Wedding Catering Services & Buffet Menu Ideas on a Budget


Photo Credit: All Photos From The Knot

Arguably, the best part of a wedding for guests is the reception! It’s also the most expensive part for the wedded couple, costing as much as 50 percent of their budget. Delicious food and drinks add up fast. According to The Knot, in 2017 U.S. wedding food costs alone averaged $70 per person.

Looking for wedding catering services and buffet menu ideas that won’t break the bank? Read on. There are plenty of mouth-watering and affordable options for hosting happy guests.

Wedding Buffet Ideas

You have two main food-serving options when it comes to the wedding reception: buffet or plated.

Buffet style allows guests to browse and choose the items they want. It’s a great way to offer more variety which appeals to picky eaters and those with diet restrictions. Because buffet is “self-serve” it’s also often cheaper than a plated meal. Cost is the biggest advantage, especially for couples with a small budget or a lot of guests to feed.

Plated style allows guests to remain seated while being served. They can continue their conversations and feel pampered. All guests receive a controlled portion of food and each guest is essentially guaranteed a full, warm meal. The biggest advantage of a plated reception is the “full-service” experience for guests.

Wedding Food Catering Services & Cost

If your venue doesn’t offer food services, you’ll contact a catering company. Some wedding food catering services offer buffet and plated options. Again, the cost of a buffet is typically cheaper. WeddingWire estimates the average cost of wedding catering in the U.S. is $41 per person but only $28 per person for buffet style.

Some restaurant chains, such as Olive Garden, offer wedding reception catering starting from just $12.50 per person. Italian, Mexican and BBQ are usually the least expensive food options. Use The Knot and WeddingWire to find top-rated wedding food caterers in your area, or contact your favorite local restaurant to ask about their services.

Self-catering is not a good idea. Don’t ask friends and family to work at your wedding; let them celebrate your day with you! Food poisoning is also a real concern which is why professionals are highly recommended. Here are a few initial questions to ask when researching catering companies for your wedding reception:

  • Are you licensed (health permits and liability insurance)?

  • Do I need any special permits?

  • How do you handle dietary restrictions and allergies?

  • Can you recommend a menu based on my estimated guest count?

  • When is my final guest count due?

  • How will the food be served and refreshed during the reception?

  • How many staff members will be provided and what do they do?

  • Do you offer any other food, alcohol or rental services?

  • What is/is not included in your fee?

  • How are staff tips handled?

TIP: Before you book a wedding venue, find out if you’re required to use their food service or their list of approved catering companies. If the approved companies have a high wedding catering cost, or don’t serve the type of food you want, think twice about booking that venue.

Wedding Buffet Menu Ideas 

Let’s say you’ve decided on a wedding buffet (fifty percent of couples do, according to WeddingWire). What are some reception buffet menu ideas that’ll tickle the taste buds of your guests? Here are a few food bar ideas to surprise and delight your guests:

Biscuit Bar

Fabulous for a Southern or brunch wedding reception. Serve up tasty buttermilk biscuits with a variety of salty and sweet accompaniments: honey, jam, butter, gravy, ham or fried chicken.

Pasta Bar

Love pasta but don’t have the budget for a pasta action station and server? No problema. After serving themselves plain pasta from a warming tray, guests can customize their own meal with an assortment of sauces and toppings such as marina, pesto, alfredo, basil, sauteed mushrooms, cooked tomatoes, fresh parmesan cheese, chicken and meatballs.

Spud Bar

Which style of potato suits your reception style best: baked, mashed or fried? Shredded cheese, whipped butter, chives, bacon bits and sour cream are a few mouth-watering toppings for a baked or mashed potato (for an elegant look, use martini glasses instead of a plate for the mashed potato bar). For a french fry bar, include gourmet ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, chili, salt and pepper.

Mac & Cheese Bar

Take your childhood comfort food to a new level at your wedding. Like mashed potatoes, this food looks fancier when enjoyed from a martini glass. You can offer an assortment of vegetable, meat and condiment options.


This bar draws attention at a brunch or dinner wedding. Chicken, shredded beef and pork, and skewered vegetables would probably steal the show. Even if you’re not hosting an “I do BBQ” having one table dedicated to the art of BBQ would be a jaw-dropper. Provide several sauces to inspire fun table talk.

Do you like any of these food ideas for your wedding reception menu? A specialized food bar is such a simple way to add interactive fun to your reception.

If budget allows, adding one or more interactive food stations can really enhance a wedding buffet menu. An omelette or crepe station would be delicious for brunch. A pasta or meat-carving (turkey, prime rib, ham) station would be a popular choice for brunch or dinner. Not only do guests enjoy customizing their dish, but it gives them a chance to mingle. Interactive food stations are wonderfully entertaining. If you’re not having alcohol or dancing, you can create a fun wedding reception through your food menu!

What are some of your favorite wedding buffet or menu ideas? How are you and your honey-to-be incorporating your cultures, childhood memories or favorite foods? Tell us. Come share your wedding food ideas or inspiration with us on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

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