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Jan 21, 2012 03:58 PM

Inexpensive (Wedding) Catering options in DC

My fiance and I are both foodies, and want to have an elegant wedding in DC, but our budget is limited. We've already had to compromise on a lot of things, but we need to have delicious food, and to maintain a sense of elegance (no "shabby chic" aesthetic or "this barn is sooo cute!").

Any ideas of caterers/food options for a wedding dinner that would come in in the $50-80/head range, as opposed to the $125-175 that most of the serious wedding caterers seem to charge when everything's said and done?

Much thanks!

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  1. Does your wedding venue have an on-site commercial kitchen that could be used by your caterer? Or does everything have to be prepared either off-site and/or on-site with the caterer's own equipment? if you have a venue with a commercial kitchen, you open up your options a lot.

    3 Replies
      1. re: nmr2002

        I asked because I was going to recommend the personal chef option. I don't know how many people you're having, but if you're able to go with someone that has low overhead, you may be able to get it down to $80 a person with plates, glassware, etc. I got married in May of 2011 and I'll just be honest that $50 is totally unrealistic for what you're thinking -- $50 will hardly get you bbq on paper plates!

        The personal chef I use and that I recommend (and all have been happy as can be with him) is this guy:

        Like I said, it probably depends on how large of a party you're having, but he may be able to work something out with you. Obviously he'll need to hire servers/helpers, so if you know people from your own life who would do it for free/cheap, that is another way to keep your cost down.

        1. re: nmr2002

          Plenty of top-shelf liquor and a taco truck.

      2. I was in the same boat as you last year when planning my DC wedding. It seems that there are plenty of expensive caterers in this city and few midrange ones. We ended up using Main Event caterers and doing heavy hors d'ouerves instead of a sit down dinner. The food and staff was fantastic. We worked with Rachael Slockett who was the consummate professional and remembered all the extra details. They should be right in your price range.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Flaxen_Vixen

          Palates Delight I am sure the owner Shelly can work with your budget

        2. This sounds familar to me - having just gone through this a few years ago. I think what you should keep in mind is that it's not really the food that gets expensive, but rather everything that goes along with it, e.g., plates, silverware, glasses, etc. Is that all supplied by your venue or does your caterer need to bring it in? In terms of other considerations, such as buffet vs. sit-down, we learned that it pretty much comes out to be the same. A buffet means more food, fewer servers, sit-down means less food but more servers. We opted for a sit-down meal - plated salad with bread, then everything else served family style. Made it easy to control portions, and required fewer servers.
          We worked with Jennifer Krysa at Sara McGregor's Capitol Catering. She was excellent. As well, I will say that we actually had 2 caterers. We had bbq at our event, and we had a guy come in (to our outdoor venue/tent) and he smoked all the meat on-site - he started the day before (brisket, pulled pork, chicken). The caterer provided everything else, sides, breads, salad, etc. It wasn't easy, but it all turned out phenomenal. We are foodies, but we didn't want to fall short with a formal four-star meal b/c of our budget. To this day we hear from many people "best wedding food ever." Good luck!

          15 Replies
          1. re: erinnf

            I was going to recommend BBQ as well - it's inexpensive and people love it.

            1. re: Jeserf

              This comes up as an option all the time, but won't work. She (my fiance) says no to BBQ, a very firm no. Yeah, it's delicious, and this is definitely the year of BBQ, but we're looking for something more elegant/classy, and something that won't stain white gowns. :)

              Any other thoughts?

              1. re: nmr2002

                Ah - the inherent challenge with weddings. :)
                In all honesty $50-$80/pp including alcohol, dessert, food, and the other big costs of catering, e.g., servers and materials, this just may not be enough in the DC area to pull off a crazy elegant/classy meal. Have you thought about fewer people? The heavy hors d'oeuvres option was thrown out, but I suspect that goes against the 'elegant' classy vibe you're looking for. Perhaps others have suggestions... Also what might help the discussion is if you describe what you're including in the per head estimate. That can give folks a better idea.

                1. re: erinnf

                  Truthfully we can go as high as $100, not including alcohol. That's predominantly food, service and table settings. Booze is separate, as are some of the linens, all the flowers, and paper products. Heavy hors d'oeuvres is not strictly out, but it's going to be a mid afternoon into evening affair, so I think we need to feed people legitimately at some point...

                  1. re: nmr2002

                    you'd be surprised what some venues are willing to negotiate if you pick a less popular day in a less popular season. By it being an evening, you're automatically paying more.

                    We brought our own wine and it was cheaper (considering how good the wine we brought was, too). Buffet isn't always cheaper. We had to rent linens because the hotel only had white, etc....and if you're struggling to find what you want in your budget, it might be worth looking in to a wedding planner, who often knows where the deals are (ours saved us a bit of money).

