How much does a wedding catering cost in 2021

How much does a wedding catering cost in 2021?

How Much Does a Wedding Catering Cost Chart

Costs displayed in graph are based on spend from hundreds of couples who have booked Elegante Catering for their wedding in the Los Angeles county, San Bernardine county, Riverside county and Orange county. Between the years of 2017 to 2021.

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How wedding catering costs work
What are the per-person costs?
Is there a minimum guest count?
The cost difference between Buffet, seated or food stations
What is the cost for Hors d’oeuvres?
Figuring out the budget
How do to handle gratuity


How wedding catering costs work

Finding your perfect wedding caterer should be high on your to-do list! This goes for couples that are doing everything on their own or those who have hired a wedding planner. According to many checklist out on the web and my own personal experience in years in the catering industry, booking your caterer should be done right after you locked in your day with your venue. Caterers, specially the good ones, tend to get booked months even a year or 2 in advance. Guests not only want to witness your love, as a couple, come together, they are also there for the food. Making the reception meal one of the most important highlights of your special day. You’ll discover that one of the biggest memory guests will have about the reception will be how Good or Bad the food was, so the wedding dinner must be top notch.


In recent years I have witness the wedding catering industry expand to include many types of menus and styles of serving. Everything from traditional sit & serve, buffets, carving stations to taco trucks and fresh donut stations. This can make figuring out your wedding catering cost a bit more complicated. But let me make it simple for you. Here is what most caterers, including myself, usually need from the couple.


  1. How many guests are you inviting?
  2. What menu would you like to serve?
  3. How would you like the food to be served?


Besides those 3 initial questions there will be other details that might have your cost go up. Such things as the amount of servers required, if your menu will require chefs onsite prepping and cooking fresh food and if you require clack tie waiters to serve a sit down meal. My point is that the more details you would like to have for your wedding dinner the more your wedding dinner cost will rise. On the other had by keeping things simple it will allow your cost to stay low.


What are the per-person costs?

The amount of guests will determine a big chunk of that wedding catering cost. On average the cost per guest is typically in the $20some range. Depending on the caterer you choose it can go as little as $8 per guests to $100 or more. Your cost will very depending on what is included with the per person price. Mostly these costs should cover the the food, preparation, and serving staff.


The more upscale you would like your wedding dinner to be the more per person it will cost. Some of the couples I’ve worked for have kept the highest level of service, but lower their guest count. This might be difficult for some couples who have bigger extended families than others, but it is one of several tactics you can use to stay on budget.


Another tactic to keep costs down are to have your caterer just drop off the food and have family members set everything up and serve it. Of course in this case you have to choose who will miss out on a lot of the wedding fun, but it is a really simple way to keep your wedding catering costs on budget.


Is there a minimum guest count?

Usually there is a minimum guest count. Why? Well it all goes back to caterers running a business as their way to earn a living. Here is my experience. There is a certain point were no matter what there is certain equipment and labor that is needed to provide the service. That is because for a caterer to provide for anything lower than their minimum still requires to have the same amount of staff, same amount of equipment and the same amount of time serving during the wedding dinner. Apart from all that also keep in mind all the other expenses a cater might have. For instance, insurance, health permits, marketing costs, rent of a commercial kitchen, utilities and so on. Here at Elegante Catering we have an average of $8 to $32 per guest and a 50 guest minimum.

The cost difference between Buffet, food stations or seated served

Depending on the way you would like your dinner to be served, will add or subtract to your overall catering cost. There are two major factors that contribute the most to any wedding catering dinner and those are…


  1. The more servers needed to execute the meal service, the higher the cost
  2. The Type of food served can dramatically impact cost


Generally buffets need less staff and are more laid back then, lets say, a seated meal menu which require a full staff of servers, bussers and chefs. Yet this does not mean that buffets are generally less expensive. Why? Because of the second point. For example, if you would like to for us to serve Prime Rib, chicken cordon bleu and a vegetarian mushroom Alfredo pasta buffet, this will dramatically change the cost per person. One more reason you should not be surprise at a buffet cost is that this type of serving style requires the caterer to prep and and serve more food.


Cost Reducing Tip: If you are thinking of having your wedding dinner be served as a buffet style and you find yourself over budgeting, you could ask your caterer if they can limit the amount of times a guest can come up for food. This should reduce food costs for the caterer and that savings should be transferred over to you.


A great caterer will always work with a couple so that they not only stay within their budget but receive a great tasting menu as well. Here at Elegante Catering you will speak with a professional catering coordinator that will help you with every aspect of your dream catered wedding dinner.


