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What is the Average Wedding Catering Cost?

What is the Average Wedding Catering Cost?

The dinner for your wedding is an important part of your special day.  It’s the time when the formalities are over and everyone gets to relax and enjoy the delights you have chosen for them.  But how do you know how much you should spend on your wedding catering? Where to start? What to serve? How much to serve? Sit back and let us guide you through the process.

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Dining out with 127 guests

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When was the last time that you sat down and thought  – I know, let’s take 127 of our closest family and friends out to dinner and pay for everyone’. Er, probably never. Finding our one and only is a journey itself – planning the wedding that cements this relationship is as complicated as planning around the world trip in 3 months visiting every continent.  There are so many moving parts, so much to think about, and last but not least, how on earth do you keep your sanity and find room to actually enjoy this whole process?

It’s All In The Planning

Fear not, help is at hand. First and foremost. Fail to plan, plan to fail! The average wedding is entertaining 127 guests*. That is a lot of very disparate people to accommodate.  Separating out all the elements of your day is the first step and deciding your priorities is critical when it comes to planning your budget.

Allocate your budget first

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What is the vision of your day?  How formal do you want to be? What are the most important elements – venue, catering, guest list, dress?  Any of these can come first but remember, this vision needs to work across all areas if you want a seamless look and feel for your event.  

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Set your budget from day one but be aware – on average, couples underestimate their wedding budget by around 40%* once the true costs for everything is finalized. National average costs of a wedding are $29,858** but a city like Los Angeles can push that average to $34,000.

Be realistic.  Add a contingency.  Agree your priorities.

Greater Than The Sum of All Parts

Event Coordinator, Pam Augustus from LoveAnneJoy advises clearly segmenting your budget allocation from the start. Don’t go spending $50K on your venue and then only have enough budget left for a cheap catering company.  Your food offering should match the vibe of the venue – if your venue is high end but you only have enough budget left for average catering it will leave you and your guests feeling underwhelmed.  Likewise, don’t create an expensive vision of your day and then only allow for a cheap photographer. You will kick yourself if your memories captured are a poor reflection of your beautiful day.

Synergy only comes when all parts come together in a holistic manner and the whole becomes greater than the sum of all parts.

What Value a Wedding Coordinator?

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When you start racking up the cost of your wedding, you’ll notice your heart start beating faster and a slight feeling of panic creeping up on you.  When did this little celebration start mirroring the annual budget of a small nation? Planning without the cost for a coordinator can feel like the right thing to do.  However, this can be a false economy. The role of a coordinator becomes that of a conductor. Once you’ve found all your amazing vendors, a coordinator has the expertise and experience to bring them all together to orchestrate your vision. Their job is to really to get to know your so your day actually ‘looks like you’. A great coordinator should be seen as a cost saver, not an additional expense – think of them as insurance.  They will help you avoid the pitfalls, wasted dollars and disappointment. In the end, the coordinator services should pay for themselves.

Wedding Catering Costs

The average cost of the venue plus the catering for 120 people comes in around $12-15K for catering which includes food, staff, non-alcoholic beverages, and rentals*.  If you are real foodies, allow 35-45% of your overall budget for wedding catering. The average catering cost is $6,600.

Style of service will be a big determinant of cost as staffing levels will vary significantly.  A buffet can be more cost-effective as people serves themselves so less staff are needed. However, it’s a more isolating experience for your guests.  Family style is the favorite trend as it reflects the intimacy of sharing a meal together. However, more staff will be needed to bring the food to the tables. Discuss each service style with your caterer and understand how many staff are needed to deliver it.

Service Charge and Sales Tax

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Be sure to get your caterer to explain their catering prices including the percentages for service charge and sales tax – these are two different fees and each caterer can have different costs included under the service charge.  The service charge is the operational expense associated with a catered event but it normally does not include service staff costs.

Rentals

Your choice of venue can have a big impact on the cost of your catering.  Some venues will have a full kitchen on site, others provide the space only and everything has to be rented in, even down to preparation tables.  When you visit a venue, be sure to ask about catering facilities.

Flexibility with your dates

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If you are looking to save money, think about how flexible you can be with the dates of your big day.  In the same way that venues charge much less for weddings during their off-season months, so caterers can have flexibility in their fees during their quieter months.  If food is your biggest priority then be sure to chat this through with your caterer to see if your dream meal can be delivered cheaper at different times of the year.

Seasonality of produce

Working with your chef can make a difference to the wedding catering costs.  Your chef can recommend those ingredients which are in season at the time of your wedding day. This means you are not paying over the odds to have ingredients shipped from far and wide plus you are being much kinder to your planet by choosing those ingredients in season for your catering menu.

Be mindful of small things

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If budget becomes an issue, focus on some of the smaller elements of your catering as cutting out some of these can start chipping away at the overall costs.  Forget the traditional cake and just go with dessert. Instead of having an open bar, offer guests your favorite drink on arrival and have a paid bar for the partying (check out this blog post for more tips to help you select the amount of alcohol for your wedding.)  

The wedding plan journey can be a daunting road but with great advice and prudent planning, you really can make the journey as fun as the day itself!

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