Saving money on your big day should never involve sending guests home hungry. Fortunately, there are ways to plan an elegant reception dinner that fits within your budget. Here, clever, creative (and painless!) ways to cut costs—and still have your dream celebration.
Reinterpret the Classic Meal
No longer do filet mignon and lobster equal the pinnacle of menu elegance. What does? Thoughtful, homey farm-to-table fare. “Crispy chicken is all the rage,” says contributing editor Peter Callahan of Peter Callahan Catering in NYC. “With herbs, brioche, and sautéed mushrooms under the skin, the dish is on par with steak, at a fraction of the price.” Other great substitutions? Mini lamb burgers instead of baby lamb chops and cod cakes instead of costly seafood.
Is Mom famous for her lasagna? Does your guy’s grandpa make amazing meatballs? Give your caterer the recipes, tell their stories on your menu, and then guests will know the dishes are made with love.
Do Lunch or Brunch
Serving a midday meal is less expensive than the traditional evening reception. “It’s unexpected, the food costs less, and guests don’t drink as much,” says Melina Glavas, director of catering and events at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado. Pastries and quiche both fit the bill, and you can get creative with a coffee or mimosa bar.
Or Tea Time
An afternoon party with elegant finger sandwiches, scones, and sparkling wine is a sophisticated—and less expensive—idea for a reception meal.
Throw a Family-Style Fête
Skip the buffet in favor of this serving style to save on catering costs. “Plated or family-style dinners can be more affordable,” Glavas says. “Buffets and stations create waste, and you need to pay people to man them.” Try this hybrid: Have waiters serve a first course, like soup or salad; then, pass around family-style entrées and sides at each table. The shared platters double as décor and create a communal atmosphere.
Do Yourself a Favor
Instead of purchasing store-bought favors, box up Grandma’s cookies, along with her recipe, or bottle your own preserves to send home with friends and family.