Money-saving advice from the pros
Here are some budget-wise suggestions from professional caterers:
– Select a time when appetites are low, such as 2 p.m. Wedding receptions then can be done nicely with just cake, punch, mints, nuts, cheese straws and open-face finger sandwiches for about $5 per person, according to Martha Jenkins, co-owner of Guy’s Catering in Tupelo.
She said a 7 p.m. reception that serves liquor and has a band playing will require the more expensive heavy hors d’oeuvres: Guests will need the heavier food if they are drinking, and they will be hungrier because it’s dinnertime.
– Set an upper limit on champagne costs. Tell the caterer in advance to serve only a certain number of champagne cases and then stop serving. (Alternately, the caterer can be instructed to check with a designated person who can approve any added costs before more champagne is opened.)
– Ask the caterer if he can offer a price break on alcoholic beverages. “Most caterers are willing to deal on that,” said Feather Burns, manager of Woody’s Restaurant and Lounge in Tupelo. “If you’re up-front about budget constraints, we’ll find a way to get to it.”
– Make a reasonable estimate of bar costs before deciding to include a bar in your reception. This can add to costs enormously, Jenkins said. For guidelines in estimating, ask the caterer to tell you the bar costs from a recent reception of a similar size. Generally, if a person drinks alcoholic beverages, he will consume about one drink every 30 minutes. About half to two-thirds of the guests usually drink at an event.
Jenkins said guests also tend to drink more freely than when they are buying drinks themselves because they perceive the drinks as “free.”
– Pick foods that are cheaper or that require less preparation. The budget-minded may wish to steer away from expensive menu selections such as tenderloin, which can cost about $12 per pound for good quality, Jenkins said.
Hors d’oeuvres and canapŽs that require plenty of hands-on preparation are often more expensive than quick-to-fix chicken drummies, Jenkins said.
Jenkins said, “We can do a basic dinner for 300 people in half the time we can make hors d’oeuvres for 300 people.”
– Be flexible and creative. Know the limits of your budget, and be prepared to make realistic adjustments in your preferred menu, Jenkins said. “I can usually do you a wedding reception for what you want to pay, but I can’t always give you the wedding reception you want for what you want to pay.”
– Choose a buffet over a sit-down dinner. Because they are preparing in quantities, caterers can be more flexible about buffet prices, Burns said.
– Be choosy about who does what. Deal directly with a business for the most savings, Jenkins said. Caterers must add a service surcharge if they hire the florist, book the band and do other additional convenience services for the customer.