Catering on a budget

Currently my fiancee and I are trying to find a caterer in the Bay Area that will serve 250 guests. We are trying to do it on a budget. We went to one place in San Jose which seemed appealing- they would do all the food, set-up, waiters, also it would include flowers/centerpieces, decorations, and a wedding cake, for $8000. We liked what they would do, but the price is rather outside of our budget. So we’re trying to find a caterer that would cover a similar range (food,cake,flowers,etc) at closer to $6,000. I’ve been having a hard time with this as most places seem to only provide food, and many of them charge quite a lot per person.

Obviously I want the food to be good, but primarily I want to be able to pull it off for 250 and be as thorough as possible. The more we get bundled in one package, the less we’ll have to deal with. Considering we have our reception hall lined up, if the caterer provides the above listed, we’ll have about 90% of the wedding stuff planned out over a year before the event :slight_smile:

I know people on the boards helped me to look for reception halls. I checked Ibride for food, but most of the places people mentioned were out of my price range. Does anyone know anybody a little more down-to-earth in the pricing department?

I can’t offer any suggestions as I’m not in the Bay area at all, but I wanted to wish you congratulations!

It’s a bit less than a year ago that I got married and it’s exciting seeing you plan yours. :slight_smile:

FWIW, could your preferred caterer do a less expensive meal? That would cut costs quickly (although I totally get wanting to have what you want to have.) FWIW, we actually gave our guests an option of either Prime Rib or Vegetarian Qunoias Stuffed Portobello Mushroom and LOTS of people selected the mushroom - you would think having an option would cost more but the per person charge for the mushroom was less than half of the prime rib so we actually came in under budget.

Is your question about the catering, or finding a caterer in the Bay area?

Something to consider (as a guy that used to cater for a living and planned a wedding) is to consider the per person cost, and what you would normally pay for a meal:
250 x $15/person for dinner is $3,750
250 x $5/person for dessert is another $1250, so that’s $5000 right there.

Next thing to remember is that 250 people requires a lot of wait staff and may require on site cooks. Even if you can get them for $10 an hour, a typical wedding might need to be staffed for 8 hours (set up, serve, lots and lots of cleaning). Most of the weddings I’ve catered had at minimum 3 waitstaff and two cooks, that would be $400 if you’re really lucky.

Add on 20% gratuity and you’re $6480. If you go back, what do you shave off? Make it a $10 dinner, $4 dessert, cut one of the wait staff? That’s $4584, but now you have to consider what a $10 dinner looks like.

The next thing to consider would be the party rentals (250 chairs, tables 32 tables, linens, forks, knives, spoons, plates…). A round table for 8 is $10, and so is the linen for it, that’s another $640. A crappy folding chair is 1.25. And each piece of silverware and glassware is about .60. A typical setting can be 8-12 pieces; that’s at best $4.80 per person ($1200). All told you might be able to seat and feed 250 for about $2,150.

The $8000 doesn’t seem *too unreasonable *for 250 people ($32 per person), especially considering it includes the cake. Two questions: is there an additional facility rental fee, and are there extra equipment rental fees?

I worry I’m being one of those downers, but I get asked this sort of question a lot and it’s usually because people forget to look at it in a per person cost.

In case you were curious, this is the point where people start wondering if that third-cousin they’ve never met is worth $32…

Have you looked into a Taco truck? Or some other mobile food sort of thing? Maybe its not as posh as you had in mind, but as you are learning, catering is expensive and probably more so in the Bay Area than anywhere (even NYC).

Also you might look into something like an ethnic restaurant that can come and cater – typically the per-head cost is way way less than a traditional caterer and they can provide servers. Some friends of mine had their reception catered by a local mexican restaurant (they live in Houston) and it was the SHIZZLE. Not fancy, mind you but dang that food was good. They also rented a margarita slushie machine :smiley:

BTW, and for future reference, you can usually buy dishes, wine glasses, and such at IKEA for less than it costs to rent them. Just a little tip in case you end up having to do that stuff yourself.

For my wedding we blew our budget on the facility rental (it was a tall ship that included a 4 hour cruise). The caterer they used wanted twice was the OP was quoted. Our solution to staying in budget was to say that because my wife’s family is [east] Indian we’d like to have an local Indian restaurant provide a few ethnic options. The caterer respected that they couldn’t pull of “authentic Indian cuisine” and agreed. Just was, my father-in-law was good friends with essentially the only Indian restaurant in the area and negotiated and insanely low cost for what was an amazing amount of food.

A couple friends of mine recently used the same trick since she’s Cambodian. They got piles and piles of really great food for a fraction of what their caterer wanted to charge.

And I’ll second the Ikea suggestion; I’ve got stacks of it in my basement for when I entertain. This set is only slightly more than what it would cost to rent (not that you would do that for 250, but it works well for 50). They also have 6 packs of reasonable stemware for $5.


Hola Paella Truck. $26/head for Chicken & Seafood Paella includes salad and bread. Not too shabby!!

Cakewise, unless you’re really dead set on a certain baker, I’ve heard Whole Foods makes gorgeous cakes at a quite reasonable price. Test out your local one before committing, of course.

I made my own floral arrangements using dried grasses, wheat, and blue-dyed eucalyptus --cost me $55 for everything I needed for my bouquet, 3 bridesmaids bouts and about 5-6 boutonierres. For fresh flowers, there are places to order wholesale, or you could hit a morning market a few days before, but obviously that can be pretty stressful right before the wedding. There’s not much science to a simple handclasp bouquet, and LOADS of how-tos in the internet if you need more guidance for something more structured.

That place in San Jose is a good deal. Wedding cake alone is $3 per person for an el cheapo cake. Usually it’s a lot more. Typical catering is $30 - $40 per person for a wedding, not including the cake. If you can use them with the ethnic restaurant providing, you’d have a great deal.

Wow, my fiancee must have found a GREAT deal, then! I talked to her about some places she checked out today while I was working, and was amazed to find a place that does food, decorations, cake, flowers, 4 waiters, flatware/champaigne glass rental, seat covers, etc all for $5700 counting taxes and gratuity :eek:

Obviously still want to sample the food but their menu had a nice variety of both Mexican and American dishes. But considering what I hear other people pay its insanely cheaper.

One thing I noticed- Mexican caterers here in the Bay Area are very affordable. Maybe its because their clientele doesn’t traditionally expect to pay more than a certain amount, or maybe my girlfriend (Mexican) is very good at haggling out a good deal. She mentioned it was probably better I wasn’t there, because if they saw that she was marrying a Caucasian guy, they might assume I could ‘afford it’ and jack up their prices.

California is a tough state as they ususally have more laws regarding things. From food service to number of waitstaff. And if it’s unionized it’s a real problem. Most states aren’t anywhere near as tough as California so the prices are lower.

Cheap caterers would flag me as I’d want to know about the quality of food, the level of their waitstaff and especially if they were circumventing state laws to undercut people.

That is a great price, congrats and best of luck with the event.