When organising a wedding, the first question you need to ask yourselves is “what is our budget”? After all, a wedding day marks the beginning of your marriage, which you certainly don’t want to kick off with regrettable debt.
Understandably, it’s easy to get swept up in the Pinterest-hyped excitement of invitations, flowers, table decor, wedding favours and twinkly lights, but these can be instant budget-eaters. So, the second question you have to ask yourselves is, “what is important to us, and what are the nice-to-haves?” If you consider wedding food to be high on the priority list, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve provided the lowdown of different catering options and a breakdown of costs for wedding catering, to help you budget better for your big day.
It goes without saying, the type of food that you choose to have at your wedding will largely determine the cost. Expect a higher cost per head for cuts of meat such as lamb, fillet, most cuts of game, charcuterie and certain seafoods. That being said, a good chef can make delicious dishes from less expensive meats, it just takes a bit more creativity. You can expect quotes from caterers to differ, but usually you get what you pay for. Be sure of what’s included in the quote and do your research by requesting client testimonials. Also, bear in mind that any quotes for an event more than a year in advance will factor in inflation. Below is a price range for plated mains. Of course a budget caterer will cost less, and a caterer specialising in fine dining or gastronomic experiences can cost a lot more. Below is simply a benchmark:
Beef fillet: R175 – R200
Lamb: R180 – R200
Chicken: R140 – R175
Burgers: R140 – R160
Plated starter: R65 – R100
The type of food service will also affect the wedding budget, and it’s important that you weigh up the different options, as well as the suitability of the menu and service to your venue.
Plated food service is generally considered the pricier option not only for the actual food but for the amount of service staff required (generally event organisers will work on one service staff per table of eight or ten, not to mention extra staff in the kitchen to move 100 plates of beautifully presented food in under ten minutes). However, the benefit of plated food is that food volumes can almost precisely be worked out, resulting in minimal wastage (compared to buffet). A tip, if you want plated food but still want to give your guests a menu option, be sure that they preselect their options when they RSVP. The alternative, where they select on the day, will require almost double the amount of food, meaning wasted food and budget. Note that a preselected plated menu will only work if you have a formal seating plan (i.e. each guest gets a dedicated seat) so your service staff know exactly what option goes where.
Buffet can be the more affordable option as it requires less service and kitchen staff. However, things can get pricey when there is too much variety for the mains. For example, a buffet with beef, chicken, pork and seafood as well as all the accompanying sides, means that the caterer will have to supply each option in excess, resulting in higher costs. Rather choose two, higher quality main dishes (and a vegetarian option if required) along with two sides and salads, and spend your budget on quality, flavour and presentation, not excess variety. A benefit of a buffet option is that it is very rarely restricted by venue choice (compared to plated menus which require larger and better equipped kitchen facilities). See more info on how venues influence food budgets under ‘Venue and Kitchen’ below.
Gaining massive popularity due to the interactive and homely feeling it gives to a food service, family style menus are a popular inbetweener. Dishes are portioned per table, resulting in less wastage. Similar to buffet, more is not more. Rather focus on two exquisite main dishes as opposed to having a bit of everything. A very important note, family style will not work if you are big on table decor. Dishes are placed in the centre of the table and should not be crammed in between flowers, candles, pretty jars and the like. If you absolutely must have the big centrepiece and the big family style main, hanging centrepieces give you the best of both worlds. The benefit of family style mains is that beautifully presented food can actually act as the decor too. It’s also very well suited to themes. Think an Indian style wedding with warm curries rich in aroma accompanied by colourful sambals and platters simply heaped with naan breads and chilli bites (ideal for a winter wedding). Or, enjoy a late lunch the dolce vita way with a selection of fine Italian charcuterie and cheese, antipastas, pastas, and focaccias straight out the oven, served with rich balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
A fun and casual option is different food stalls serving dishes that would not be out of place at a local market. Whilst the food options are generally on the less expensive side (burgers, pulled meats, corn dogs, chip cones, asian stir fries, chicken pops), the downside (and expensive side) is that each station (to fit in with the market theme) will require its own setup, decor and staffing, and an excess of each dish will be required. To keeps costs down, opt for fewer stations with rotating food options.
Canapes & Harvest Tables
Generally, a minimum of 5 canapes are required per person for post ceremony drinks, but this doesn’t mean that you need to have five different varieties. Usually three options (including one vegetarian) is the minimum in terms of variety. A harvest table is great as an addition or alternative to canapes. Cheeses, pates, fresh breads, fresh fruit and olives are a good place to start for the budget conscious. You can expect costs to increase very quickly when you start adding cured meats. Bear in mind that floating canapes (i.e. circulated by waitrons) will require more service staff compared to a harvest table.
Harvest table per person: R100 to R130, depending on the spread
Canapes: From R75 per person (for basic canapes, this escalates quickly with more high end canapes and more variety)
Platter and Crockery Hire
Usually venues will have the crockery and cutlery sorted, but platters are usually hired along with the food. Standard platters and servers (for harvest tables, canapes and family style mains for example) are affordable to hire, but things can get a bit pricey when specific types of platters are required (think beautifully brushed copper, modern slate platters, large wooden boards or decorative ceramic pieces). That being said, food presentation can be the difference between great and extraordinary food – they don’t say eat with your eyes first for nothing.
Service & Kitchen Staff
Simply put, the larger the wedding the more service and kitchen staff is required. As mentioned above, plated mains and canapes are heavier on staff so you can expect a higher staffing bill. Other factors to consider is travelling costs for staff as well as the actual day of the week of your wedding. For weddings on Sundays and public holidays, your staff bill can almost double. Also, be clear on what staff is provided by the venue and the caterer, and what the responsibilities of the staff members are. Chefs and kitchen staff do not double up as waiting and clearing staff.
Midnight snacks and breakfasts (for weekend weddings) are becoming increasingly popular. Although the actual food on offer is on the affordable side, expect to pay for late night staffing and in the case of breakfasts, staff accommodation (if the wedding is out of town).
For events to run smoothly an on the day coordinator is required. For smaller or casual events, a super organised and trustworthy friend or family member will do, but for larger events a professional is recommended.
Venue & Kitchen
While choosing a friend or family member’s farm as a wedding venue may initially seem budget friendly, if it doesn’t have an equipped kitchen the caterer will have to bring in and set up a mobile kitchen at your cost (that’s the hiring and the transport cost of the equipment). Generally speaking, if there is little to no kitchen facilities, less kitchen setup is required for a buffet or family style option (as more kitchen space and equipment is required for plating). It goes without saying, the further the venue, the higher the transport fee. If your venue is far out of town, caterers may also charge an accommodation fee as a stayover may be required.
When researching a caterer, it’s important to have an idea of the type of wedding style and food service that you want for the wedding. With a detailed brief a caterer is then able to consult on a suitable menu. If you have a budget in mind, don’t be afraid to inform your prospective caterers right from the start.