20 Budget-Friendly Wedding Catering Ideas
Feed your guests without breaking the bank.
Photo By: Bite Into Maine
Photo By: Tommaso Boddi
Photo By: Mike Coppola
Photo By: Stamey’s Barbecue
Photo By: The Washington Post
Photo By: Al-Ameer Restaurant
Photo By: Superdawg Drive-In
Photo By: The Waffle Bus
Photo By: Bite Into Maine
Photo By: Esther Tseng
Photo By: Brothers & Co.
Photo By: Shelsky’s of Brooklyn
Photo By: Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max
Photo By: Philabundance
Photo By: Micklethwait Craft Meats
Photo By: Root & Bone
Photo By: Luis Diaz Devesa
Photo By: Peter Cernoch
Photo By: PeopleImages
Inexpensive Catering Options for Your Wedding
When it comes to planning a wedding, one of the priciest and most memorable expenditures tends to be food; but, there really is no reason to throw away the equivalent of a mortgage down payment on feeding your friends and family. From food trucks and world-class barbecue to poke and crêpes, here are 20 inexpensive catering options that are sure to impress your guests. Whether you live near one of the following purveyors or not, keep these ideas in mind as you plan – and budget for – your fantasy wedding day.
Regional Fast Food Favorites
Every region has its classic chain favorite. Miami has Pollo Tropical, the east has White Castle and the west has In-N-Out. Many cool SoCal couples have hired the In-N-Out Truck to cater their big day. Starting at around $5 per head with a $1,700 minimum, feed your guests the iconic burger spot’s crisp American beef patties nestled in those springy, freshly baked buns. While the truck can’t do fries or shakes, guests can nosh on grilled cheese, hamburgers and those trademarked Double-Doubles that are stacked with two American beef patties, coated with American cheese, a slice of tomato, crisp lettuce and their famous Thousand Island-esque spread.
Shake Shack has garnered a massive cult following since opening in NYC’s Madison Park back in 2001. The 100 percent Angus beef patties, fully devoid of hormones and antibiotics, used in its ShackBurgers have become so coveted, the chain now has locations in 25 states and as far away as Japan, Bahrain, Turkey and the U.K. Now you can get those specially blended patties served to your wedding guests, too. Couples who are celebrating their special day in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania or the Atlanta-metro-area can hire the Shack Truck to satiate guests with the chain’s classic burgers, fries and shakes.
Many down-to-earth couples in the U.S. have been seeking out pitmasters for their wedding day. Some are definitely better than others, but brides and grooms in Greensboro, North Carolina really have it made with Stamey’s affordable Lexington-style ‘cue. For as little as $9.45 per person (plus tax), guests can pig out on western, slow-smoked pork shoulder flavored with ketchup and brown sugar-infused vinegar sauce that is fresh out of the wood-fired pit. Stamey’s catering packages come with its famous homemade slaw, baked beans, rolls, hushpuppies, iced tea and homemade peach cobbler dessert.
When you weren’t filling up on ramen during the broke days of your late teens and early twenties, you were probably satiating your hunger with spaghetti and jarred tomato sauce. Why? It’s a lot of bang for the buck. Honor your youth at your wedding with a chef-y upgrade. Couples tying the knot in St. Louis can hire James Beard, the award-winning chef of Gerard Craft’s Pastaria, to regale their guests without spending a fortune. Starting at just $13.20 per person, the modern trattoria will tailor a menu with top-notch salad and pasta, including their shaved kale salad with creamy anchovy dressing, organic bucatini all’ amatriciana and pistachio ravioli. Those who have a bit more cash to spend can add on an entree, like wood oven roasted chicken, red wine braised beef or wood oven roasted salmon, for around $21.20 per guest.
In the South, no one is going to be upset if you bring Publix subs to your wedding. However, there are far fancier options that speak to places all across the U.S. One of the most iconic is the muffuletta. They’re delicious and easy to eat. Italian immigrant Salvator Lupe came up with the idea while watching Sicilian farmer patrons struggle to eat platters of Italian salami, olive salad, cheese, Italian ham and bread on their laps outside of his Central Grocery – which is why it’s a great choice for wedding catering. It’s a good idea no matter where you’re getting married, but couples getting hitched in New Orleans (or who want to look into Goldbelly shipping) can hire Central Grocery to make their excellent sandwiches with just a few weeks of notice.
