Average Cost of Catering for Wedding

Average Cost of Catering for Wedding
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Forget the dress, the flowers, or even the venue; food is what truly fuels a wedding. But how much does it cost to keep those rumbling tummies happy? While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, here’s what you need to know about wedding catering costs. 

Key Takeaways

  • What you choose to serve, how many people you invite, the type of service, and the caterer can change the price a lot. Fancy foods or special diets cost more.
  • Different ways of serving food (like plated meals or buffets) and different caterers (like full-service or just food drop-off) affect how much you’ll spend.
  • Indoor weddings usually cost less than outdoor ones because you might need extra things like tents or kitchen equipment. 
  • How you handle drinks (open bar, just beer and wine, or cash bar) can change the cost. Beer and wine are cheaper than hard liquor.
  • Experienced caterers who offer more services usually cost more. The kind of food, how it’s presented, and the caterer’s popularity also make a difference.
  • You can spend less by choosing a buffet, limiting expensive drinks, picking seasonal food, and cutting down on appetizers. 
  • Understanding what you can get for your money, setting a clear budget, and talking to several caterers can help you find the right one that fits what you want and can afford.

assorted dishes at a wedding buffet with labels

How Much Is Catering for a Wedding?

The cost of your wedding catering will depend on these key factors:

Menu Selection

One of the biggest factors influencing catering costs for a wedding is the menu. The types of dishes, cuisine, and dietary accommodations can really add up. 

Cuisines like seafood or filet mignon tend to be more expensive than chicken or pasta dishes. The same goes for complicated dishes with rare ingredients or dishes that require ingredients that are not in season. 

Also, if you plan on having gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, or vegan options, this will likely raise the price a bit. 

Guest Count

The number of guests you plan to host will be one of the biggest factors in determining your overall wedding catering costs. In general, the larger the wedding, the more you can expect to pay per guest for catering.

Service Style

elegantly set round wedding dining tables

When it comes to service style, the options range from plated multi-course meals to casual buffet lines or food stations. Each service style requires a different number of servers, chefs, and other staff to pull it off smoothly, which means the cost will vary. 

Rental Costs

Most venues do not include tables, chairs, linens, and dishware, so you’ll need to rent them for the reception. If you’re hosting an outdoor wedding, you may also need to rent heat lamps, fans, or AC units, tents, lighting, restroom trailers, and even a dance floor.

Location and Venue

a bride and groom holding hands

Having your wedding catered at an indoor venue like a hotel ballroom or indoor restaurant space is generally less expensive than an outdoor venue. With outdoor venues like farms, gardens, or parks, the caterer usually needs to rent a kitchen onsite and bring in all supplies and equipment. This adds labor, transportation, and rental costs.

Also, you need to take into account the location. For example, catering in New York City or San Francisco could easily be $150+ per person, while catering in a small town may only cost $50-75 per person. The price difference is largely driven by higher labor, ingredients, and operational costs in big cities.

Caterer Type

The type of caterer you choose can have a big impact on cost. Here are some of the main options:

  • Full-service caterers – These caterers handle everything from food preparation to service staff to rentals, and they are the most expensive option.
  • Drop-off caterers – They simply prepare the food and drop it off. You’ll need to arrange rentals, servers, etc. 
  • Freelance chefs – You hire an independent chef to prepare the food, and many of them are quite affordable.

Bar Service

a bartender serving drinks at a wedding bar

The bar service is a major cost driver for wedding catering. Couples have a few options when it comes to the bar; they can either have a full open bar, a limited open bar, or a cash bar. The least expensive of these is a cash bar, where guests pay for their own drinks. 

Plus, you need to take into consideration the cost of the alcohol. In general, beer and wine are the most budget-friendly options. Mixed drinks, premium liquors, and champagne definitely cost more. 

Choosing a Caterer

The catering company you choose will have a significant impact on your overall wedding catering costs. Caterers can vary widely in terms of pricing, service offerings, experience level, and more. Here are some key factors to consider when researching caterers:

  • Experience level – More established, reputable caterers with extensive wedding experience will typically charge higher prices than newer or less experienced companies. However, they may provide better service, food quality, and overall execution. 
  • Service offerings – Full-service caterers that provide food, servers, rentals, and setup/cleanup will have higher costs than companies that only supply the food. Know what’s included and where you may need to bring in additional vendors.
  • Type of cuisine – Caterers specializing in certain cuisines (French, Italian, etc.) or gourmet offerings may have higher price points than standard American fare. Exotic ingredients, imported foods, and extensive prep can increase costs.
  • Presentation style – Highly customized, elaborate food presentations and stations require more labor and often boost costs over a simple buffet or family-style options.
  • Reputation and demand – Top caterers in high demand for their quality and service may charge premium prices, especially during peak wedding season. 

Tips for Cutting Wedding Catering Costs

When it comes to wedding catering, there are many ways couples can reduce costs without sacrificing quality. Here are some top tips for cutting catering costs:

  • Go with a buffet-style meal – Buffets tend to cost less per head than a seated, served meal. You can still offer high-quality food; just let guests serve themselves.
  • Limit bar service – An open bar all night can get very expensive. Consider limiting it to beer and wine only, shutting it down an hour before the reception ends, or offering just a signature cocktail. 
  • Design menus around what’s in season – In-season ingredients cost less.
  • Cut back on appetizers – You can offer just a few passed apps during cocktails rather than many choices. Guests will be satisfied with less.
  • Shop around – Get quotes from several caterers before booking. Let them know you’re price-sensitive – they may work with you.
  • Skip extra rentals – Linens, chairs, and tables all add up. See what’s included with your venue before renting.
  • Simplify the cake – Fondant, extra tiers, and elaborate decorations increase the price. Opt for a simple iced cake in your wedding colors.
  • Check vendor discounts – Ask about any discounts for booking during off-peak times or for a large guest count. 
  • Provide your own alcohol – Providing your own wine and beer saves significantly over the caterer supplying it.

Final Thoughts

Planning a wedding involves juggling many moving parts, and picking the right caterer is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. By understanding typical costs and packages, setting a realistic budget, getting multiple quotes, and negotiating effectively, you can find an option that fits your vision and needs. 



  • Dacia Flowers

    Dacia Flowers is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) with a major in Cultural Anthropology. Since graduating in 2019, she has expanded her expertise and applied her anthropological background in the practical domain. As the Administration Manager at CMJJ Gourmet since August 2022, Dacia handles crucial day-to-day operations, ensuring the warehouse's optimal functionality, timely delivery of orders, and managing invoices. Her commitment to excellence and in-depth understanding of organizational dynamics stem not just from her academic prowess but also her personal passion. Beyond her professional responsibilities, Dacia has a keen interest in reading, loves to travel, and stays active through regular exercise.

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