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How to save big on wedding day food

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Don't spend more than you have to on a great wedding day meal. (iStock)

Weddings have a way of getting expensive: any detail of a ceremony or reception or party can be blown out to epic proportions. But the good news is that whatever your price range, there always opportunities to save money.

Here are some ways to lower the cost of catering your reception, which is typically the biggest single item on a couple's wedding budget.

Brooklyn wedding planner Jove Meyer boils it down to one word: flexibility.

"If you're flexible, there are definitely many ways to save on catering," he says.

THINK OUTSIDE THE CATERING HALL

Meyer's company, Jove Meyer events, has planned about 130 weddings over the last six years. He says couples should consider renting out a restaurant or having a restaurant prepare and deliver their food while hiring a staffing company to serve it. Both options can be cheaper than having a full-service wedding venue cook and serve your food, and restaurants already have the staff and the know-how.

"You can buy out a restaurant, everything's included — food, staff, catering — so it comes in much cheaper," he says.

If you live in area that's well-served by food trucks, you can also give those a look. You might be able to book several of them for less than the cost of a traditional caterer and catering hall.

FOCUS

You might be tempted to provide a slew of options so everyone gets something they love: salmon for mom, steak for dad, salad for a vegetarian friend, veal for grandpa.

You don't have to do all that, and you'll save money if you narrow your choices. Consider offering one meat-based dish and one vegetarian option, possibly paired as a single entree. If you have simple tastes, consider serving comfort food instead of a fancier banquet.

STAY AWAY FROM PLATES AND SILVERWARE

Disposable goods cost less than rentals. Meyer says bamboo and faux metal plates can be "gorgeous" and cost less than traditional ceramic plates, and while paper cups will cost less than washable mugs or glasses and plasticware is less expensive than silverware. The downside, however, is that you'll create more trash.

SCHEDULING

Most weddings take place on the weekend for obvious reasons, but if you're able to get married on a weekday instead, you'll likely save money.

DON'T OVERDO THE BAR

"The number one markup for caterers is alcohol, so if you find a venue that allows you to bring your own booze in, you can get alcohol at cost," Meyer says. In addition to the cost of liquor and items like garnishes, an open bar means you'll spend more on staff. Instead, you can provide beer and wine, possibly augmented by a specially-chosen signature cocktail that reflects your tastes.

BUBBLY? UH-HUH

You can save yourself the cost of three to five cases of Champagne or Prosecco if you don't do a Champagne toast, Meyer says. Since your guests will probably already have a glass of wine or a cocktail, or both, let them toast with whatever drinks they have on hand.

"Eight-five to 90 percent of all of that champagne that gets poured all goes in the trash," Meyer says.

Meyer also advises ordering less coffee, another drink that's not a priority for most wedding-goers. He says you can get away with ordering enough coffee to serve half your guests.

SKIPPING DINNER

The traditional wedding meal is a sit-down dinner, but you don't have to do a large meal with multiple courses. Consider a cocktail party with passed hors d'oeuvres, or serve your food buffet- or tapas-style. If you provide three or four themed stations to choose from, you can provide food that will satisfy a big crowd with varying tastes. Or don't throw a dinner at all. A late-morning brunch or an afternoon lunch may cost less while still allowing you to provide a satisfying meal for your guests.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE CAKE

Many people love the idea of cutting into a giant cake and getting the photos that come with it. But if you're not a cake fan, other dessert options like cupcakes, cookies, doughnuts, or a dessert bar may cost a lot less: Meyer says a cake made in New York City might cost anywhere from $6 to $20 a slice, compared to perhaps $2.50 for a doughnut or cupcake. That's because wedding cakes can come with a bunch of fees, and plating and serving them also costs money. If you serve a different dessert, you might not need anything except plates and napkins.