With the average American wedding in the U.S. costing more than $20,000, it comes as no surprise that catering is typically one of the biggest expenses of any wedding. If you have nightmares of your guests gnawing on bland, chewy chicken breasts but want to bring catering costs down to size, take heart! Here's how to serve up a tantalizing yet budget-friendly culinary experience without cutting the guest list.

Consider a Different Time – One of the simplest and most effective ways to cut catering expenses is to simply hold your reception at a different time of day. Traditionally, the time of a reception should dictate what type of food is served. For example, if your reception begins at 5 or 6 in the evening, guests will likely show up with empty stomachs expecting to be fed. On the contrary, a reception that starts at 7 p.m. or later indicates light portions (think just dessert or hors d'oeuvres) will be served.

Eliminate Courses – Be honest: are your wedding guests really going to care if there are only three courses instead of five? Guests aren't going to notice if you eliminate a soup or salad from the menu, which can free up some of your budget.

Circumvent the Open Bar – While an open bar is the most affable way to serve alcohol, it is also the most expensive. A gracious and tasteful way to evade the open bar issue is to serve beer and wine and one or two specialty cocktails (perhaps the bride and groom's favorites).

Opt for Appetizer Tables – While passed hors d'oeuvres are elegant, they can quickly drain your budget. Skip the servers and have your caterer beautifully display appetizers on tables.

Weigh Your Dinner Options – If you have your heart set on dinner, then discuss with your caterer which dinner options may be more cost-effective. One Salt Lake City catering company says the cost per head of a wedding dinner can vary significantly and depends on a handful of factors. For example, buffets may require more food but plated dinners require more servers, which can drive up the labor cost of your caterer. In addition, there may be comparable foods that are actually less expensive than what you want to serve.

Trim Down the Dessert – More often than not brides go overboard when it comes to dessert; contrary to what you may think, you don't need one or two extra desserts on top of the wedding cake. After a night of eating and drinking, most people aren't going to eat very much (if any) dessert so stick to just one (maybe two) desserts.