Here is the way it generally goes with the style of serving. The list below goes from typically least costly to the highest cost.


  • Buffet: [$8 – $18+/Guest] (A more laid-back style where guest line up and pick what they prefer)
  • Food/appetizer stations: [$10-$20/Guest] (Tables where guest help themselves or are served by a Chef, as in a carving station)
  • Family style: [$16 – $26+/Guest] (Guest sit around the table and are encouraged to share by passing dishes around)
  • Plated Meals: [#26 –  $41+/Guest] (Very best in elegance as dinner is prepared by chefs then guest receive theirs meals at their table by a server)

What is the cost for Hors d’oeuvres?

Usually Hors D’oeuvres are very common to be served in between the ceremony and the dinner. This is typically when the couple is off taking pictures and guest have a chance to mingle before dinner is served. Hors D’oeuvres can be severed either by having servers pass them around or your caterer can set up tables where guest help themselves.


Cost Reducing Tip: Tipically choosing to have your caterer put out Hors D’oeuvres stations is much less costly than having servers pass then out. Also, ask your caterer to provide you with a list of Hors D’oeuvres with prices so that you can choose those that fit your budget best.


A very big misconception about Hors D’oeuvres is that they will be inexpensive. This is not necessarily the case. Most Hors D’oeuvres require a lot of labor to make, because your caterer has to cook, prep and assemble each individual one. The more elaborate they are, the more expensive each one will be.


Hors D’oeuvres can range from $0.75/each to $4.00+/each.

Figuring out the Budget

The first step is for you and your fiance to sit down and realistically determine how much money you would like to spend on your whole wedding. This is not about how much money you can borrow, put into your credit cards or having to use your emergency savings fund, but the amount of cash you have set aside for your dream wedding. Once you have that amount you will divide that and allocate it to each element of your whole wedding including your wedding catering cost. Don’t worry to much right now if each section has enough or not. As you start to call around for quotes you will start to have a more realistic idea of how much money each section will need. Decide what are the most important elements and allocate accordingly.


Here is an example of a budget. We’ll keep the numbers even to make the idea simple enough to get the point across. Also depending on your wedding there might be more vendors that you might be adding.



Venue $7,000 – 41%
Planner $1,000 – 6%
Caterer $5,000 – 30%
Flowers $2,000 – 11%
Photographer $1,000 – 6%
DJ/Band $1,000 – 6%


You can use our FREE Wedding Budget Calculator to enter your vendors quotes and see if you are over, under or on budget!


If you’re in a very tight budget then you will have to sacrifice something! Both you and your fiance will have to discus things like, Do you get that amazing venue or have a backyard wedding so that you can have enough budget to get those amazing centerpieces you’ve always dreamed about and have that prime rib dinner?


Something that I’ve experienced in my many years as a professional caterer it’s that when couples get creative, they can come up with amazing ways to make their day spectacular and memorable! I’ve catered in many amazing backyards that have been better than most venues. Many of these couples have asked friends or family members if they could borrowed their back yard, saving them thousands of dollars!


I’ve also experienced breath taking photography that has been taken by a family member who happened to own a great camera. When you get creative you can come up with the wedding of your dreams at the budget you’ve set.

How do to handle gratuity

First I would like to say that a TIP has to be earned, at least for the team here at Elegante Catering we love to know that when we received a tip it was because we provided above and beyond service! As a rule of thumb caterers are tipped 15 to 20 percent of the total bill. You may also break it down to the individual Chef’s giving them $100 each and $20 to $50 per server.


For a full list of how to tip each of your vendors check out our article how much to tip wedding vendors.


In conclusion

I hope you enjoyed and found this article useful. If you did please consider leaving us your thoughts on the cements section. I Feel free to share this article with anyone you might think will benefit by reading it.


If you are searching for a caterer Elegante Catering can provide you with your dream Wedding Dinner. We are a full service caterer providing menus from Plated Meals, Family style to Buffets.


Call or text (909) 559-1561 to speak to our Catering Coordinator and have all your questions answer and to receive a quote.



About Elegante Catering

We provide catering for a Taco cart, Italian pasta bar, Fajita bar or delicious BBQ! We'll be there at your event to reduce stress and guarantee a good meal. You won't have to clean up!! Or cook!!! You'll be able to enjoy everyone's company at your party, Instead of having to be in the kitchen covered in food & dishes!! Let us do all the work and you take all the credit!! We are a Full Service Catering company serving the Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Bernardino County and River Side County of Southern California.