How Much Will Your Wedding Catering Cost in 2019?

According to estimates and real quotes submitted by professional wedding caterers nationwide within the last 12 months, couples in the United States can expect to pay an average of $6,755 for their wedding caterer, which is an average of 21.7% of their total wedding budget. In terms of cost, this generally ranks number 1 in terms of cost ahead of reserving a wedding venue (you can see the complete nationwide list of wedding costs here).

Because these numbers are averages, they will appear higher than the median spent by brides who spendless than that on feeding their guests. Included in this category are Cost of Food, Beverage Costs, Alcohol, Staffing, Taxes, Rentals, and other miscellaneous Fees. Remember that although you will have a total budget for this category, it will be broken down to the amount you want to spend PER PERSON according to the number of guests invited.

2019 City and State Averages

Shown below are the average budgets couples have spent on wedding caterers over the past 9-12 months. How does your area compare?*NOTE: The amounts appearing below are updated throughout the year.

Top 10 Most And Least Expensive Cities

The Average Cost of Wedding Catering by State

StatesAverage Cost
District of Columbia$7,910
New Hampshire$7,127
New Jersey$8,863
New Mexico$5,363
New York$8,005
North Carolina$5,983
North Dakota$5,433
Rhode Island$7,382
South Carolina$6,200
South Dakota$5,126
West Virginia$5,493

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What is Included?

By definition, a wedding caterer is involved in the preparation and providing of food and beverage items and other related services for the wedding reception. Reception venues may include:

  • a banquet venue associated with the caterer

  • a restaurant or hotel, or

  • another location such as the home of a customer.

It's important to separate the catering component from the costs associated with the facility rental. While a facility may provide in house catering, the cost for these services per person should be a separate item in a couple's budget. Similarly, wedding planners and coordinators can also be considered wedding caterers if they are involved with the preparation and selling of food and drinks for an event. However, a couple's wedding budget should account for catering, venue rental, and the cost of hiring a wedding planner separately.

The vast majority of wedding catering will fall within the four categories of Hors d’Oeuvres / Appetizers, Stations, Buffets, and Plated Sit-Down Dinners.

Hors d’Oeuvres / Appetizers: Served at the wedding cocktail hour while your guests happily relax and talk about how beautiful your wedding was, these bite sized appetizers will set the tone for the rest of the reception. Pricing per person can range anywhere from two to twenty dollars. If your budget allows, you may want to consider serving several of the following more popular hors d’oeuvres:

  • Pigs in a Blanket

  • Meatballs

  • Mini Tacos

  • Shrimp Cocktail

  • Bruschetta

  • Sliders

  • Stuffed Mushrooms

  • Spring Rolls

  • Skewers/Kabobs

  • Empanadas

  • Crab Cakes

  • Fresh Fruit

  • Mini Quiche

  • Mac and Cheese Balls

  • Bacon Wrapped Scallops

Buffets: Save on serving costs/labor by allowing your guests to help themselves to whatever they like. Keep in mind that many times a buffet may be the more expensive option versus having plated meals distributed by servers because guests will simply eat more food with this option. If you do decide to go with a buffet, choose from the list below or create your own:

  • Garden or Caesar salad

  • Seafood (shrimp, crab, mussels, etc)

  • Pasta (lasagna, fettuccini, tortellini, etc)

  • Prime rib

  • Chicken (baked, marsala, fried, etc)

  • Fish (salmon, tuna, dolphin, etc)

  • Rice pilaf

  • Potato (wedges, baked, mashed, etc)

  • Bread (Focaccia, rolls, garlic bread, etc)

  • Vegetables

  • Fruit

Stations: Similar to buffets, stations are quickly gaining in popularity for weddings and the cost is often lower. Stations are generally priced by caterers assuming that the average guest will get up and visit an average of three different “stations” to get their food of whatever you are serving. Popular ideas for stations could include a seafood station, pasta station, carving station, taco bar, BBQ station, etc. Cost of labor involves having attendants refill each station as well as serve if you do not want guests to serve themselves.

