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Minding the menu
Bands, gowns, flowers, photos….when you start adding up the numbers – and the total keeps getting bigger – it’s natural to want to trim your budget, a large portion of which goes toward catering. To help you know when to scrimp and when to spend, we asked New York wedding planner Marcy Blum ( and Linden, New jersey, caterer, Eddie Levy, of Signature Creations (, for insider secrets.

SURPRISE! Omitting expensive foods from the menu won’t always save you money.
Faced with a steep estimate, you might be tempted to nix the shrimp, or change the beef to chicken. But don’t expect huge savings, says Blum, she explains that most caterers base their estimate on the total amount of food, rather than piece by piece or food item by food item.


SURPRISE! Catering “specials” aren’t always a good deal.
A facility may get you in its door with the advertised (and limited offer) $89-a-head price, but once you start customizing the menu (such as substituting an entrée, adding a soup, or upgrading to premium liquor) you might see you’re per person fee skyrocket. “Before you know it, eight-nine dollars becomes an hundred and nine,” warns levy.

SURPRISE! An open bar doesn’t always break the bank
You might think you’re saving by serving only wine and beer, but given no other beverage options, guests tend to imbibe generously.

SURPRISE! Bringing in your own liquor may not be a huge cost-cutter.
The caterer may charge a corkage fee (at least several dollars per bottle) to serve wine that you provide. When does it make sense to swallow the fee? When you have your heart set on a vintage that your caterer doesn’t offer. (Same goes for an “outside cake- caterers often charge a cake-cutting fee.)

A cocktail party can be more expensive than a seated dinner.
“Hors d’oeuvres are handmade, very expensive, and don’t fill you up, so you need lots of them”, explains levy, who points out that the additional staffing for appetizer “stations” (meat carver, pasta maker, sushi chef) can also jack up the price. And, says Blum, while there’s firm per plate count with a seated meal, the caterer must overestimate hors d’oeuvres in order to have plenty available. Same goes for a buffet – the caterer makes and educated guess of how much he’ll need, so he must have extra food on hand. Do the numbers before deciding on a style of service.

Taxes and gratuity can add up, bit-time.
Look for the term “plus-plus” in your contract; it means that tax plus at least 20 percent gratuity is included – no small change when you’re dealing in thousands of dollars.

SURPRISE! Feeding the vendors isn’t trivial.
No big deal to feed the band, right? Wrong! When you add up the musicians, plus photographers, etc., that could be a dozen extra people. To avoid a huge bill, serve sandwiches and soft drinks. None of the vendors will be expecting or will have time for the full dinner entrée anyway.

SURPRISE! If you have a big guest list, you may be entitled to a more reasonable per-person fee.
The larger the party, the more leverage you have in getting a discount,” says levy. “No caterer wants to let a party of two hundred walk.” So ask up front during your first meeting.

Close Shave

Got the wedding –bill blues? With these 25 brilliant suggestions, you can reduce your expenses without sacrificing your dream.

You’ve added, subtracted, multiplied, prayed-but you’ve come to the conclusion that your actual wedding costs are going to be bigger than you’d planned. And you’ve already signed contracts with the vendors. What to do? (Panic is not an option.) First, review all your expenditures – menu, music, flowers, everything. Then consult each vendor to figure out where it’s possible to cut costs or change choices without completely reneging on your agreements. (Many told us that they’d be willing to work with couples in a financial jam.) With a few snips, you’ll get your budget trimmed down in a jiff.

The Food and Drink

1. Change the menu but not the concept. For example, instead of having a station featuring carved meats, offer a less pricey station with a variety of pastas and sauces.


Or downsize dessert: Rather than a fancy finish like a chocolate torte decorated with mango sauce, serve sliced fresh tropical fruit with raspberry sorbet. According to Eddie Levy, of Signature Creations Caterers, in Linden, New Jersey, this could cut five dollars per person off the bill. Multiply that by 200 guests and you’ve instantly saved a cool thousand.

2. If you’re inviting a large number of guests, ask you caterer if he’ll give you a discount. “Use your guest count as a negotiating point,” suggests Levy.
3. Eliminate a course. You can easily lose the appetizer and start the meal with a salad. No one will notice.
4. Rather than serving top-shelf, or premium, liquors, offer the house brands, which are significantly cheaper.
5. Change the date. If you’re booked for a Saturday night, which is prime time (Only fifty-two Saturdays a year! Note levy), ask your caterer if you can switch to a Sunday afternoon. He may offer you a price break if he thinks he has a good chance of rebooking your original time slot.
6. Instead of costly pre-made favors, make inexpensive ones yourself. Sugar cookies cost pennies; bake ahead and freeze, then package in glassine bags.
7. Being flexible is key when you’ve got a redefined budget says Luis Colazo of Lotus, a New York florist. Rather than insisting on certain types of flowers, remind your florist of your preferred style – for example, you want a pink and yellow English garden theme – then trust him to find what best fits your

Once I sign a contract, can I change anything?
That depends on the vendor and how understanding he is. For example, “a reputable caterer will work with you even though you’ve signed a contract,” says Eddie levy, of Signature Creations Caterers. Why would he be so compliant? “To keep your business and generate good word of mouth.” If you decide, though, to cancel a vendor’s services altogether, be prepared to lose your deposit, usually one-third to one-half the total. Some vendors go out of their way, however, to be as accommodating as possible. “If I can rebook the date, I’ll return the deposit,” says Melanie Nashan, a Montana photographer.

Loan and Behold
If you’ve exhausted all other possibilities and are still coming up short, consider a short-term loan. Doug Henderson of Credit Counselors, a nonprofit agency in Richmond, Virginia, advised that you read – and understand – the terms and conditions of any agreement so you know exactly what you’re getting into:

CREDIT CARD Make sure the account’s monthly interest rate is no more than 4 percent, and have a specific plan for how you’ll pay off the balance in a few months.

BANK LOAN Be sure to make all payments on time; if you don’t you may forfeit your low interest rate for one that’s much higher (as steep as 30 percent, in some cases).

LINE OF CREDIT this is a more flexible, higher-interest-rate loan, also available from a bank. It’s the way to go if you’re not certain how much you need to borrow.

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