge corkage fees. If you can’t avoid that, at least try to negotiate the per-bottle cost, perhaps in exchange for a guaranteed minimum bottle count.

Finally, if you don’t expect to be able to use excess bulk booze at your after-party, choose a retailer with a buyback policy, a commitment to repurchase or credit unused, unopened bottles or kegs. You may need to negotiate buybacks individually since retailers don’t always advertise them.

35. Stick to Beer & Wine

Light beer and house wine generally cost less per serving than the sort of mid-shelf liquor you wouldn’t be embarrassed to serve your guests. Traditional cocktails, which may contain two or three 1-ounce liquor servings, are particularly pricey.

If you decide to forgo hard alcohol, offer a variety of alternatives, such as:

  • White, red, sparkling, and rosé wine
  • Full-strength macrobrew beers (like Budweiser and Coors)
  • Light macrobrew beers (like Bud Light and Miller Lite)
  • Multiple hard seltzer styles
  • Multiple craft beer styles (such as Pilsners, IPAs, stouts, and ambers)
  • Multiple cider styles, ranging from dry to sweet

36. Buy at a Discount

If your wedding venue allows you to source your own alcohol, shop at a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club for the best deals. If you don’t have a warehouse store membership, shop at a liquor superstore like Total Wine & More, where prices are likely lower than at independent shops.

No matter where you shop for wedding alcohol, look for advertised bulk discounts. Bulk discounts are especially common for wine — 10% to 15% off orders of six bottles or more is standard. If you don’t see a bulk discount advertised, ask an employee.

37. Use Free or Cheap Labor

In lieu of gifts, tap a few intrepid guests — or acquaintances you might otherwise leave off your guest list — to tend bar. Unless your cocktail list is complex, you don’t need certified mixologists to mix drinks, let alone crack open a beer or pour a glass of wine.

But ensure your arrangement complies with local regulations. It’s likely servers must be at least 18 years of age and may need a food safety certification. 

For state-specific guidelines, contact your state’s alcohol control authority, which you can find on the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau website.

38. Set Up a Self-Serve Station

If it’s legal or the property owner is willing to assume liability, do away with bartenders and allow guests to help themselves. Nothing complements a casual daytime wedding reception like tubs of beer on ice and chilled, premixed cocktails in spigot dispensers.

For smoother self-service:

  • Skip open punch bowls, which can get knocked over by rowdy guests or rambunctious kids
  • Anchor dispensers to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic spills
  • Separate drinks by type to allow multiple people to serve themselves at once
  • Use beer kegs instead of cans or bottles, which guests may take longer to choose and open

If you plan to offer self-serve cocktails, be generous with nonalcoholic mixers. You stretch your supply that way and encourage guests to nurse their drinks — a significant consideration for outdoor weddings in hot weather.

39. Promote a Signature Mocktail

The signature mocktail is an alcohol-free twist on the featured cocktail idea. Sell guests on your creation by:

  • Giving it a compelling story, such as a booze-free couple’s favorite or a fond memory of the day you first met
  • Giving it a big, bold flavor — citrus notes work well in warm weather, while warm spices are better when it’s cold
  • Adding textural elements, such as shaved ice
  • Printing up recipe cards for attendees interested in replicating it at home

For inspiration, look to mocktail recipe guides from Offbeat Bride and Elle Decor.

Of course, your reception doesn’t have to be completely dry. You can still have beer and wine for those uninterested in your mocktail.

40. Stick to a Signature Cocktail

A signature cocktail won’t save as much as a signature mocktail, but having it as the sole liquor option at your reception and limiting other alcoholic drink choices to beer and wine helps control costs.

Your signature cocktail doesn’t need to be the same as your happy-hour cocktail if you’ve gone the one-drink route before dinner, though it’s logistically easier to do it that way. 

Compensate for the lack of choice by dressing up the drink by:

  • Giving it a clever name
  • Making it as colorful as possible
  • Giving it a story (for instance, why it’s your household’s favorite cocktail)
  • Reducing its alcohol content to make it palatable and drinkable for liquor-averse guests

Martha Stewart and Brides magazine have some tantalizing signature cocktail ideas, including low-alcohol options.

41. Close the Bar During Dinner

If you’re already forgoing wine service with dinner, it’s not much of a stretch to close the bar between cocktail hour and toast time. Remember to:

  • Give 15 minutes’ notice at cocktail hour that the bar will be closing
  • Clearly announce that the bar will remain closed during dinner
  • Open the bar 15 minutes or so before toast time to give guests ample time to get new drinks to toast

42. Limit Open Bar Hours (or Forgo an Open Bar Altogether)

I’ve been to plenty of weddings with partial open bars. How it works varies. For example, sometimes, drinks are free during cocktail hour or for an hour after dinner. You pay for anything you drink after that. 

