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How Much Does it Cost to Cater a Wedding

Every week, people call me with the question: “How much does it cost to cater a wedding?”  My Answer: “It depends.”  There is so much that goes into catering a wedding reception that is difficult for me to give an accurate quote without knowing and discussing all of the details.  Hopefully the following information will help you as you prepare for purchasing your wedding reception catering. 

Set a Budget

A budget is a plan for your expenses that helps you spend a comfortable and predetermined amount of money and helps you stay in control.  There are many resources available online and through wedding professionals that help you anticipate and plan for expenses.  Some recommend that you base your spending on percentages or averages.  However, if you have a limited overall budget, the suggested percentage for catering may be unrealistic.  I suggest that you first determine a dollar range which you are comfortable spending.  Using a range instead of a flat amount gives you a goal (the lower end of the range) with room to fudge if necessary (the upper end of the range).  If anything, this relieves some of the stress associated with spending.  Once you are comfortable with your spending range, its important to use a worksheet to itemize all of the different aspects of the wedding.  You may also consider using a service such as to help keep track of your budget.  Then, the real work begins.  Most of the averages available online are national averages and may not be realistic for your market.  The best way to estimate costs is by doing research.  You can call, look at your vendors’ web pages, or ask your friends.  This research will help you come up with accurate estimates.  It will also help you determine if some of the items suggested on the worksheet are important to you or even necessary.  Budgeting is all about priorities.  If a particular aspect is not that important to you, then don’t worry about spending an overwhelming amount of your budget on it.  Remember, if you call, don’t just ask how much it costs- see the “Apples to Apples” section below to see why I say that.

Apples to Apples

If you call me about catering your reception and I tell you that it will cost $25 per person, does that really help you?  Not unless you know exactly what that $25 will get you.  Is that just for food?  Are servers, linens, or drinks included in that price?  More importantly, how different is my $25 per person catering than that of my competitor?  It is important that you compare your vendors as evenly as possible to determine  which one will suit you best.  Be willing to meet with potential vendors during the research portion of your budget planning.  That way, you will know exactly what you’ll be getting for that $25.  Most likely, a vendor will work with you and your budget if they know you are sincere and not just shopping for the best price.  Shopping vendors is all about value, not price.  You may even decide that you like that vendor so much you would be willing to change some of the other items in your budget to make room for them.

Type of Food/Service

Much of the cost of your catering depends on the type of foods you choose for your reception.  Hors d’oeuvres buffets usually cost the least.  However, adding stations to the hors d’oeuvres offerings can increase the cost substantially.  The food cost for a dinner is not necessarily more than that of hors d’oevures.  The difference in price usually comes from the china plates, glassware, and the additional servers needed to care for your guests in this setting.  *TIP- Choosing a ceremony and reception time outside of mealtimes will help you keep your costs down as you won’t need to provide quite as much food for your guests.

Catering Costs

There are several different costs associated with catering.  Many caterers try and make it easier for you by packaging everything together at one price.  With catering, not only will you be paying for the food, but there are costs for the service staff, equipment, plates and utensils, glassware, linens, coordination services, sales tax, etc.  *TIP- Many caterers own their own dishes and glassware and can rent them to you at a lower price than most rental companies.  You need to also take into consideration any service charges or gratuities that are added to the catering bill.  At Draper’s, our service charge is a fee that covers administration and coordination costs associated with the event and no portion of this fee goes to the wait staff in the form of a gratuity.  Usually, you are not obligated to pay a tip to your servers but you may choose to do so if you think they have done a great job…just make sure you budget for it.  You can find additional information about tipping here.

Your Guest Count

Aside from your food choices, no other decision affects your bottom line catering cost more than your guest count.  Make sure you know your caterer’s policy for changes and guarantees.  RSVP cards or websites can help with this decision.  It is definitely worth the few dollars for a self-addressed, stamped RSVP card if they will give you an accurate count on your reception attendance.  It is my experience that most brides overestimate their guest counts.  When half your expected guests don’t show up, not only does it waste your money, but it’s very discouraging and frustrating…I’ve seen it happen more than once.  *TIP- Get your bridesmaids to call the guests who haven’t responded yet.  Blame the caterer by telling them that you need to know as soon as possible to be able to give an accurate count.  You will always have guests who say they will be there not show up and there will be a couple who say they aren’t coming to take their place.  Just be deliberate with your guest count decision, something that could possibly save you quite a bit of money.


The Bar

Many people spend a fortune on the bar for their event, sometimes two or three times the amount they spend on food.  There are many venues in Memphis that allow you to purchase and serve your own alcohol, saving you a ton of money.  Just be sure that you have a licensed and insured bartender!  If the idea of providing your own alcohol, set ups, cups, ice, etc. seems overwhelming, many caterers provide bar services, the cost of which is still less than if you purchased drinks from the venue itself.  *TIP- You caterer will most likely serve any types of beverages you provide so, consider bringing nonalcoholic beverages such as sodas and bottled water with your alcoholic drinks.

-Ryan Draper, Operations Manager, Draper’s Catering of Memphis

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