Cost cutting with menu design

Cost-cutting advice flourishes in the online wedding  community. In today's dismal economic climate, more brides are shrinking their budgets. The most common tips about managing a small budget include limiting your guest list, eliminating favors, or offering a "signature drink" rather than a full bar at cocktail hour.

But there is one cost-cutting measure I find is not satisfactorily covered: food. I am not talking about the bazillions of "luxe or less" articles about food. I am talking about food as a design element on par with venue and flowers. Most of us know that venue choice will go far in determining the look, feel, and theme of your wedding. Are you renting a big hotel ballroom, a VFW hall, using your back yard, or perhaps a museum or library? Are you getting married in a cathedral, a city park, or on the beach? Is your ceremony  and reception venues the same? Each venue calls for a different level of formality and a different theme. You may want to rethink that the combination of a cheap BBQ dinner and a fancy ballroom. Or, perhaps not. The trick is to think of your food as another design element, and be sure to think of your food in conjunction with your venue.

For my own weddings. I approached the theme, venue and food as an integrated design triad. For the first wedding, we went with a European Ski Wedding Theme. The invitations, food and guests activities all tied into our theme. This allowed us to serve an inexpensive "European Breakfast Buffet" without looking hopelessly cheap. The ceremony took place at 9:30 in the morning at the Mammoth Ski Museum in Mammoth Lakes, CA. After our early morning ceremony, we mingled with our 20 guests noshing on breads and pastries from a local bakery and meats and cheese from Trader Joe's. Rather than having a sit-down meal, we treated the wedding more like an exhibit opening at a museum. People nibbled on finger food while wandering around viewing the exhibits and visiting with friends. The museum reception lasted around two hours. Afterward, we changed into our ski gear and headed to the mountain for an afternoon of "Apres Wedding" skiing. We offered our guests boxed lunches to bring with them to the chalet.We spend $200 on food and alcohol for 20 people (or about $10 per person for two meals.) This included a two tier chocolate wedding cake, mimosas and screw drivers, croissants and pasties, fresh fruits, Nutella and jams, and an assortment of nice cheeses and meats. After a short reception, we spent the rest of the day skiing. Hubby and I provided our skiing guests "boxed lunches," which consisted of a deli sandwich from a local deli, chips, fruit, European chocolate, and dark beer. We made sure that each food choice, from the dark beer and chocolate in the boxed lunches to the hard salami and cheeses on the buffet table fit with our European Ski Wedding theme, but it also fit our budget.

(Photo by Kendra Knight at Blue Bird Imaging)

On the European Breakfast Buffet:

  • Croissants
  • Cheese Danishes
  • an assortment of cheeses, including Manchego, goat, brie, parmesan, and sharp cheddar
  • fresh fruit
  • baguettes
  • smoked, sliced ham
  • summer sausage
  • hard salami
  • Nutella and fruit jams


  • Mimosas
  • Screwdrivers
  • gourmet coffee
  • hot chocolate


  • Chocolate Ganache wedding cake

Boxed Lunches:
(Served in a 6" cake box and tied with twine with a "Thank You" tag in the same font as our invitations)

  • choice of a smoked turkey and avocado or roast beef with horseradish sandwich on rustic Italian bread made at a local deli
  • Belgium chocolate
  • fresh fruit
  • sun chips
  • dark beer
For the second wedding, we went with a "backyard," Southern Appalachian, woodland theme. Again, we got married at a museum/ historic house, The Zachary-Tolbert House (I am a historian who has worked in museums for the past five years, so the venue was another way to personalize our weddings). We did a lot of DIY projects that had the look and feel of Appalachian crafts: paper flowers, fabric pendants made from quilters' fat quarters, pinwheels lined the aisle instead of flower pedals, and moonshine instead of champagne. With such a theme, a traditional BBQ meal fit seamlessly into the rest of the wedding. Afterall, what else would one serve at a Southern Appalachian wedding. Our food total for 75 people was $636.23. Our liquor total for wine and beer was $310, but we had a ton left over. $150 would have done nicely.
We designed all of our own printed materials

On the Southern BBQ Buffet:

  • Pulled Pork with an assortment of 5 BBQ sauces
  • Collard Greens
  • BBQ Baked beans
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Coleslaw
  • Portuguese Sweet Bread
  • Sweet and un-sweet Tea
  • Assorted beer and wine
  • A Moonshine toast
  • Homemade white wedding cake with homemade lemon curd and fresh raspberry filling
  • Homemade Italian cookies

One last money saving, but theme related thing we did: bought two-buck chuck from Trader Joes and made our own wine labels. (DIY post to follow.) The cost of each bottle, including printing was around $3.

Whatever your style, whatever your theme, make sure your food is a part of your overall design. If you are on a tight budget, start with your food and venue first and build a theme around them. We decided to forego the cocktail hour for each wedding. We toyed around with the idea, but ultimately decided against it. However, had we gone with teh cocktail hour, we felt the signature drinks would have been the way to go. We especially loved The Wedding Workroom's Siggy of the Month: Grandma's Tea for our Southern wedding.