How to Have a Budget Wedding in DC (or anywhere), Part 3: Catering

by Melissa on July 19, 2011

This is Part 3 of a multi-part series about having a budget wedding in the DC area.  There will be additional posts over the next few weeks.

Part 1: An Overview of Budget Weddings in DC

Part 2: Finding Budget Wedding Venues in DC

A lot of traffic to SuperNoVABride arrives here by visitors searching for  ”inexpensive wedding venue DC.”

On a budget in DC and looking for an inexpensive venue?  You’re asking the wrong question and looking for the wrong thing.

There are plenty of (relatively) inexpensive venues in DC.   However, have you ever looked at the breakdown of wedding costs?  More than half gets eaten up (no pun intended) by catering and bar service.

If you’re on a budget, you’ll need  to focus on inexpensive catering long before you look for an inexpensive venue.  Finding a real caterer in the DC area on a budget is very difficult.  We’re self-catering and getting some accompaniments delivered from a BBQ restaurant because budget caterers were so hard to find, even for our Friday, off-peak season wedding.

You may find a really inexpensive venue, but then find later that they have a very limited preferred caterers list, each of which starts at, for example, $80 per person.  So much for that inexpensive venue in DC, right?

If you are on a tight budget in DC, focus your searches on venues that have no catering restrictions.  That way, you have a lot more options to find food options that actually are within your budget.  Then, when you find that venue, your wedding catering options include:

1) Getting food delivered from a local restaurant that provides catering services. Restaurant catering will be leaps and bounds cheaper than a traditional catering service.  Some ideas are to check local Italian, Mexican, BBQ, etc. restaurants.  Many times they’ll offer catering services that are very reasonable and typically include things like setup.  Many restaurants that also offer catering offer two types: Full Service or Delivery.  With full-service, they’ll stay there and have service staff available to serve the food and help clean up.  With delivery services, they typically just drop it off with some paper plates and utensils, and all of the serving dishes are disposable.

2) If you have a small enough guest list, have your reception at a small banquet room at a restaurant.

3) If you do feel the need to go with a more traditional type caterer for your wedding, the phrase “picnic style catering” or “corporate catering” menu is your friend. These options are typically less gourmet-like type meals that caterers offer for regular parties and for company events.  While not for the foodies, asking for picnic or corporate style catering for your wedding can drastically reduce your catering costs for your wedding in DC.  With that said, I when we were researching picnic and corporate catering early in our engagement, I was disappointed.  While the prices were considerably less expensive than the traditional catering, you really didn’t get a whole lot for your money.  Chicken with a simple sauce (one entree) and maybe one or two sides was in the $65 per person range.  Yes, it was cheaper than $110 per person, but is $65 per person really worth it for “chicken with a simple sauce?”

4) Research carefully all the extras, especially alcohol packages. Alcohol package prices ranged SO much.  I think the highest we saw for an open bar was $39.00 per person (using non-premium liquors), and the cheapest was around $14.95 per person.  Beer and wine only packages weren’t that much cheaper.  Soda packages can also be incredible expensive (and in addition to the alcohol packages).  One caterer quoted us $8.95 per person for soda.  So, if you find that a caterer has reasonable food prices, make sure that you take the alcohol beverage prices into account, if you plan on serving alcohol at your wedding.

5) Decreasing your guest list to save money on catering does not always work. Most caterers we interviewed had a food and beverage minimum, typically somewhere in the range of $8000-$10,000.  Let’s say that you’re planning on having 100 guests at your wedding, and that your caterer is charging $80 per person ($8000 total).  Well, perhaps you’re willing to lower your guest list to 75 people to save money on catering (lowers it to $6000).  Well, if that caterer has an $8000 food and beverage minimum, you’re not going to save any money between 100 or 75 guests.  Of course, if you want to invite 200 people to your wedding, decreasing your guest list could make sense, but make sure you determine if the caterer has a food and beverage minimum first!


I would love to hear how other couples in the DC area kept their catering costs low.