I Do (Eat) (cont.)
What Can I Do to Save Money?
- Buy in season. Turk notes that people often don’t realize tomatoes, raspberries, strawberries, avocados, and some melons have a peak season. Buy out of season and it will cost you. Other ridiculous off-season requests he’s fielded: fiddlehead ferns in the winter (they’re a spring ingredient), corn in the spring (it’s good in the summer), and morel mushrooms in the autumn (“Most mushrooms flourish at this time of year, but not morels,” he says).
- Offer a buffet. Buffets are less expensive than sit-down dinners because they require fewer pieces of equipment and servers. You can splurge on things like beautiful linens for the buffet table and high-quality ingredients. For around $24 a person, for instance, Ravishing Radish can prepare seasonal buffets with local organic food. The price includes china dinner plates, flatware, linen napkins, and a floral arrangement. Another option Ravishing Radish offers to class up a buffet is tray-passed hors d’oeuvres before dinner like beef saté with Thai-lime dipping sauce or grilled miso-citrus prawns.
- Go family style. If you’re into the idea of a sit-down meal, try family style—that is, large platters of food passed among the diners at the tables. This will be more expensive than a buffet, since you’ll have to rent more serving ware and hire more servers, but it’s cheaper than having a sit-down meal plated in the kitchen and brought out to guests.
- Skimp on silver and china. A typical rental of plates and cutlery costs $35 a head. But choose something cheaper and it’s likely no one will notice. A good caterer will work with you to select budget-appropriate rentals. There’s no shame in making suggestions, such as ditching the bread plates in favor of serving bread Italian style on the table or on the side of the dinner plates. If you’re serving family style, you could lose the salad plates, too.
- Consider the time of day. Evie Loftus says timing has a lot to do with cost because it affects how much food and alcohol people expect to be served. You don’t want to serve only heavy appetizers for a 7 p.m. wedding when your guests are expecting a full dinner. But a reception scheduled for between 2 and 5 p.m., she says, could offer lighter, cold fare like beautiful tea sandwiches and salads. In this case, you would only need to rent small plates and forks, and could probably even get away with paper napkins. At brunches, the expectation for alcohol is a lot lower, and you can offer “filling yet inexpensive” things like a breakfast torte, a fruit display, and pastries.
- Stick with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. These types of receptions can be good or bad for your budget. Turk says they can be less expensive because you need fewer rentals and the event is shorter. But Leah DiBernardo, the founder and chef of Delyte’s in Temecula, California, cautions that you’re going to need six to eight hors d’oeuvres servings to fill someone up, and that people don’t realize how many hors d’oeuvres (like her miniature goat cheese galettes) require “a lot of tedious work” and are pricey. “If we are hand-tying bundles of asparagus in the back,” adds Loftus, “it won’t be budget efficient.”
What If I Want the Caterer to Make a Nontraditional Meal?
Have an idea of what you’re looking for before you talk to caterers, and “just start with, ‘Here’s what we want. Can you do this for us?’” says Ariel Meadow Stallings, the author of Offbeat Bride and founder of the site Offbeat Bride. “If you have a caterer that has very defined packages they do and don’t want to deviate from, you want to know that right up front.” Stallings’s own wedding meal was vegan and included stuffed portobello mushrooms, stuffed zucchini, grilled tofu, salads, sides like Greek country vegetables, appetizers, and a carrot cake that was half vegan and half nonvegan. (She got the whole thing for free because her caterer friend did it.)
Do I Need to Tip the Catering Staff?
If it’s not in the contract already, it’s up to you. Turk says people usually tip the waitstaff around 20 percent of the waiter bill; i.e., if the waitstaff costs $2,000 for the event, tipping $400 “would be substantial.” Some caterers may also make a suggestion appropriate for their area (Turk’s company, based in NYC, suggests two hours’ worth of the waitstaff pay as a tip). If you’re not prepaying the gratuity, Turk suggests giving it to the servers’ captain or to your event manager to distribute properly.