It’s hard to go wrong with Middle Eastern-Mediterranean fare. There’s a whole diet based on it! The plant-based dishes are often reasonably priced, too. If you’re hosting your wedding in or around Michigan, you’d be smart to consider Al-Ameer Restaurant. The three-decades-old restaurant has made it to numerous best restaurants lists, from Eater’s “38 Essentials” to the James Beard Foundation’s “America’s Classics.” You’d think it would cost an arm and a leg to have such prestigious chefs cater your wedding – it’s not. For less than $20 a head (pre-tax), Al-Ameer ‘s team will deliver a spread of fattoush and tabouli salads, hummus, falafel, roasted baby potatoes, rice and three main courses including garlic gravy chicken, stuffed lamb and a mixed grill of tender steak kabob, tawook (marinated chicken skewers) and ground beef kafta for as many as 500 guests.
What better way to represent the place of your nuptial union than with one of the city’s favorite foods? If you’re in weenie-loving Chicago, that could mean Superdawg Drive-In. Since 1948, Chicagoans have been flocking to the iconic drive-in for their proprietary beef hot franks, which are dragged through the garden with yellow mustard, sweet neon green relish, chopped white onion, a kosher dill pickle spear and hot sport peppers, before being stuffed inside a steamed poppy seed bun. The famous shop specializes in “Late Night Catering” with a $6.40 Superdawg and fry combo served in their signature boxes. They’ll come as early as you’d like if you prefer to serve dogs as the main dish.
Fun Food Trucks
Every city has a favorite food truck that has prompted at least a handful of locals to join Twitter just so they can see where it’s going to post up. In Houston, it’s The Waffle Bus. The inventive truck is considered one of the best in town, specializing in waffles that are perfectly crisp on the outside, and light and airy within. Those golden hued wrappers are easily held, sandwiching an array of interesting fillings like buttermilk-brined chicken breast and smoked salmon with lemon-caper cream cheese, spinach and sliced tomato with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Owner Phil Nguyen can handle crowds of up to 500 people, serving each one a sandwich, side and a drink. His minimum for catering is 60 people, which would cost just over $1,110.
Local Seafood Specialties
Every coastal or waterfront region has some local seafood specialty that is crazy expensive in other places but reasonably priced right off the docks. Lobster rolls sound fancy as heck in most parts of the country, but in Maine they can actually be pretty affordable. Mainers impress out-of-state friends with catering from Bite Into Maine. While the company’s trucks are now based in semi-permanent locations in Fort Williams Park and Allagash Brewery, they do offer drop-off and pick-up catering from their Scarborough commissary. Their famous lobster rolls are available in three different sizes, including their two to three bite finger rolls, which cost just $60 a dozen. Those enviable lobster-filled rolls are by far the star of the show, but the crew also makes large batches of sides like coleslaw, chowders and their fresh corn, cucumber and blueberry salad – which will satiate even that one crustacean-hating aunt.
Locally Loved Tacos
There are great taco trucks and stands no matter where you go in the U.S., but Angelenos really have it made with tons of world-class options spread throughout the city. Mariscos Jalisco is by far the most famous. The three trucks are Angel City institutions, serving arguably the best tacos dorado de camaron, in the entire U.S. Succulent shrimp are folded into a tortilla, then fried in hot oil until golden and crisp before being coated with creamy slices of avocado and tangy red salsa. And, yes, they cater events all over the city. They even pulled up to Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s place for a party. Their minimum is 80 guests (starting around $1,400 for tacos and ceviche) and they are happy to serve as many as 400 of your closest friends and family.
Dim sum is like the O.G. of finger foods. There is no way that guests won’t be wowed by trays of dim sum made by a great local specialist. The perfectionists behind IXLB Dim Sum Eats in Hollywood, California have served their world-class dumplings and baos to the lucky hordes of Netflix studios, the Golden Globes gift suite and the Beverly Greystone Manor. Depending on how much you want to spend, you can pick up, get it delivered or have them set up dim sum buffets manned by their staff. Go for the latter, especially if you have a big guest list. Your friends and family will surely be grateful as they stuff their faces with delicious shrimp wontons, veggie buns and Chinese broccoli.
Farmers Market Favorites
Do you love hanging out at your local Farmer’s Market? You might want to see if your favorite vendor can cater your wedding. Seattle Farmers Market mainstay Brothers & Co. started as a catering company before opening up their ramen and taco stands – and they offer the whole farmer’s market set up for weddings. They have nontraditional tacos (like smoked tea-brined chicken) on house-made triticale and wheat tortillas, and two ramen variations including “plant” (a savory vegetable-based broth) and “animal” (similar in richness to pork-infused tonkatsu) that are topped with local ingredients like greens, cultivated mushrooms and pork belly. Even the wheat and toasted rye they use to make the alkaline noodles hail from local farms. Is there a better way to show off your locavore cred? Probably not.
