A caterer’s money-saving wedding tips

Consider a festive tower of cupcakes, about half the cost of the usual wedding cake.

As a caterer who specializes in weddings, I am often called by couples trying to save money. I feel sometimes like a used-car salesman with a really great Pad Thai recipe. “My dears, if you book today, not only can you have that sixth hors d’oeuvre for free, but I’ll throw in a complimentary lower-back massage!”
I wind up advising couples what not to do as much as what to do. Before I dive into my official list for Brokelyn, I need to give you an extra amuse bouche! Folks in my industry, (especially out, loud and proud ones like moi) are beyond thrilled about marriage equality passing in New York. Woo hoo! So if you are having a same-sex wedding do let your vendors know right off as lots of us are celebrating with some very nice discounts. Now then…

DO consider having your wedding at one of my favorite Brooklyn venues: 450 Union also know as The Green Building, the Prospect Park Picnic House, The Dumbo Loft, 1 Hanson, (not cheap but worth it and they give discounts to Brooklyn locals), Smack Mellon Gallery, Galapagos and The Bell House. If you are willing to not have your wedding on a Saturday just about any space will offer a nice discount. Bring on the Thursday night cocktail party wedding from 7-11pm. Super-low rental prices and your guests still get home in time for a proper nights sleep. Better yet, they can try and get Friday off and usher in a long weekend of celebrating your nuptials.

DON’T have a cash bar. Oh, there are a lot of reasons why not. For one, you need a liquor license to sell booze legally. For two, you need insurance if want to play it safe. But mostly, darlings, it’s just gross.
DO replace  a full bar with beer, wine and sparkling water, or two signature drinks and soda. Make a punch or a vodka and lemonade. It’s in the mix so nobody has to know you used the cheap stuff. It can be pre-made in pitchers so there’s no line at the bar while your bartender is struggling with slow drinks like martinis or mojitos. Win-win here!
DON’T do  your own floral arrangements on the day of your wedding. I can’t count how many brides I’ve watched over the years ruin their special day by worrying about whether their roses would open or tying rosemary branches an hour before their guests arrived.
DO use seasonal potted flowering plants as centerpieces and save around half off your floral bill, according to one of my fave New York Florists, Melanie of Melarosa. “You have to choose the plants of the season to be most economical,” she says. “You also want them to be short, so they don’t block the site-line. Low blooming plants like African violets, begonias, succulents or a combination of smaller pots together in a basket with moss or river stone is great.” Plus there’s something nice about knowing your arrangements are alive and your guests can take them home and start a garden in your honor.
DON’T buy one of those cheapo whipped cream icing Italian bakery wedding cakes for your June wedding. OK, I get it. It’s like 200 bucks for your cake for 200, but almost no wedding venue has a fridge big enough to fit a three-tier wedding cake, and after six hours of sitting out on the cake table, the chances of this thing turning into a yellow and pink pile of fluff are pretty damn good.
DO skip the wedding cake altogether and replace it with anything you can stack. Make a tower of cupcakes, which run about $3 to $6 a piece and skip the wedding cake ($6 to $16 a head.) I had a groom who adored chocolate chip cookies, so instead of a cake, we built a tower of chocolate chip cookies. The cake cutting ceremony consisted of the bride and groom dipping their cookies into glasses of milk and feeding each other. Adorable! I had another couple who hoarded Girl Scout cookies in their freezer, and we built a tower out of that. I’ve built towers out of doughnuts, Rice Krispie treats and French macaroons. I also suggest to couples who want to save money that bringing in desserts from a loving mom or aunt is a great way to save money. I also had a bride and groom who invited all their wedding guests to bake cookies for a fun homey potluck dessert table at the end of the night. It was rustic and sweet.

Don't serve a whole dinner; do serve duck ice cream cone appetizers instead.

DON’T cheap out on your vendor for china, silverware and glasses. “You get what you pay for” really holds true here. I have seen some bottom-of-the-barrel rental companies deliver dirty china, chipped glasses and broken chairs. When I say deliver, I mean showing up an hour late or more! If it sounds too good to be true; meaning full rentals for your empty warehouse venue that you need to fully furnish for a sit down dinner for $30 per person, it probably is too good to be true.
DO get a recommendation from your venue, caterer or planner. In this industry the second I recommend a vendor, if they don’t do a good job for you, I’m the one you’re mad at. So companies jump through a lot of hoops before they make my recommended list. Rentals prices depend mostly on what the client picks. So ask for the basic line. If you fall in love with the hand-blown crystal glasses or silk organza overlays, you do not have a right to kvetch if the price is higher then the down payment on a co-op.
DON’T let an iPod DJ your entire wedding. An iPod cannot ask guests to come to the dance-floor for a first dance. It cannot feel the vibe of the room and change the music accordingly. It cannot satiate the special request of the cousin of the bride who is begging to hear “Poker Face.”  IPod weddings are just not as exciting.
DO let your iPod handle cocktail hour. Save the deejay for the main party will shave hours off of his or her bill. There are also plenty of great DJs out there who are affordable, especially in this economy.
DON’T serve dinner. There’s nothing worse than a scaled-way-down, cheapest-option dinner.
DO have a great cocktail party instead. Having a passed hors d’oeuvre wedding means no renting plates and forks, lower food cost and lots more fun. It’s my personal fave way to cater an inexpensive wedding. The cocktail hour is everyone’s favorite time, anyway.
So there it is, darlings. Save without cheaping out, and never, never skimp on the love.

Chef Rossi, owner of The Raging Skillet, was voted by The Knot as “Best of Weddings” for 2010 and 2011, and was featured in Go Magazine’s “100 Women We Love.” She is also the Eat Me columnist for Bust Magazine.

5 Comment

  • This is great to know especially now that we are able to marry. Owning a popular food business, we have so many friends and family in addition to numerous acquaintances who want to be invited to our wedding. With twins due in November as a result of invitro fertilization, you can imagine how many people are excited for us. Thanks for posting these tips.

  • Hi. I was reading your post: From a caterer: the dos and don’ts of budget weddings (gay or straight). And found you very refreshing. I loved your honesty, confidence and to the point-ness! I am in the early stages of trying to plan a wedding. And would love to tap in to your expertise. We have enquired about the Green Building (I have not heard back yet) and have just enquired about Smack Mellon, after looking over this article. We are on a NYC budget and I am struggling! Big time. I am fed up with googling “on a budget” when looking at venues, flowers, caterers etc. What do you charge for your services and what do they include. If you can email me back and let me pick your brain, I would really really appreciate it! Thank you!

  • Just a note re Green Building – be very very careful with what they tell you and what you expect. Bare bones doesnt begin to cover it – no staffing and broken down equipment kinda does.

  • What worked best for me was ditching the flowers. I got some ideas on great centerpieces from A. Maria’s book Budget Conscious Nuptials/a> and I saved a lot by doing it. Theres also some good pointers on what to do about music. I dig the cocktail hour idea though. We were going to try it but my parents are too traditional.

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