Aug 19, 2017
If you are like most couples who are about to get married, you are already discovering how expensive a wedding can be.
Adding up all expenses of the wedding gown, flowers, photographers, reception hire, and all the little extras you soon realize that you may need to consider a self-catered wedding to stay within your budget.
However, as good as this might seem do make sure that you are comfortable with the challenges that self-catering can bring.
Catering for a large group of people is not something that many of us have had to do and requires a lot more than just food preparation so you should approach this with your eyes wide open.
If you have decided on catering your own wedding reception you will need to plan everything down to the last detail to ensure that nothing is left to chance, you will need to:
As you can see from the list above there are many things that you will need to take into consideration even before the pot hits the stove and you start cooking for your wedding.
So, let me explain each of the above in a little more detail.
Finding a suitable venue may not be a problem if you are having a wedding at home with only a few guests but it is something you should consider if you have a large guest list.
When you are looking at possible suitable venue sites don't just look at the view you will also need to look behind the scenes.
In summary, when you are on a budget your best option would be to select a venue that has nearly or all the things that you would require, including a kitchen that is large enough to heat, store and refrigerate the amount of food you are preparing as well as all the tables, chairs, crockery, cutlery, glassware and urns that you will need to feed and seat your guests.
The Less You Need To Hire = More Money To Spend On Food
Before you can work out your wedding menu you will need to calculate how much you can spend on food per person.
To do this, you will need to determine the number of guests and don’t forget to include yourself, members of the bridal party and any hired help such as the photographer and DJ in this number – you would be surprised at how often they do get forgotten.
Then using the amount, you have set aside for food, you will be able to work out a suitable menu.
To calculate how much you will have to spend per person, take the amount you have set aside for food and divided it by the number of guests.
Depending on your circumstances you may need to use a portion of this amount to include drinks and possibly the hire of equipment not provided by the venue such as tables, chairs, plates, food heating equipment and so on.
If you have decided on serving expensive cuts of meat and produce this amount may not be insufficient to cover the costs so you would either:
When it comes to planning a self-catered wedding menu you want to choose dishes that are within your capabilities and those of the people who are helping you.
You may have had a dream of a full sit-down meal but this could be difficult to do when you are self-catering for a large guest list.
The reason for this is that it is very labour intensive; each of the guest’s meals will have to plated in the kitchen then served to them at the table in a quick and fast manner to ensure the food is served hot. To make this happen you would either:
A more cost effective method would be to provide a buffet this is less labour intensive and can easily be set up as self-serve station.
Now if you are on a very tight budget you may have to re-think the timing of your reception so that you can stay within your allocated budget.
This could mean holding an afternoon tea or a cocktail party reception where finger food is served and people won’t be expecting a full meal.
Another thing to consider when planning the menu is the kitchen facilities, you may have a very small kitchen with just a single cooker so heating up copious quantities of food on the day may not be practical. You would either need to consider serving more cold dishes or if space permits hire food warmers.
The Kitchn has a great article with menu and planning tips if you are catering for 200.
When planning your menu consider all the options that you have available to you in your area so that you can make the most of your food budget.
Also, when cooking for a wedding on a budget make the most of cheap meat cuts these are full of flavour when cooked slowly and can easily be prepared in advance, frozen and reheated on the day.
When looking for recipes for your wedding menu you may come across ones that you are not familiar with and are considering including as part of your menu.
If this is the case do test them out for taste and accuracy before you go out and purchase ingredients for the dish in bulk.
From personal experience, I have found that not all recipes are written accurately. I have come across recipes with missing ingredient quantities as well as missing steps, some of which are not obvious until you start cooking or even tasting the finished product.
So, to be 100% certain that the recipe is a good one, I would advise you to test the recipe out to make sure that it is easy for you to make.
What's more by testing the recipe you should also find out if it tastes good and can be made ahead of time and frozen because the last thing that you want is a fiddly recipe that needs to be cooked on the day.
You will find sites that say around 75% for you guests will accept the invitation and this is what you would cater for.
