Are you looking for the best wedding reception food ideas on a budget?
Does $7 per person sound good?
What is the cheapest food for a wedding reception?
The cheapest food for a wedding reception is food that you or your family make yourself (potluck). Some of the food ideas we have seen are taco bars, barbecue, pasta bars, pizza, and appetizers. When choosing one of these options it’s possible to keep your food cost under $10 per person.
To go straight to the food ideas, you can jump to each section here:
- Taco bar
- Pasta bar
- Food truck
- DIY potluck dinner
- Baked potato bar
- Charcuterie and snacks
- Desserts and coffee
- Local restaurant catering
- More wedding planning tips
For this article, we reached out to 20 wedding caterers in a few different states to get a realistic picture of what wedding catering actually costs.
The lowest price for wedding catering per person was $27. The most expensive was $175.
The average price of food amongst the 20 caterers was $76 per person (A detailed table can be found at the bottom of this article).
This price did not include alcohol or service fees.
What about self-catering and food trucks?
Price for Wedding self-catering
We talked to dozens of couples who self-catered their wedding (or went with a food truck/local restaurant catering) and the average price spent on food was only $7 per person. Amazing!
What are some inexpensive food ideas for a wedding reception?
Inexpensive food ideas for a wedding reception include pasta, barbecue (chicken, pork, burgers, etc.), tacos, pizza, charcuterie boards, baked potato bars, and appetizers. These foods are easy to make and you can get all of the items needed at your local grocery or outlet store.
Here are a bunch of our favorite cheap wedding reception food ideas:
1. Barbecue (BBQ Chicken, Burgers, Pork, and More)
Serving barbecue at your wedding is a great way to keep your food costs down and stay on track with your wedding budget.
We have worked with so many couples who went the BBQ route.
My brother-in-law served bbq at his wedding and it was one of the best wedding meals I have ever eaten (and I have photographed/planned close to 500 weddings).
Here are some options to consider if you are thinking about serving barbecue at your wedding:
What To Grill For The Main Course
- Pulled pork
- Hot dogs
- Tri-tip steak
Sides To Include with BBQ
- Baked beans
- Mashed potatoes
- Baked potatoes
- Roasted potatoes
- Potatoe salad
- Macaroni salad
- Mac n cheese
- Green beans
We talked with some of our couples who did BBQ for their wedding reception and asked them what they served and how much everything cost.
Here are some of the prices our couples paid along with their guest count:
$450 for 180 People
“We cooked (with the help of our family) everything in crockpots.
Pulled pork, pasta salad, beans, and potatoes. So delicious! $450 to feed 180 people and everyone loved it.” – Ashley and Travis
$1,300 For 75 People
“For our wedding, we went with a BBQ catering company and paid $1300 for 75 guests. The price included 3 different meats, 3 sides, cornbread, mac-n-cheese appetizer bar, lemonade/iced tea/water. It was perfect for our backyard wedding.” – Steph and Jeremy
$375 for 150 people
“We did hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and hots dogs. We purchased everything from Costco. We also served mac and cheese and salad. A few family members brought sides in crock pots. We did not want typical wedding catering. We paid $375 to feed 150 people. Our guests loved our food!” – Kaitlyn and Landon
2. Taco Bar
A really affordable wedding food idea (and super popular) is a taco bar.
Seriously, who doesn’t love Mexican food!?
If you plan on doing a taco bar, or any other DIY option, just make sure you have a plan for keeping your food warm and your guests safe.
One option is hiring someone to help with the prep and serving.
You will probably be able to find someone by reaching out to your social network or you can hire someone off of Thumbtack for a very reasonable rate.
So what items do you include in a taco bar for a wedding reception?
Taco Bar Meat and Shells
- Ground beef
- Shredded chicken
- Grilled/chopped chicken
- Carnitas (shredded pork)
- Flour tortillas (soft)
- Corn tortillas (soft)
- Hard taco shells
Taco Bar Toppings and Essentials
- Refried beans
- Shredded cheese
- Grilled peppers and onions
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
- Tortilla chips
- Salsa/pico de gallo
- Sour cream
- Black olives
- Hot sauce
We talked with some of our couples who did a taco bar for their wedding reception and asked them what they served and how much everything cost.