There’s no hard, set rule that a wedding must be an evening affair – or that dinner food must be served. Look to brunch, everyone’s favorite leisurely meal, to save some cash while noshing. Cue: bagels and lox. Shelsky’s of Brooklyn offers smoked salmon platters starting at $15 a head (add an extra buck for sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and lemons). Its hand-sliced nova is beautifully arranged on a serving tray with homemade bagels and bialys, as well as plain and scallion cream cheese. For vegetarians, they always recommend that couples add on some egg salad with cornichons, citrus roasted beet salad and maybe a couple of pounds smoked whitefish salad. It’s a simple idea, but it’s sure to be a delicious surprise for your guests.
Delicious, healthy and a great overall deal, it’s no wonder the poke has swept across the United States in a craze. The aforementioned attributes also make it a brilliant idea for wedding fare. Ask your local specialist if they’re willing to cater your big day. Washington State couples can get a menu devised by Food Network star, the “Godfather” of poke himself and owner of his eponymous Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max. Choy will send his crew to wedding venues across Seattle and Bellevue with platters of poke and whatever other island favorites (like garlic fried chicken and loco moco) you’d like to order for less $20 a head.
Catering with a Conscious
No matter how stressful planning a wedding may be, at the end of the day, you’re putting in the work because you were lucky enough to find your person and have friends and family who want to celebrate your union. Talk about #blessed. Share the love by using a socially conscious catering organizing like Philabundance Community Kitchen in Philly. The nonprofit is not just affordable – appetizers like Maryland crab cakes, tandoori chicken skewers and caramelized onion, Gruyere flatbreads start at $10 per guest – but they also support job training for low-income adults looking to get their start in the culinary arts. You and your guests will enjoy artfully prepared, thoughtfully-sourced food while helping to support students, graduates and the local North Philadelphia community.
New School Barbecue
Barbecue has been an American classic since well before the land that makes up the United States was dubbed America. But, over the past decade or so, a new generation of pitmasters across the country have taken smoked meats to all new levels of cool. Hire your local trucker hat-wearing barbecue crew to cater your marriage ceremony. In Austin, Micklethwait Craft Meats can set up a cocktail buffet for $17 per guest (75 guest minimum) with your choice of three meats and three sides. That includes wood-scented picks like brisket, sausage and bone-in chicken with new school sides ranging from campfire chili beans and braised greens to jalapeno cheddar grits and lemon poppy seed slaw.
Crisp, juicy and readily available, fried chicken has been a favorite among picnickers and party organizers across the U.S. for ages. There are talented cooks frying up excellent fried chicken no matter which city or town you’re in. (Just look for a Popeyes if you’re stumped!) But in New York City, Miami and soon enough Indianapolis, there’s Root & Bone, the highly regarded Southern concept by Top Chefs’ Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth. For just over $20 per guest, the husband-and-wife team can set up a spread of their famous sweet tea-brined fried chicken, beautiful beet-dyed deviled eggs, biscuits, mac & cheese, cucumber salad and cheese grits, or whatever other comfort food staples your heart desires.
Like pasta, rice is cheap, it fills you up quickly and it can be extremely delicious when prepared well. It’s great fried, but when it comes to serving large amounts of rice to a crowd, Spanish paella is by far the show stopper. One can easily find paella specialists no matter where you’re located, from Paella Valenciana in San Diego to Sensational Paella in New England, where chef Julian Borrero can craft giant pans of meat, seafood or vegetarian paellas for a crowd starting at less than $20 per guest.
When the mobile food craze merged with the wood-fired pizza movement, it meant that no matter where one found oneself located, there would always be great pies nearby. Yes, that now includes weddings, too. Those Neapolitan-inspired pizzas have become increasingly common for couples who want to offer their guests really great food without having to sign away their first-born. From Veraci Pizza in Seattle and Milwaukee’s Streetza to Michelin-rated Del Popolo in San Francisco (which will serve its award-winning pies to 100 guests starting around $25 per person), many couples are opting to impress their wedding guests with artisan ‘za.
Anything French sounds super fancy, but not all French foods are crazy expensive. Unless your guests have spent time ambling along the rues of Paris, they’re not going to know that crêpes are considered street food – and even if they do, the thin pancakes are sure to evoke some romantic memories. Either way, they’ll be impressed. Have a très chic wedding with a mobile crêperie. It’s easy to find on-site crêpe specialists in cities across the United States, spanning from the herbs de Provence-infused gluten-free buckwheat savory crêpes made by Crêpe-Madame in California’s Bay Area to The Crepe Company’s creative Monte Cristo.