This might be fine for a strictly controlled sit-down meal where it has been dished up in the kitchen but when it comes to buffets or even finger food for a wedding, I am hesitant to agree due to several factors:
So rather than running the risk of embarrassment due to the lack of food, what I personally would do is prepare more food than I need.
How Much Food For a Wedding Buffet
Depending on your budget I would focus on having one, two or three main dishes based around meat. The total combined number of servings for these main dishes should exceed the number of your wedding guests.
How much extra will be determined by your own judgement based on what you know about your wedding guests and their eating habits as mentioned in the above points.
Tip: You might like to consider having someone serve the main dishes as a form of portion control to ensure that everyone gets their fair share. Also use smaller serving spoons.
In addition to the main dishes include four or five hearty dishes that have been made using inexpensive items such potatoes, rice, pasta, and seasonal vegetables here you could cater for just the right amount or slightly over for each dish, as most people will like to try everything they tend to take smaller portions.
Include a variety of fresh breads and salads to the buffet table, not only will it help fill the stomachs of your guests, your buffet table will look plentiful and full too.
With the dessert menu, you could opt to serve just one type or have a buffet and serve a variety.
If you were to serve a single dessert, you would cater for the exact amount with some extras for just in case. If you do this make sure that the desserts are already on plates otherwise you run the risk of running out if the guests help themselves.
With a dessert buffet, you want it to look just as good as your mains buffet so you need to make it look full without it being excessively over catered.
So, when serving up slices and cakes have these cut slightly smaller than the average serving size. By doing this you will get a few more portions out of each of your cakes and slices.
If you are baking cookies or cupcakes you can get more out of a recipe by making them smaller.
If you think your dessert buffet is going to look empty consider placing the desserts onto several medium or small sized platters rather than one big one, as these can be spread out over the table to give the impression of having plenty. You can also include platters of fresh seasonal fruit to bulk up the look.
Now that you have determined your wedding menu and how much food to prepare the next thing you will need to consider is purchasing the ingredients, you could either:
To get the best value for your money you may have to go outside of your normal shopping areas.
So, do take the time to investigate the options that you have in your local area to ensure that you get the best value for your money and make your wedding food budget stretch further.
Depending on the size of your guest list, you may be able to prepare most of the items yourself before the day. However, you are going to need help for large groups and serving the food on the day.
This will mean enlisting help from anywhere between eight to thirty friends for food preparation both before and on the day of the wedding. The more people you have the lighter the workload will be for everyone.
Before the wedding
One of the first steps is to select your menu and then choose which of your helpers will make each dish. So, select the menu carefully and match your helpers with the jobs.
Before you hand out the cooking jobs you may like to discuss with each of your helpers what jobs they will feel comfortable doing and narrow down the choices according to the abilities of the helpers.
This could mean using their talents to the best advantage possible, for example if one of the helpers is talented in baking and decorating cakes don’t let them oversee making the salad.
As you are considering your list of helpers, look for someone who is well organized and reliable to act as a coordinator and pull everything together.
This person does not necessarily have to take part in the food preparation but just make sure that the reception preparation runs smoothly. Don't try to coordinate the event yourself you will be busy enough with other things.
You will still maintain control - you will decide on the menu and choose your helpers, but you will have someone else to handle all the details which will take some of the stress from you.
As you assign out the jobs, keep track of things by writing the helpers names, their phone numbers on a job description list as well as making a shopping list of ingredients needed for each dish.
At the planning stage, you may like to get your helpers together and introduce the coordinator to everyone and encourage them to call the coordinator with any questions that they may have (but do check with the coordinator first to see if this is okay).
To avoid confusion be very clear as to what is required and hand out copies of the job descriptions and reception plan, so that everyone is clear on what will be happening on the day. Make sure that you keep the original job description, shopping lists and reception plans for yourself.
On the day of the wedding
You will ask your friends to work as a team of two and for each team; you will assign a task or two that they will do on the day: such as making a pot of coffee, or cutting up vegetables, setting up the buffet table etc, by doing this every person's job will be light and they will still be able to enjoy being a guest at your wedding.