Here are some of the prices our couples paid along with their guest count:
$800 for 110 People
For our wedding, we did a taco bar. It cost us about $800 for 110 guests. We served ground beef, shredded chicken, refried beans, chips, salsa, and lots of toppings. Our family helped with cooking and we hired a friend of the family to help with food prep and making sure everything stayed warm. Our guests were so happy with our wedding dinner. – Jillian and David
$950 for 100 people
We served tacos and enchiladas at our wedding. My mom and I did most of the cooking the night before. We paid someone $100 to help set stuff up and serve guests. We also had beans, rice, chips, and salsa. We paid around $950 for 100 people. We could’ve kept prices lower if we would’ve done just tacos but my husband really wanted enchiladas. It was a lot of work but it worked out great and we save some money. – Erin and Wesley
3. Pasta Bar
There are so many options that you can include in a pasta bar, and you can make huge quantities of food for very little money.
This makes a pasta bar one of the best reception dinners to serve your guests.
Here are some of the items you can include in your pasta bar:
- Tomato sauce
- Alfredo sauce
- Carbonara sauce
- Bolognese/meat sauce
Sides and Toppings
- Grilled chicken
- Italian sausage
- Steamed vegetables
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Sautéed greens
- Roasted peppers
- Grated parmesan cheese (in a shaker)
- Chopped basil
- Hot pepper flakes
4. Food Truck (A Popular Choice For Wedding Reception Food Ideas On A Budget)
Food trucks are becoming really popular at weddings and they can be a great way to serve amazing food at affordable prices.
Here are some of the food trucks that we have seen at weddings:
- Mexican food (tacos and burritos)
- Grilled cheese and specialty sandwiches
- BBQ (Everything from chicken and pork to amazing barbecue sandwiches)
- Chicken and waffles
- Ice cream and desserts
$350 for 50 people
“We booked a taco truck and it was so delicious! Each guest got 2 tacos (beef, chicken, or vegetarian), rice, beans, chips, and salsa. We paid $350 for 50 people ($7 per person).” – Melissa and Chris
$1200 for 82 people
“We did a BBQ food truck that included chicken, veggie burgers, grilled vegetables, salad, mac-n-cheese, baked beans, and rolls. It cost us $1200 for 82 guests. I wouldn’t change a thing if we had to do it again.” – Marcie and Ross
Serving pizza at your wedding is such a great idea if you are looking to save some money.
We talked to one of our couples who served pizza as their main course and they told us that some of their guests said that it was one of the best wedding meals they had had.
And guess what it cost?
$300 to serve 70 wedding guests!
They ordered 8 different kinds of pizza to choose from and served garlic bread with cheese and salad.
Couples, listen up!
You do not have to spend a fortune on feeding your guests.
It is very possible to have an amazing wedding without breaking the bank.
P.S. Everybody loved pizza. Go ahead and make it your main meal.
6. DIY Potluck Dinner And Food Stations
We have planned quite a few weddings that were DIY potlucks but I can also speak from personal experience with this one.
When my mom got re-married, they had a buffet-style potluck dinner that included multiple food stations.
It was honestly some of the best food I have ever had at a wedding. It was comfort food.
My mom, grandma, aunt, and a few other family members did all of the cooking the day before the wedding.
Here are some of the foods that were served at my mom’s wedding:
- Roasted turkey
- Glazed ham
- Potato salad
- Macaroni salad
- Shrimp and cocktail sauce
- 2 different green salads
- A deli tray with turkey, ham, salami, and a variety of cheeses (we have a ton of little kids in our family and they all loved this)
- A fruit tray
- Crackers and rolls
- A huge cookie table
It was amazing!
Potlucks usually work out best when you have a few family members who love to cook.
Have a few different people bring their favorite meal or side in a crockpot and you’ve got yourself an amazing wedding family-style meal that does not cost much money at all.
