Most couples spend between $1800 and $7000 on wedding food alone. Getting your reception food budget under control is one of the quickest routes to getting your entire wedding budget under control.

Here are a few different ways you can slash that food budget without sacrificing your ability to have a beautiful, fun wedding. 

Note: you should plan your food budget and make these decisions before you finalize your guest list and send out invitations. You also will want to do this before you finalize your venue. Fine-tuning each of these variables is key to helping you control food costs, and you will want to keep your options open.

Skip Venues That Require In-House Catering

Choosing a venue that requires you to use their own, in-house catering can be convenient. Yet that convenience comes at a cost: the venue gets to charge vastly inflated prices, and you lose the option to embrace other, less expensive options.

There are plenty of options that won’t cost you an arm and a leg (some of them offer options for saving on the venue, too).

Keep Food On-Theme

Planning your menu around a single theme can help you save money by keeping you focused.

For example, if you’re planning a Tex-Mex theme you can put together carnitas and chicken fajitas, toppings, tortillas, Spanish rice, and refried beans. Then add some chips, guac, and salsa, sour cream and maybe some churros. You’ve pulled together an entire menu without going overboard.

Staying on theme can even keep alcohol costs under control. If you’re serving margaritas to go with your Mexican food, you can load up on tequila and the ingredients for five types of margaritas, and that’s it: you don’t have to buy 5000 types of alcohol. People may also be inclined to drink less with one special signature cocktail to savor.

Go Homemade

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. Making your own wedding food can turn a $2000 catering bill into a $400 grocery bill.

You can create amazing Instant Pot dips and add chips. Add some crudites with an entirely different dip, and put out some fresh fruit. Put wine, beer, soda, and water on ice. Create some fanciful appetizers (you can even warm up some frozen ones if you want).

What about entrees?  Create an incredible pot roast and carve it up. Pulled pork or pulled chicken can go a long way on very little money. Shred chicken thighs to save a little money on the meat: people won’t be able to tell the difference. Soups are another good choice: you can stretch them pretty far. Velvet chicken soup looks fancy but uses cheap ingredients. Mock turtle soup is another popular option.

There are a number of amazing menus and signature drinks that you can come up with. Here are some menus for inspiration.

Make Charcuterie Boards and Add Appetizers

Timing is everything when it comes to controlling food costs. Hold your reception in the afternoon, after people have already had lunch and long before supper. This allows you to have a drink-and-appetizer only wedding. 

Charcuterie boards are amazing: people love them and they’re still classy. Add a few small tarts, sandwich quarters, and petit-fours. Make some puff pastry in advance: it’s cheap to make, if time-consuming, and you can use it to showcase all manner of pretty meats, spreads, and garnishes. Puff pastry also helps you make fruit-and-cream cheese desserts.

Open the bar, and allow everyone to enjoy some light snacks while they celebrate your big day. Keep the atmosphere light, friendly, and fun, and people will have a great time.

Create a Food Bar

Food bars are all the rage! Think taco bars, grilled cheese bars, baked potato bars, burger bars, omelette or waffle bars—any food bar where you give people a base and toppings they can add themselves tends to be a big hit at any gathering.

This is a great option if you want to buy food from the grocery store and put it out. Presentation makes the food all look fancy and a little technique ensures it tastes as great as anything a fancy catering company might put out.

Check Your Local Restaurants for Group Meal Prices

Your very favourite restaurant might offer full buffet-style meals for very reasonable per-head pricing. Check out Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean, and BBQ restaurants for places that might offer huge food portions for very low prices.

If it’s a restaurant you spend a lot of time eating at then you already know the food is good and filling.

Hire Food Trucks

Food trucks are trendy and fun, and people enjoy using them. Food truck catering costs usually run between $10 to $35 per guest, which means if you’ve controlled your guest lists you can control your costs.

In some cases they’re trendy enough that you can even invite multiple food trucks and let attendees pay. This is ideal for an outdoor event where you have a lot of people milling about a large space. The trucks may still ask you to guarantee a minimum amount of sales: that is, you agree to pay the difference between what they sell and that minimum if they fall short, but you still may walk away paying a lot less than you otherwise would.

You’ll need at least one food truck per 200 attendees, so keep your guest list in mind when considering this option. This won’t exactly be cheap, but it’ll be cheaper than catering for 400 people.

Still, struggling?

Controlling costs at a wedding usually comes down to controlling your guest list. If you’re still having trouble getting your food costs into your budget you may need to consider ratcheting back on the number of guests you invite.

Cutting the guest list can be painful, but it may be the only way that you can reasonably make your food budget work for you. If you’ve done everything else, from having a late afternoon reception to heading to the grocery store and you still can’t make it work? Go back to the drawing board and go for a little more intimacy.

Finally, remember it’s not about how much money you spend. It’s about how creative you get with various presentations. The point of a wedding is to be memorable. So long as people remember it for being fun, quirky, warm, or romantic, nobody is going to turn up their noses just because you’re serving them on a budget.

A wedding is a celebration of love, family, and, hopefully, a long and happy future. Keep that at the forefront of your mind, and you’ll make your guests happy regardless of what you choose to serve.