                    And I hate to break it to the bride, the dress is likely to be ruined anyway, regardless of what you eat....! I found that out quickly and my planner said most don't survive the event well unfortunately.

                  2. re: erinnf

                    Maybe a cash bar and just have a champagne toast and bottles of wine with dinner only. Have the head top served and the others buffet style this will cut down the number of staff necessary and set-up time.

                    1. re: agarnett100

                      Well I guess it depends on the crowd, but a cash bar strikes me as definitely not classy.

                      1. re: Teddybear

                        Alcohol isn't a consideration. We have that covered. No cash bar necessary. :) but the issue was food costs specifically. I.e. how do we have an elegant and tasty wedding meal for under $100/pp (including service/place settings) when it seems like most of the meal options start at around $125.... It's a may 2013 wedding, so off-season discounts aren't going to help us.

                        1. re: nmr2002

                          If the venue doesn't have table settings or anything, check craigslist, Wedding Bee, and Michael's for place setting stuff.

                          It might be worth checking a cooking school to see if people who aren't yet out do catering.

                          Having gone through this not a year ago, if you are set on a venue that does not provide any table settings or servers will make it very difficult. Our wedding was about $150 per person with EVERYTHING (service, tax, open cocktail hour bar, corkage, very heavy hors d'oeuvres, a 3 course plated meal, and dessert [we had family style truffles and cookies] but wedding cake which we got elsewhere.

                          And we were very budget minded, had everything in one location and this cost was after negotiating - our price per person didn't go down but our food input for the event did with negotiating.

                          If we had it at "venue" (DAR, for example), it would have been at least twice as much between catering and added supplies.

                          Just to give you some perspective...sometimes paying a little more in one spot is worth it in the end because little things add up (equipment rental in this area is INSANE).
                          I don't want to discourage you, but maybe the wedding planner idea is one to think about since they might have contacts that give them a preferred deal.

                          ETA: if you don't know, DC has much higher service tax than MD/VA, so if you have it outside DC you'll save some money.

                          1. re: Jeserf

                            From the fiancee: Just to clarify... We actually have about $100-130/person budgeted for catering (unless there are even more guests I don't know about;). This figure includes tax and service, food, place settings, basic linens. It does not include alcohol, tables/chairs (unless we opt for upgrading the site's chairs), nicer linens, etc - these are already accounted for elsewhere in our budget.

                            The wedding will be held just outside of DC in Maryland. Definitely no BBQ and no buffet. I actually really like the thought of family style for dinner (though this can end up costing more, depending on a few factors).

                            We do have a lovely wedding planner who is helping with ideas. My fiance (original poster) is just trying to feel out all possible options. We recently increased our guest count somewhat, prompting a shuffling of the budget, etc... Thus the exploring of various options. And, it certainly wouldn't hurt to come in under budget on something. Thanks!

                            1. re: CoCoMD

                              I agree it is very hard to do a wedding for $50 or so a head, you have to make comprimises and do some non-traditional things... but it IS doable- see my post at the end!

                              1. re: CoCoMD

                                I would contact multiple caterers, tell them where, when , your budget and your wants and let them give you a proposal and tasting. The economy is down as is business and I would bet that caterers may be " hungry" and willing to work on a smaller profit margin. What do you have to lose.

                                1. re: dining with doc

                                  Doc has the right ideal call around - I would stay away from the large catering operations they tend to be more expense since they have a higher overhead.

                              2. re: Jeserf

                                Where did you have your wedding? My partner and I just got engaged and would like to have a cocktail and heavy hors d'ouerves reception but are having difficulty with budgeting.

                  3. re: erinnf

                    Capitol Catering has gone out of business, sadly! The owner retired several months ago.

                  4. I can't attest to their wedding selections, but we use this group quite a bit for catering meeting luncheons and dinners at work and haven't been disappointed yet:

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: ForFoodsSake

                      ping pong dim sum has great food and ranges from 25-45 a head for food. They also have great amenities for "foodies" like a "rent a chef" for $150 to teach a dumpling class to your guests. Their with-alcohol estimate to my fiancee and I was 50/head. We ended up going with a more traditional option, closer to us when my mom didn't like the idea of dim sum.

                      They also have a sound system you can use an ipod with as long as you have at least 130 guests or so.

                      1. re: amykake

                        Amy - I really like the Dim Sum idea. Let me know if you found anything else similarly affordable and different. Thanks a lot.

                    2. $50 to $80 is easier to hit if you stay away from western food. Would you consider an Indian or Korean catering? If so you could have amazing meals with money left over.