Wedding catering cost guide

A meal is an essential part of any wedding. A great meal will praise the wedding, while a bad one will remain one and only memory in the guests' recollections of your special day. For this reason, spouses-to-be consider so carefully the choice of their menu, catering stuff, and the drinks accompanying it all. Learn the prices and orient yourself in terms of budget planning for your wedding day.

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Wedding catering includes food and drinks that are served at a wedding reception. The kinds of food and beverages, as well as the type of their serving, significantly influence the cost of the service. On average people spend about $95/guest-$200/guest with the lower end signifying cost for buffet serving and the higher end standing for plated dinners. Statistically, average wedding parties include 120-150 guests present which represents the average total wedding catering cost between $11,400 and $30,000.

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Wedding catering types

The type of wedding catering determines the cost of services. There are four main types of catering serving which can be combined if needed.

Plated dinner

This is a traditional sit-down meal. In this scenario, you decide on the menu of all courses and your guests are served with the meal at their tables. This is the most formal type of wedding serving. In-house catering services such as hotels, country clubs, or resorts, charge between $125/guest and $350/guest.


Buffets are considered more casual and relaxed type of wedding reception. Here you decide on the menu but your guests are able to choose the type of food they would like to eat. This is the most popular type of wedding food and beverages serving which is chosen by about 50% of all newly-weds. The cost of buffet meals heavily depends on the number of dishes and stations you will have, but the average cost is $15-$30/guest.


This option of wedding food serving is a combination of a plated dinner and a buffet. Family-style serving means that servers bring all the food on big plates for each table and then guests share the meal among themselves at their tables. Even though it’s a less common option, it can be very appropriate for large weddings with a limited budget. The cost of family-style wedding dinners is about $70-$180/guest.


This is a more modern food service style. In this case, all food is either placed at different stations or passed around by servers as hors-d'oeuvres. Most newly-weds who choose cocktail-style wedding receptions combine both strategies. Generally, this type of receptions costs a little less than family-style serving ($45-$130) even though it requires more manpower.

Be careful with the per-guest prices when calculating your wedding catering cost because not all caterers include labor into the cost (this is particularly true for the “outside” caterers).

Cost-related questions

What is the minimal people count?

If you’re hiring a well-known caterer, then be ready that the company might have a minimal people count for its services. Generally, it’s 40-50-person minimum dinner, however, this is not a fixed number for the industry. Ensure to discuss the guest count with your caterer so that later on you won’t have to pay for non-existing people.

Is beverage serving included into wedding catering price?

Beverage serving is included in the wedding catering cost. However, it spreads only on non-alcoholic beverages, such as water, juice, tea, or coffee. Not all catering services provide alcoholic beverages serving because this means that liquor license is required. If your caterer does serve alcoholic beverages, then add about $8-$10/guest for beer and wine and $10-$17/guest for an open bar.

What additional expenses are not included in the price?

Labor may not be included into the caterers' estimate, especially if you deal with the “outside” catering companies. Generally, the cost will be about $15-$25/hour for every waiter and about $45-$80/hour for a chef.

Apart from that, drink serving might be out of the question if the caterer doesn’t have a liquor license. In this case, it’s advised to hire a bartender for about $150 for 4 hours and $50 for every additional hour, and set up a bar for your guests.

Some caterers don’t also include cake-cutting or wine/champagne corking service to their price list, so be ready that such services may cost additional $1-$3 for every cake and/or bottle.

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How to save on wedding food and drinks

Wedding catering cost can be tricky and add up while you’re not looking. So it’s important to control everything regarding food and beverages at the reception. Here are a couple of tips that will help you stay within the budget line:

  • Cocktail hour is traditionally accompanied by more expensive food items (such as shrimp, lobster, caviar, etc.) So serve these foods as hors-d'oeuvres while providing less expensive options for the main course.
  • By limiting the alcohol you not only save money but also avert conflicts among tipsy guests. Consider having one-two unlimited hard drinks for the guests, while limiting the rest of the bar.
  • It’s the early bird that catches the worm, meaning that the sooner you make all your reservations, the lower will be the prices. Statistically, about a quarter of couples, who make early reservations, ask their guests to pre-select their dinner entrée for the plated reception and save about 30%-40% on the total meal price.
  • Skip champagne because a lot of people just don’t like it! Don’t waste money on the unnecessary serving of this beverage.
  • Carefully count the guests and don’t overpay for the empty places at your wedding.

Other frequently asked questions

What are the different wedding bar options?

  • Full open bar: This is an expensive option and its cost depends on the amount of alcohol your guests will drink. In such a bar, you offer all kinds of alcoholic beverages to the guests including cocktails.
  • Limited open bar: This type of bar is better for couples with the limited budget. In this case, you have unlimited soft drinks, beer, wine, and one-two types of hard alcoholic drinks. Here you will be able to save even though you still cover all the expenses due to the limited amount of more expensive alcohol.
  • Cash bar: In this case, you leave all the expenses to your guests meaning that they pay for their drinks.

In terms of payment for a wedding bar, you have two options: per drink and flat fee. Consider which one will be more economical for your wedding. For heavy-drinking guests, a flat fee is a better choice; in case your guests are not drinkers at all, then a per-drink fee might be a safer bet.

When should I hire my wedding caterer?

Usually, couples book their wedding caterer together with a venue, as a set. However, if you want to get an "outside" caterer, try to do it at the same time as you order the venue and most vendors.

Bottom line

Wedding catering professionals can help you have a pleasant and tasty wedding reception to relax and please your guests. The average wedding catering cost is $95/guest-$200/guest which sums up to about $11,400 in total.

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