How Much Does Wedding Catering Cost?

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

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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.

How Much are Wedding Caterers? 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. (Also, keep in mind that wedding caterers' calendars fill up fast, so make sure to book your caterer far in advance of your big day!).
  • 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.

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).

What Are Some Different Ways to Present Your Food?

One of the factors that will play into wedding caterer costs is how you serve your wedding food. There are a few different ways you can present food at your wedding, including:

  • Full-service. Also known as a plated or sit-down meal, a full-service meal requires wait staff to deliver dishes to guests while they're searing at tables—similar to the service you'd receive at a high-end restaurant. Depending on the caterer, guests may be able to choose between a variety of entree options—or, if you want to keep costs lower, you may opt for a single entree (like salmon or chicken). When it comes to presenting food at your wedding, full-service is definitely the most formal.

  • Family style. With family style service, guests serve themselves from large plates of food that are stationed at their table. Guests take what they want from each plate, then pass along to their neighbor. If food runs low during the meal, wait staff may clear the empty plates and deliver more food.

  • Buffet style. With a buffet style food presentation, guests serve themselves from a buffet station that contains the entire meal—for example, bread, side dishes, and entrees. This is a more casual serving style, and can be a great option for larger weddings.

  • Cocktail style. If you don't want to serve a large, sit-down meal at your wedding, cocktail style—which includes passed hors d'ouevres and self-serve food stations (like a cheese and fruit table and carving station)—could be a good option.

How Much are Wedding Caterers? Photo Credit // Yasmin Khajavi Photography

What Are Some Other Bar Options?

Alcohol is expensive—and the bar option you choose can also play a major role in your total wedding caterer costs. Some of the bar options you may want to explore include:

  • Open bar. An open bar means that your guests can drink whatever they want (and however much they want) throughout your wedding. This is the most expensive bar option.

  • Limited open bar. A limited open bar means that guests can drink for free—but there are limits around availability. For example, you might have an open bar that only serves wine and beer (and if guests want cocktails, they'll need to pay cash)—or you might choose to have an open bar for the first two hours of your reception before switching to a cash bar.

  • Cash bar. With a cash bar, guests pay for their drinks out of pocket. Since guests will be paying for their own drinks, this is the most affordable bar option for weddings (at least for the couple getting married!).

How To Choose Your Wedding Caterer?

Not sure w? When you're considering which caterer is the best fit for your event, there are a few things you'll want to keep in mind, including:

  • What kind of food does the caterer specialize in? Different caterers specialize in different types of food—and if you have a specific cuisine or meal type in mind, you'll want to go with a caterer who has experience creating that kind of cuisine or meal. (For example, if you're having a traditional Italian wedding, you'll want to hire a wedding caterer that specializes in Italian cuisine. If your wedding meal is a brunch, you'll want to look for a caterer with an extensive breakfast/brunch menu.)

  • Does the caterer have experience with weddings? Catering a wedding is different from catering other types of events—so before you hire a caterer, you want to make sure they have plenty of experience catering weddings (and ideally, weddings with a similar number of guests to your event).

  • Can the caterer accommodate dietary restrictions? If you have guests that have dietary restrictions (for example, guests that are vegan or gluten-free), you want to make sure they have food to enjoy at your wedding—so before you choose a wedding caterer, make sure they can accommodate your guests.

  • Does the caterer host menu tastings? Before you commit to a wedding caterer, you'll want to try their food—so make sure that the caterers you're considering are open to doing a tasting before you move forward.