Wedding Food Cost Calculator: Figure Out Your Reception Food Budget

It’s your big day, and if you’re renting a venue or holding your wedding reception in your backyard, it’s exciting to plan your meal but also nerve-wracking.

Wedding Pioneer gets that!

Our handy wedding food cost calculator will help you choose the best dinner service for your wedding.

Below, we’ve got handy tips on how much to serve, as well as appetizer selections, a dessert menu, and, let’s not forget, the late-night buffet.

Let’s plan your menu!

Wedding Food Cost Calculator

Enter number of adult guests and kid guests to generate calcs

Number of Guests
Type of Dinner Service
Full Meals Served to Each Guest
High Average
$65 / adult
Low Average
$40 / adult
Adult Costs
Kid Costs (half)

Types of Dinner Service

There are three main types of dinner service for a wedding reception:

  • Plated: a traditional sit-down dinner with one dinner served per guest.
  • Buffet: rotating food served at stations. Guests can select what they wish.
  • Family-style: trays of food delivered to each table, and guests help themselves.

Step 1: choose the type of service you’d like in the dropdown menu on our wedding food calculator, and also check out the cost differences to find the kind of service that best suits your budget.

Other Budget Considerations

A buffet-style meal can be your most economical option, as long as your venue has adequate warming facilities to keep food fresh throughout the dinner service and for a late-night buffet.

Step 2: If you’re using a caterer or serving staff, set aside 15-20% of the overall food costs for a group tip for serving staff or buffet attendants. You’ll need fewer staff for family-style service.

Another consideration is what types of meats (and a vegetarian option) to serve and, more importantly, how much to serve.

Step 3: with a plated meal, you generally ask guests what meat (or vegetarian) option they want on your wedding invitation.

Buffet and family-style meals give you more choices because you can offer two half-portion options per adult.

For instance, a plated meal would serve .5 lb of red meat to guests who request that meal. For a buffet or family-style meal, you can do two half portions of an entree to each adult (for instance, .25 lb of red meat and .25 lb of fish).

Kids under 12 generally eat 1/2 (or less) of an adult portion.

How Much To Serve

The most popular entree choices have always been red and white meat. 

Fish and vegetarian options are becoming more common depending on where you are, your culture, and your guests’ preferences.

Here’s an excellent tool to bring to your food provider (grocery store deli managers can be a big help here).

Once you know your guest totals, your food provider can help you determine the total quantities:

  • One serving of red meat OR white meat per adult measures .665 lb raw and .5 lb cooked
  • Roast beef is the most popular type of red meat, and a stuffed, boneless chicken breast is the top choice for white meat
  • A good fish selection is a poached salmon which measures .5 lb cooked
  • If you’d like to include a vegetarian option, a .5 lb cooked portion of eggplant parmesan is a great idea.

Side Dish Servings

Whatever type of dinner service, you can portion your side dishes accordingly. 

Here are side dish serving suggestions per adult (kids under 12, 1/2 portion or less depending on age):

  • 1 cup of salad (spring garden mix most popular) with add-ons like croutons, cheese, and a choice of dressing (creamy and oil-based)
  • 1/2 cup of vegetables like broccoli or carrots
  • 1 cup of rice or one potato 

Step 4: don’t forget a bread basket on each table or at your buffet stations. Count on two pieces of bread or buns per adult.

Dessert Menu

If you’re serving wedding cake, count on 1/2 piece for each adult guest, and also offer a separate dessert selection (cream or apple pies are popular). Count on one slice of pie per adult, and top it off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Step 5: offer coffee and tea with dessert, and count on 1.5 cups per adult guest.

A Note on Appetizers

It’s always easiest to serve pre-dinner appetizers in one area and allow guests to pick and choose.

Here are your best ideas for apps:

  • Veggie trays (Costco or Sam’s Club) offer a good selection of fresh, cut-up vegetables and dip. Generally, trays will measure 4 lbs. each, and each tray serves up to 16 adults.
  • Cheese and cracker trays with various mild and medium kinds of cheese and plain and herb or seed crackers. One full tray with a variety of cheese and crackers should serve up to 20 people. 
  • Fruit trays with a caramel dip are an excellent sweet selection to complement your appetizer table. Count on 3.5 pieces of fruit per person, with one fruit tray serving up to 12 guests.

Late Night Buffet

Many guests love an excellent late-night buffet! 

But (unless you know your crowd!) you don’t need to calculate food amounts based on your full guest list. A good figure to start with is 50% of adult guests sticking around to your last dance.

Here are some good late-night buffet menu items:

  • Meatballs
  • Pizza
  • Samosas
  • Mac & cheese bites
  • Donut holes

Count on about six pieces per guest of whatever items you choose.

Some couples put out bowls of chips and pretzels on the tables too. It’s up to you!

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