Almost all weddings involve sharing a meal with guests, so hiring a caterer is one of the primary to-dos on any wedding planning list. Depending on the wedding location, couples may have a range of choices when it comes to cuisine. Wedding and special event caterers typically charge per guest, and the cost can range anywhere from $20–$100 per person, depending on the menu and how many wait staff, cooks and bartenders the caterer needs to staff the event. According to The Knot 2016 Real Weddings Study, the national average catering cost for weddings was $71 per guest, and the average number of guests was 141, which adds up to a total cost of $10,011—just for catering. The per person price typically includes hors d'oeuvres, dinner, nonalcoholic beverages and cake cutting. Alcohol is an additional charge.
Minimum guest count
Many caterers have minimum guest counts built into their pricing structure. All Aspects Catering & Events, based in San Diego, California, offers a selection of complete wedding catering packages that range in price from $24–$37 per person for hors d'oeuvres, dinner and nonalcoholic beverages, with a 40-person minimum.
Buffet, seated or food stations
Many people assume that having a buffet-style meal at a wedding costs less than having the caterer serve a plated meal, which guests will select when they RSVP. In fact, buffets are not necessarily less expensive, though they do require slightly fewer servers. Costs depend primarily on the menu. The number of wait staff required also factor in. If guests have a choice of filet mignon, salmon or vegetarian ravioli, the cost will be higher than if they can choose from chicken, tilapia or veggie pizza. Food stations typically cost more than the other two options because wait staff (or cooks) need to man each station, serving or cooking dishes to order. Food stations can add anywhere from $3–$5 to the per-guest cost.
It’s common to have a wedding caterer serve hors d’oeuvres during a post-ceremony cocktail hour. Wait staff bring around trays and offer them to guests. Instead—or in addition—the caterer can set up a table with cheese, crackers, fruit and other self-serve hors d’oeuvres.
Alcoholic beverages and bar staff add $10–$17 per guest for a full open bar and $8–$10 per guest for beer and wine only. Some caterers offer bar service. Otherwise, professional bartenders can be hired separately.
Some caterers specialize in a certain regional cuisine or food philosophy. Depending on the city or region, couples can probably find something that suits their own preferences. The Perfect SAIZ Taco, out of Chandler, Arizona, offers high-end Mexican food, which can be brought to clients’ special events and served buffet style. Palate Catering & Events in Napa, California, specializes in farm-to-table cuisine that is varied but also fresh and in season.