Plated Meals: This quintessential wedding fareis perfect for both formal and intimate wedding receptions. It involves your guests relaxing at their tables while servers give them a choice of menus to order, generally consisting of a main dish (such as steak, chicken, and fish) and two sides consisting of a vegetable and a starch such as potato. A choice of dessert may also be involved according to what was negotiated by the couple. While couples will pay more for labor/servers, they can expect to pay less on food costs versus other options such as buffets or stations. As with any formal banquet, you can add as many courses as you like if your budget allows it. For example, a traditional seven course meal can be as follows:

  • Hors d’oeuvre / appetizer (can be hot or cold)

  • Soup Course

  • Salad Course

  • Palate cleanser such as lemon sorbet

  • Poultry, Salad, or Fish Course

  • Main Course Red meat, Poultry or Fish with vegetables

  • Dessert (wedding cake or other)

Key Points to remember:

  • In 2019, the cost for wedding cateringwill expect to average out to 21.7% of a couple’s total budget, which is currently around $6,755 for the average US couple.

  • Pricing will be charged by your caterer on a per person basis.

  • Couples have several options to choose from, which will not only determine what food and drink will be served, but how it will be served and for how much per person. There are 4 categories of catering to choose from: Hors d’Oeuvres / Appetizers, Stations, Buffets, and Plated Sit Down Dinners.

  • Choosing to serve food via stations or buffets may or may not be cheaper than the traditional plated sit down dinner, depending on the associated costs of the food selected and service involved with that selection.

  • Remember to factor in additional costs that will add to the total cost per person, such as alcohol, fees and taxes, gratuities, toasts, and other costs.

Tips on Saving Money on Your Wedding Caterer

You’ve planned the perfect wedding, compiled your guest list and have begun to interview fantastic local caterers for the big day. What to do if you’re shell shocked with the per guest estimates you’re receiving for food and drink? Don’t worry, we have some tips on how to lower your costs and stay within your desired budget.

  • Pricing is per head, so before anything nail down an accurate guest count as early as possible to get an accurate count and realistic idea of what your costs will be! Have your bridesmaids individually call everyone that hasn’t responded to your RSVP if you have to.

  • Have your reception at an earlier time of day, such as brunch. The food eaten at this time will be lower priced, and you’ll also serve less alcohol.

  • Skip the appetizers entirely. Doing so will also cut on the cost of service, rentals, and even alcohol as there is less time for your guests to be milling about with cocktails.

  • Save an incredible amount by asking if your reception facility allows you to bring your own alcohol.

  • Stick to venues that will allow you to provide your own caterer. Many locations require you to use their in-house service, which will limit what you are able to serve and be more expensive.

  • Food and service is always priced per person, so trim your guest list accordingly if you don’t want to skimp on quality.

  • If you’re not allowed to BYOB or the charge is unacceptable, limit the booze to just beer and wine, which are much more budget friendly. If you must have liquor, limit it to a single signature drink for the event.

  • Save on the costs of servers by having your appetizers placed on a table for your guests to help themselves during the cocktail hour.

  • Can’t afford the bacon wrapped scallops? Go with lower priced options within your budget so your guests won’t go hungry while waiting.

  • For the main meal, compare buffet versus plated meals and go with the more affordable option.

  • If you like the idea of stations, it does give you the flexibility of choosing food that suits your taste and budget. For example prime rib and shrimp will cost more than pasta.

  • A big trend recently is to skip the sit down dinner by serving heavy appetizers instead. As a bonus to the savings, your guests will be able to mingle more than they would otherwise.

  • Eliminate the cost of champagne as well as the venue charges for a formal champagne toast which many of your guests won’t drink anyways by simply having the best man stand up and offer a toast at a designated time. Your guests will toast with whatever drink they have on hand at that moment.

  • Create your own Hors d’Oeuvres if you don’t wish to remove it entirely from your reception. It simply takes a bit of thought by choosing appetizers that can be prepared ahead of time and/or frozen and warmed up when needed. You will likely save 50% of the cost of this course by doing this.

  • If you have a restaurant you really enjoy, then order your appetizers or food take out and save an incredible amount that way.

  • Substitute china plates and glassware for less expensive options.

  • Tips on saving money on your wedding cake can be found here.

So how much will your wedding caterer charge on the big day? If you’ve read the above you will know that the answer is ‘it depends’ on a lot of factors. As you can see, couples have plenty of options to satisfy their guests with great food and an even better experience, while saving money at the same time! Whether or not your reception venue requires you to use their in house catering service, you should put in the time and effort of reviewing and negotiating all your options before agreeing on what food and drink to serve. Remember that service fees, equipment, labor, rentals, gratuities and taxes will also contribute to the bottom line you pay, so figure out how much you want to spend per guest and stick to it!