Getting ready to hire a catering company for your wedding? Learn about the average cost of a wedding caterer with our complete guide.
By Deanna deBara
Photo by Corey Lynn Tucker Photography
All of your vendors come together to make your wedding day an unforgettable experience for you, your partner, and your guests. And one vendor that has a huge impact on your wedding day experience? Your wedding caterer.
Food (and, let’s be real, drinks) bring people together—and for many couples (especially couples who love to eat!), the caterer at their wedding plays a huge role in creating the kind of warm, welcoming ambiance they want for their big day.
But if you’re one of those couples, the question is: How much should you expect to pay for that ambiance—and the food and drink that goes along with it?
How Much Are Wedding Caterers?
Let’s get right to it: How much should you expect to pay for a wedding caterer?
While there are a number of factors that play into final catering costs (which we’ll jump into shortly), the average cost of wedding caterers in the US is $4,000, with most couples spending between $1,800 and $7,000. Keep in mind that the cost of a wedding caterer will vary depending on a number of different factors, including?.
Some of the average catering costs per person include:
Plated meal: $40 per person
Buffet-style meal: $27 per person
Bar service: $15 per person
Hors d’oeuvres: $20 per person
While these averages can be helpful in planning your wedding budget, there are a variety of factors that can impact your total wedding catering cost.
What Do Wedding Caterer Costs Cover?
Every wedding caterer is different—and, as such, many wedding caterers will include different things in their packages. It’s important to read your contract to understand exactly what’s included with your wedding caterer’s fees, but generally speaking, a wedding catering package may include:
Wedding food: The main job of your catering company is to provide food for your wedding, so food (typically appetizers for your cocktail hour and a full meal, like a lunch or dinner) will be included in their catering package.
Servers and other necessary wait staff: Generally, your wedding catering company will also provide staff to serve the food and bus tables (although servers, bussers, and other wait staff may also be provided by the wedding venue).
Beverages: Your caterer may also offer options for beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. (This isn’t always the case; in some instances, caterers will stick to food. In that case, you’ll have to hire a bartender to handle the drinks at your wedding venue.)
Supplies: Your caterer should also provide any supplies necessary to prepare and serve food on your wedding day, including serving platters, serving utensils, and cocktail napkins for appetizers.
Rentals: Some caterers also offer a variety of rentals for your wedding reception and cocktail hour, including linens, place settings, and wine or cocktail glasses for your signature wedding cocktail.
What’s included in your wedding catering package will directly impact the final price. For example, a wedding caterer that provides linens, place settings, and a fully stocked bar and wait staff along with their food is likely going to cost more than a caterer who just handles appetizers and dinner.
Before you decide on a caterer when doing your wedding planning, make sure you read your contract and understand what’s included in their package. By doing so, you won’t overpay for things you don’t need—and you won’t be surprised when you realize your package doesn’t include the catering support you need for your big day.
Photo Credit // Daniel Neal Photography
What Factors Play Into the Cost of a Wedding Caterer?
In addition to what a wedding caterer offers in their standard wedding packages, there are a number of factors that can play into the final cost, including:
Guest headcount: Obviously, the more guests you have at your wedding, the more food your caterer is going to have to prepare—and the higher the price will be as a result.
Wedding date and location: Wedding caterers may charge more for in-demand times and dates (for example, on a Saturday in the middle of the summer). Location can also play into price. For example, a wedding caterer in Manhattan may charge more than a wedding caterer in a small town in the Midwest.
Menu: Your wedding menu can also impact the price. For example, a selection of five appetizers is probably going to cost more than a selection of three appetizers; offering three entrees may cost more than two entrees; and choosing a complex menu with a lot of ingredients is likely going to drive up food costs and make for higher catering costs.
Menu tasting: Most caterers offer menu tastings, so you can get a feel for the food before your big day, but most will upcharge for the service.
Serving style: The way you choose to serve food at your wedding can play into the final cost. For example, plated dinner meals tend to cost more than buffet-style meals—and passed hors d’oeuvres tend to cost more than static food stations.
Staffing needs: The more staff your wedding caterer needs for your wedding day, the higher the cost will be, since each of those staff members needs to be paid.
Bar: How you structure your bar can also have a big impact on your wedding caterer costs. For example, a full bar will cost more than just wine and beer.
Photo Credit // Yasmin Khajavi Photography
What Are Some Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding Caterer?
Working with a tight wedding budget? Here are some ways you can potentially cut catering costs when wedding planning:
Choose a more affordable time to get married: If you want to save on your wedding catering budget, consider getting married outside of the peak times. So, for example, you might be able to get a better deal if you get married on a weekday, during the off season, or earlier in the day.
Keep your menu simple: Generally, the more complex your menu (for both food and drinks), the higher the cost. If you want to save on catering expenses, keep your menu simple.
Think outside of the box: If you want to save on your catering budget, get creative. For example, you might hire a food truck instead of a traditional wedding caterer. Or, if your venue allows it, stock your own bar (buying alcohol yourself is typically less expensive than having a catering company provide that same alcohol).