The wedding meal and bar tab are typically your top wedding expenses. And with endless photos and magazine editorials featuring lavish stations, chic small bites and couture cocktails, it can be easy to get ahead of yourself and your pocketbook.
Here, two wedding-planning experts offer tips to balance your dream dinner-and-drinks spread with your budget realities.
Explore your options
Not sure if you’re feeling macaroni-and-cheese cupcakes and mugs of spiked cider or a raw bar and saketinis? Do a Google search for different wedding reception styles and see the results.
“Online resources put tons of options at your finger tips,” says Wendi Hroncich, founder of Seattle-based Ethereal Events. “You’re exposed to so much more than just what’s in your area, allowing you to pull ideas from experts around the world!”
“Use the images and ideas you find to build a dream menu that you can then share with your caterer and bartenders,” Hroncich says. “Pinterest is amazing for helping you clarify your vision.”
Of course, inspiration shots and menu requests are one thing, but you don’t want to go too far, to the point in which you are directing your chef on how to cook. “That’s a no-no!” says Andrea Lewis, founder of Memphis-based Andrea Lewis Events. But most caterers will be open to work with you to create a special dish or two or to design a menu in the style you want that also plays up their talents.
Need help finding the actual caterer? A Google search or wedding website may offer leads on caterers in your area. However, the best companies are typically found via referrals from past clients or other wedding vendors, says Lewis. Put out a request for suggestions on Facebook or Twitter (ask about food quality, price and how easy the caterers were to work with) and e-mail a florist or baker you love to see who tops their list.
Edit your selections
Couples can get carried away trying to do everything they see online, Hroncich says. The result can lack cohesion and get expensive.
Rein yourself in by deciding on your priorities. If your goal is a big party, an ample bar will help, Lewis says, but even “ample” doesn’t have to break the bank. She suggests offering a selection of white and red wines (Riesling to Chardonnay and Zinfandels to Merlots) and both a domestic and imported beer.
Kick it up a notch by offering regional products, cava or prosecco for your bubbly, and one or two favorite cocktails that you found during your online research. If you really want it all and don’t mind a little DIY, make sure you pick a venue that doesn’t charge you to bring in your own liquor, Lewis says. “That can save a few thousand dollars on your bar tab.”
Hroncich advises keeping costs down by choosing one or two things you truly fell in love with during your research that also will make a big impact. For example, you could have that gorgeous signature cocktail with a candied-fruit stir-stick and an elegant dessert table, but skip the 20 cute appetizers that caught your eye.
Or if you’re truly obsessed with small bites, focus on options that will satisfy guests faster. “Cheese and fruit will not fill people up for the night, but risotto balls and meat skewers will,” Hroncich says. And you can always ask your caterer to suggest unique and memorable dishes that are surprisingly budget-friendly, like gourmet renditions of stews, curries or even a hearty but stunning salad.