Whether you are cooking alone or having help you do need to think about storing the food that is being preparing in advance.
Will you and your friends have enough refrigerator and freezer space or do you need to consider hiring a refrigerator and or freezer for a brief time.
Another thing to think about is the containers that you plan to store them in. You can make it easier for yourself by having the dishes frozen in containers that are suitable for reheating and possibly serving on the day.
If you do this, do consider the heating options that the venues kitchen as to offer - use foil trays for heating in the oven, or microwave safe containers for use in the microwave.
However, do make sure that the size of the containers you use will fit into the appropriate heating equipment.
When the day arrives how are you going to get everything to the venue, it's not just a matter of taking a dish or two you will have many more than that.
Don’t forget you also need to factor in the time it will take you to pack and unpack the food and travel time from your home to the venue and back.
All of this could easily take up two or more hours of your time so don’t underestimate it. If you do you run the risk of being late for everything else on the day.
Not every kitchen is the same, you could have one with just the bare basics of a cooktop and oven or you could get the use of a kitchen that provides a variety of commercial grade equipment.
Regardless of what type of kitchen you are using it is important that the people working in the kitchen on the day be fully familiar with how the equipment works.
When it comes to heating your food remember:
You should sit down with your kitchen coordinator to make a plan of what needs to be done on the day including:
When freezing your food attach notes to the dishes outlining reheating heating methods, temperatures and approximate timings.
The clearer the details the smoother everything will run.
You may have the perfect venue with all the necessary equipment that will make food service and preparation easy.
However, if your venue is lacking certain equipment you will need to bring in your own and this could mean hiring or borrowing.
You may need to bring in your own serving dishes, serving utensils, a hand mixer for whipping up cream at the last minute, chafing dishes to help keep the food warm, pots and pans, tableware, linens and so on.
Therefore, do be sure to take a note of what the venue does and doesn’t provide so that you can plan to have all the necessary items in order make things run smoothly on the day.
The last thing that you want is to have your guests end up sick because the food was incorrectly handled.
Therefore, to minimize this risk make sure that cold foods are kept cold until needed, hot food to be reheated to the correct temperatures and provide a number of cutting boards so that there is no cross contamination of raw produce.
Also make sure that there is plenty of soap, hot water, hand towels and or food handling gloves for your kitchen helpers. Read more about foodsafe handling here.
Catering your own wedding isn’t just food preparation you will need to consider:
When catering your own wedding it is a good thing to consider taking up liability insurance. This might seem an added expense to your already tight budget – but could be something well worth spending on just in case things do go wrong.
So, think about it, could you really afford to the pay the hospital bills if any of your guests were affected by food poisoning at your wedding.
At the end of the day when all the fun and celebrations are over there is the big clean up after. Things need to be put back, sorted, stacked and stored in their proper place.
Items need to be accounted for both the ones that you have brought to the venue and any items that you have hired.
You may not be able to supervise these tasks yourself – but do ensure that you have given clear instructions to whoever will oversee the clean up as to what is expected.
Depending on the location of your venue you may be responsible for the remove of trash from the site once the function has finished.
This may be the case if your venue is in a remote location, on a private property, beach or other such location.
If this is the case you need to organize someone to collect and deliver the trash to the appropriate waste disposal site and cover any fees incurred.
There will be many small items that you will need to bring with you on the day which can easily get over looked. You may need to pack items such as:
With all the things going on when it comes to planning a self-catered wedding it is easy to forget things so you should be well organized.
You can do this by creating checklists and timings for all the tasks that need to be done on the day.
Keep master copies yourself and give appropriate copies to your helpers so that they are fully aware of what is going on.
Now that you have read this article you may choose to fully or partially self-cater your wedding, or decide not to at all.
Whatever you decide
The things that you should remember when planning any aspect of a wedding is that you must be highly organized, start planning early and gather a good team of reliable, responsible helpers around you for your day to be a success.
All the best with your plans.