How to Keep Your Wedding Feast From Going Over Budget

‘Tis the season for weddings and wedding planning. It’s crazy excitement all wrapped up in a big ball of money. If you think venues are expensive, just wait until you get to the food part of your wedding budget. And here’s the kicker — you don’t ever want to skimp on the food. Wedding guests will put up with a lot, but the one thing they’ll always remember is the quality of the food. But there are a few, if slightly unconventional, ways to keep the cost of your savory celebration under control.

The Potluck

Plan it like a back-yard barbecue with a wedding bonus. Asking friends and family to bring their best dish for the party is a great way to get everyone involved. Obviously this works best for casual afternoon weddings.

The Time

Afternoon or evening receptions almost guarantee a dinner service. Instead shoot for a morning or early afternoon wedding. Serving a brunch or lunch reception is likely to be far cheaper than serving dinner. This is where you might get away with a something like a lavish mac & cheese bar — individual dishes with sprinkled toppings like cheeses, chives or bacon bits.

The Football Wedding

It’s actually not sports related. It goes back to an old Italian American tradition of making sub sandwiches, which are then traded (or thrown football style) from table to table. Not only can this be fun (if informal), sandwiches as a main course should be much more affordable than a catered meal.

The Open Bar

Close that puppy up. A closed bar at a wedding might not seem as generous, but guests will forgive a closed bar more than crappy food. If you’re not real wild about either a closed or an open bar, there are shades of grey to investigate. For example, a beer/wine only bar may save you some money. You could also have a half open/half closed bar–free beer and wine, but hard alcohol requires cash. Still can’t decide? Consider setting up a happy hour bar. Free drinks between for a certain amount of time, then it switches to cash.

The Staff

Servers and bartenders are going to cost extra. You might be able to get away with volunteers from friends and family. They can serve hors d’oeuvres, clear tables or distribute champagne and cake. I mention bartenders, but it’s probably a better idea to go with the pros for that one. State liquor laws might require a licensed alcohol server at a big reception. Also, a professional can limit liability (another reason wedding insurance is important) by being vigilant about checking IDs (no underage drinking) and cutting off drinks if a party-goer gets in a little too deep. In fact, some venues may require you to use their bartending and security staff for these reasons, to mitigate their own liability. Be sure to ask about this with your venue or caterers.

The Connections

Always, always take advantage of any connections you have. Many friends and family will be honored to help out at your wedding. Do any friends make wedding cakes? Can you get a discount with a caterer you know? Does your family have connections with a venue? Explore any and all possibilities. For example, my dad is the barbecue king and agreed to cater his best friend’s wedding reception. They had the best prime-rib dinner–at cost. Do you have any idea how expensive that would have been?

The point is that there are plenty of ways to cut corners on price without cutting corners on style or quality.

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