True cost of food & drink

Understanding the cost of your wedding catering and wedding bar

By Emma Tuckley (editor of the Silverlinings Wedding Guide who started her wedding career working in wedding catering)


Food and drink are a major part of the wedding experience (no one wants h-angry guests!), so it’s no surprise that you’ll spend a big amount of your total budget on your wedding catering. The average wedding food and drink cost is £5,862*, and 33% of couples* spent more on food and drink than budgeted for, which suggests there is a lack of understanding on how much wedding catering costs.

If your wedding catering isn’t booked as part of your wedding venue, you should find your caterer immediately after you book your venue. Wedding fairs are a great place to meet caterers as you can usually try small bites. Most caterers will offer a private or group tasting session which is usually chargeable but deducted if you book; so only use the tasting to make your final decision!

The cost of a wedding catering package

Your wedding catering may be provided by your wedding venue, or you may need to hire an outside caterer. Reading a wedding catering contract can be a bit confusing, but in general, your wedding catering cost will be priced on a “per person” basis. A standard wedding catering package includes the following:

  • Food: You’re paying for the actual food that your guests will eat which actually makes up a surprisingly small amount of the ‘per head’ cost. Remember that locally sourced produce and seasonal food will cost less than food that would have to be sourced from elsewhere.
  • Staffing: From your event manager to chefs, waiters to bartenders, there are lot of staff that will go into making your wedding day a success. Work with your caterer to make sure that you have enough people on hand to ensure a smooth reception.
  • Equipment: Outside caterers will normally need to use hired in dishes, glassware, table linen, utensils, and more. A marquee wedding will have to have a mobile kitchen set up in the catering tent.
  • Additional fees: Be sure to read your contract carefully to make sure you understand your wedding catering cost. Check for ‘plus VAT’ as many caterers will quote ‘ex VAT’ – missing that could add an unexpected 20% to your bill.

Styles of wedding breakfast food

When determining your wedding food cost, how you’re planning on serving the meal can reflect on the price per head:

  • Plated: Otherwise known as a sit-down meal, your guests will be served their meal at their table by the waiting staff. There may be a single option or several options, which your guests can either order in advance (usually on their RSVP card) or at the event.
  • Buffet or BBQ: For a more casual serving style, guests serve themselves from a buffet station or a BBQ.
  • Platters: Servers provide large platters of food to reception tables, and guests serve themselves. A fun alternative is to invite a guest from each table to act as ‘chef’ to carve a big joint of meat for each guest!
  • Bowl food: A more modern service style, food is served as small bowls of food, eaten with a fork alongside canapes or small ‘bites’. This allows guests to walk around, and mix and mingle during the reception instead of sitting at their tables.

The ‘cheaper’ option

Most of the time, a wedding breakfast buffet or BBQ is indeed less expensive than a plated dinner. While you’ll pay less in staffing and hire equipment for a buffet-style meal, you’ll need more food since guests are serving themselves. To keep your buffet budget-friendly, avoid serving costly foods buffet-style or have staff on hand to serve, helping to keep the portions under control. 

*According to The UK Wedding Report 2018

The cost of alcohol 

When choosing your alcohol you need to keep two things in mind: corkage fees and the types of alcohol that you want to serve. Corkage fees can be expensive so any savings made by popping over to France can be negligible against the price of the house wines from your venue. But if you have a special bottle of Champagne that has a particular significance to you both, the corkage fees can be insignificant.

The kind of alcohol you serve also affects the price. Although a bottle of spirits will cost more than a bottle of wine, it will also serve more drinks, so cater to your audience when deciding what to get! You can save a lot of money by looking into the alcohol you’re serving at your wedding.

Wedding bar options

Depending on your guests’ preferences and your budget, there are several different ways that you can serve alcohol at your wedding. 

  • Open bar: A full open bar provides a variety of wines, beer, spirits, and non-alcoholic beverages. The wedding hosts pay for the entire bar.
  • Limited open bar: If you’re on a tighter budget, a limited bar may be a worthwhile option. This bar provides wine and beer (and perhaps a single type of spirit), as well as non-alcoholic beverages. It is common in the UK for the couple to pay for drinks up to the end of the wedding breakfast.
  • Cash bar: Guests pay for their own alcohol – simples!

Most venues and outside bar companies will offer a package for the reception drinks to include a drink (or ‘unlimited’ drinks) through the drinks reception, ½ a bottle of wine for the meal and a glass of bubbles for a toast.

For budget friendly packages, choose ‘watered-down’ reception drink like Bucks Fizz or Pimms. Opt for a Cava or Prosecco for the toast; remember, no one will see the bottle as it’s usually pre-poured.

6 Questions for your wedding caterer

  • How much flexibility do we have in terms of our menu options?
  • What service styles do you offer?
  • Can you handle allergies and dietary restrictions?
  • Do you have an alcohol license?
  • How do menu tastings work?
  • Can you provide other supplier meals?*

Top tips to save money on your wedding food and drinks

  • Skip a starter and serve canapes instead. Often more appreciated as guests are hungry, the cost should be less than serving 3 courses.
  • Use your cake for pudding. Most wedding cakes are wasted after they are cut in the evening, so cut it before guests are seated for the wedding breakfast and serve it with berries and cream.
  • For a more informal wedding, have speeches before everyone is seated which saves on serving a fresh glass of bubbles.
  • Serving the wedding breakfast later in the day reduces the need for evening catering. 
  • Have a Cheese Cake instead of a traditional cake and use it in the evening as a snack served with port.
  • Have an accurate number of guests when you talk to caterers as the per head cost can alter, up or down, depending on the number of guests you have.
  • Communication is key – tell your guests when and what they are eating so they can be prepared to ensure they have eaten sufficiently before they arrive.

Read more about alternative, non traditional wedding catering options in our top 7 alternative wedding catering ideas.


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