As long as you clearly communicate your open bar policies, your guests should play ball. Many are likely to moderate their drinking as the reception goes on, anyway.

Alternatively, limit consumption during open bar hours by handing out tickets, either purchased from Amazon or printed on your home computer. Or print them in your wedding program to save the trouble of physically distributing them. 

Each adult gets a prescribed number of tickets — maybe two per person (instruct whoever’s tending bar to rip them in half as guests redeem them). Guests who use up their tickets can still pay by the drink or use the tickets of nondrinkers. 

43. Go Big on Nonalcoholic Drinks

I remain impressed by the beverage selection at the only booze-free wedding I’ve attended. 

The hosts had a veritable cornucopia of soft drink options without resorting to craft seltzers, sodas, or shrubs. I’ve never seen more varieties of canned beverages, including in my supermarket’s soft drink aisle. I’ve also never felt better leaving a wedding — or the next morning.

Additionally, forgoing alcohol ensures guests leave early, which is ideal for daytime weddings at venues booked for a night session. If guests want to turn things up after your reception, they can always host an after-party and supply their own booze.

Tips to Reduce Wedding Dessert Costs

Reduce Wedding Dessert Cost

Use these dessert food ideas to cut the cost of after-dinner sweets and cake service at your wedding. They include tips to streamline dessert service without sacrificing quality or creativity and more DIY-friendly options that take advantage of your guests’ baking skills (and sweet tooths).

44. Buy Off-the-Shelf Cakes

Traditional wedding cakes are overrated. They’re also needlessly expensive. If you can clean out your local liquor warehouse on the morning of your reception, you can surely head next door to the supermarket and grab a couple dozen prebaked cakes.

Cater to guests’ diverse tastes by choosing a range of flavors, such as vanilla (white or yellow), chocolate, and carrot, and icing and filling types, like chocolate icing, vanilla icing, and fruit filling. You can even pick up an ice cream cake if you plan ahead.

45. Use All or Mostly Sheet Cakes 

It’s common for couples to commission a special wedding cake to cut in front of guests. But why spring for a fancy — and costly — three-tiered cake when most of your guests would be happy with sheet cake anyway? Ditch the pomp and go with sheet cakes for all.

If you don’t want to forgo a special cake for yourself and your wedding party, purchase a small, off-the-shelf layer cake (6 or 8 inches should do). Add a reasonably priced cake topper if you’d like. 

46. Think Outside the Cake Tin

Steer clear of cake altogether. Crunch the numbers on popular desserts and sweets, such as:

  • Brownies
  • Cookies
  • Rice crispy treats
  • Fruit cups
  • Fruit tarts
  • Sweet bars (such as lemon bars)
  • Fruit or nut pies
  • Ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet

Stick to a handful of options at most — enough for guests to sample them all without gorging.

47. Bake Your Own Desserts

If you can crowdsource elaborate appetizers, you can surely crowdsource desserts. In fact, since most of your guests are likely to have ovens big enough to bake a few dozen cookies or cupcakes at a time, your bring-your-own-desserts campaign may well get more buy-in. 

Simple, mix-based desserts are cheaper than scratch-made, protein-rich appetizers too.

If you’re apprehensive about sending out an open call for dessert contributions, you can ask each member of your wedding party to supply a dessert.

48. Slim Down Your Slices

When all else fails, exercise portion control. If you can eliminate one of the 10 cakes you planned by reducing cake slice size by 10%, you reduce your total cake ingredient costs by 10%. 

49. Set Up a Candy Bar

Who said a proper wedding needs baked desserts, let alone a traditional wedding cake? Hit the superstore the morning of your wedding for an assortment of crowd-favorite sweets to lay out buffet-style. You can even throw in your leftover Halloween candy.

Final Word

Even after implementing every cost-cutting strategy that makes sense for your special day, food and drink costs are sure to account for a significant share of your wedding reception budget.

The good news is the cuts needn’t stop there. By simplifying or doing away with other aspects of your wedding reception, you can further downsize your wedding budget without adversely impacting the guest experience. 

For example, you can reduce your reception’s music costs, settle on a low-cost centerpiece alternative, and get creative with your wedding flower arrangements. Whatever you do, don’t let anyone tell you the wedding of your dreams has to cost a fortune.


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Brian Martucci writes about credit cards, banking, insurance, travel, and more. When he's not investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, you can find him exploring his favorite trails or sampling a new cuisine. Reach him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.