7. Baked Potato Bar
We have seen a baked potato bar at a few weddings and they are always a hit.
Here are some items to consider including with your baked potato bar:
- Sour cream
- Crumbled bacon/bacon bits
- Green onions
- Shredded chicken
You might want to consider serving a few other filling sides (like mac and cheese) alongside the potato bar.
8. Charcuterie And Snacks
We have planned many weddings that were afternoon weddings and the couple decided to have charcuterie, snacks, and desserts.
This is a great way to keep costs down.
You can get so much food in bulk at Costco and Sam’s Club.
Then just set up your buffet table to look nice.
I will be doing a video shortly where I walk you through Costco to price everything out. Check back in a couple of weeks for the video.
You may be asking, what foods should you use on a wedding charcuterie board?
Here are a few items to consider using for your wedding charcuterie board:
- Cured meats like salami, prosciutto, and ham
- A variety of cheeses (cheddar, brie, gouda, etc.)
- Nuts like almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and cashews (make sure you have a charcuterie board that is also nut free to protect any guests that might have allergies)
- Mini slices of bread/baguette
- Grapes, berries, figs, and other fresh fruit
- Dried apricots, cranberries, dates, etc.
- Variety of olives
- Marinated artichoke hearts
- Smoked salmon
- Roasted vegetables (or marinated)
- A few different flavors of jam
- Edible flowers
- Dijon mustard and a few other condiments
9. Appetizers and Hors d’oeuvres
We have worked on a few weddings where the couple served a ton of appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, and snacks (like an extended cocktail hour) instead of having a typical catered meal by a professional caterer.
Guests absolutely loved the variety.
And it was a great way to keep costs down for the couple.
Here are a few ideas if this is something you want to consider:
- Mini burgers or sliders
- Grilled cheese sliders
- Fried mac and cheese bites
- Mini pizzas
- A variety of skewers (chicken, shrimp, bacon, vegetables)
- Mini tacos
- Individual fruit salads
- Soft pretzels
- Mini chicken and waffles
- Little corn dogs
- Specialty popcorn
P.S. I will be doing a video in a couple of weeks where I walk you through Costco and Trader Joe’s to give you an idea of what you could serve and how much it would cost.
Check back in about 2 weeks for the video. It will be right here in this spot.
10. Desserts And Coffee
If you are looking for unique ways to keep your wedding costs down on your big day, you might want to consider having an afternoon wedding.
By having an early afternoon wedding, you can serve a lighter meal.
Some of the couples that we have worked with saved a lot of money by offering a variety of desserts and coffee to their guests.
Here are a few dessert ideas that you could serve at your afternoon wedding:
- Cake pops
- Chocolate-dipped pretzel sticks
- Cakes or cupcakes
- Ice cream sundaes
- Candy table
- Mini churros
- Cookie table
- Individual desserts table (mini pies, cookies, candy, etc.)
11. Local Restaurant Catering
When shopping around for wedding catering prices, we recommend calling a few local restaurants to get a quote.
Many couples we have worked with have also used local Mexican or barbecue restaurants to cater their wedding.
Here are a few of our couples who provided details on pricing and guest counts:
$1500 for 250 People
We used a local Mexican restaurant that provided fajitas, tacos, rice, beans, queso, guacamole, chips, sour cream, and salsa. The food was incredible! We paid $1500 for 250 people ($6 per person). – Stacy and Adam
$775 for 50 people
Olive Garden catered our wedding and our guests thought it was awesome. It included a create-your-own pasta bar, breadsticks, and salad. It cost $775 for 50 guests. – Julie and David
When planning your wedding menu and brainstorming food ideas, sit back and think of the typical wedding meals you have had.
Many of them were probably some kind of meat in lots of sauce (most likely chicken).
It was probably served with a sauteed or steamed veggie.
And a roll and some rice were on the side.
Now think of paying an average of $76 per plate for each one of your wedding guests.
We are not judging you if decide to go down the traditional catering route, but know that there are so many great alternative options if you are looking to spend less money.
More Wedding Planning Tips
Here are a few more wedding-planning articles that you might find helpful: