Most brides probably don’t dream of using their own catering at their wedding reception. After all, you’re already balancing honeymoon plans,
seating arrangements and dress fittings.
But you’re not most brides, are you? Maybe you want the personal touch
that a home-cooked meal provides. Perhaps you’d rather spend your cash
on that perfect dress than an expensive caterer. After all, a catered
dinner can cost anywhere from $50 to $300 a head.
But with the right planning, prepping and organizing, you can create a beautiful and delicious spread — at significant savings — for all your closest friends and family. Think of dishes that can be made and frozen in advance, and things that require very little last-minute assembly. Whether you offer a variety of appetizers, a backyard barbecue or a hearty, sit-down dinner, here are some things to consider:
Size: How many guests are you having? If your wedding-of-the-century includes 300 people and a 12-piece band, you might want to reconsider going the self-catering route, since cooking for groups of that size require more equipment, time and manpower than you’re likely to have. But if you’re not inviting every soul you’ve ever met (read: less than 100 people are attending), then a homemade meal can be a joyful and sweet affair.
Location: Where is the reception being held? Some halls and event spaces may not allow an unlicensed caterer to use their facilities. If you’re hosting in a backyard or home, check the facilities: How big is the oven? Stove? Is there enough counter space? How will you keep foods warm? How will you keep foods cold? Would you have to rent expensive equipment? Will you need to create a human chain to get food from the kitchen to the table? These are the important things to think about. Make a list, start checking things off. If halfway through you’re already on the verge of a panic attack, ask a friend to go through the list with you.
Helping Hands: Chances are, you’ll need someone to help you prepare and ready the food. Maybe ask a relative or friend to pitch in with preparation. Even if you do cook everything yourself, we strongly suggest hiring people to serve and arrange everything during the reception. If you’re asking a friend, make sure it’s someone you know you can work with and trust. Nobody wants to spend their wedding day reigniting the flames under the food trays!
Meal Style: What types of food do you want to serve? A full buffet? A sit-down dinner? Just a round of appetizers? Deciding on the style of food you want to provide will dictate how much cooking you’re able to do. Anything that has to be served immediately after making, like fancy soufflés or deep-fried foods (which get soggy when sitting), should be off the menu. Things that can keep for several days, like pastas, non-lettuce-based salads and quiches will be your best friends. Things that freeze — like lasagna, meatloaf, stews and chilis — will be great time savers, and can be made months in advance. Also: What time is your wedding? Will you be serving breakfast? Brunch? A full dinner? Scheduling your nuptials at an off-meal time can make cooking and planning simpler. Snacks, anyone?
Advance Prep: Once you decide on the types of food you want to serve, think about what can be done in advance. What else do you have to do the days before the wedding — appointments, responsibilities? On the day of your wedding, do you want to be taking photos with your family or stirring pasta? Think about foods that can be prepared in advance and frozen or refrigerated. Consider dishes that require only minimal assembly before being served. Plus: don’t forget about the things a caterer would supply that you’ll be responsible for: linens, plates, silverware, drinks, glasses, centerpieces. Checklists are your friends here, people!
Mixing: Perhaps you can cook the dinner, but what about the cake? Maybe you’ll provide the main courses, but what about bread? Think about making some of the food yourself, and purchasing the rest. Nobody will leave the reception thinking: “I can’t believe she didn’t make the salad dressing.”
Keeping all these considerations in mind, here are some of our favorite ideas for wedding reception meals you can make yourself. Please leave your own in the comments below!
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Finger foods can be a great meal to make yourself. Whether served buffet style or by wait-staff, there are dozens of options for these type of dishes on your special day. Some ideas: veggies and dips, assorted cheeses, fruit and nuts, popcorn chicken, shrimp cocktail, mini toasts, stuffed mushrooms, mini quiches, deviled eggs or cocktail meatballs. This way you can provide a variety of different dishes without needing to make an entire dinner — and things like veggies, cheeses and deli just require slicing and serving.
Get more tips on making finger foods for your wedding reception at Team Wedding!
Difficulty Level: Easy
A sandwich buffet at your wedding reception is fun, simple to organize and allows each guest to create their own dinner. Offer a variety of breads, cold meats, cheeses, vegetables, sauces, plus side salads, and every visitor can make their own sandwich with little prep needed by you. This method also works if you don’t have any kitchen facilities on hand, as nothing needs to be heated. Plus — you’ll save money on providing silverware: if there’s anything you should eat with your hands, it’s a sandwich.
Get more tips on having a sandwich buffet at your wedding reception at Forkable!
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Planning a wedding reception barbecue is a fun idea for a casual, outdoor wedding. The sides and snacks can be prepared in advance, but you’ll have to have someone (ideally at least 2 people) to man the grill during the event. Hot dogs and hamburgers are great for kids, but for a more sophisticated touch you can serve marinated skirt steak, gourmet sausages, shish kebabs, pork tenderloin and other dishes. You may want to consider par-cooking the food earlier in the day and then finishing it during the reception, so your guests aren’t left hungry while they’re waiting for their meal. It’s also good to consult your guest list for vegetarians when choosing this option. Don’t worry — they make tofu everything nowadays.
Get more tips on making barbecue for your wedding reception at Do It Yourself Weddings!
Difficulty Level: Easy
A potluck wedding reception is the lowest budget option — and can be a lot of fun for a small (under 50 people), casual crowd. The biggest thing to keep in mind is variety — so I don’t recommend letting loose and seeing what shows up — nobody wants 10 pasta primaveras! You may choose to make one main dish yourself, and ask guests to bring salads, sides and desserts, or you can group people together and assign them all one type of dish. Just keep track of who is bringing what, and especially what heating equipment you’ll need — and make sure to have someone else organizing and reheating on the day itself.
Get more tips on having a potluck at your wedding reception at Super Weddings!
Image credits (from top): Jupiterimages / Getty Images, Thinkstock Photos, Thinkstock Photos, Jupiterimages / Getty Images and Thinkstock Photos