Catering Your Own Wedding
Everything You Need To Know Before You Start


Catering your own wedding reception what you should do before you start

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:

  1. Find a suitable venue

  2. Determine your food budget

  3. Come up with wedding dinner menu ideas

  4. Find ways to stay within your budget

  5. Be prepared to test new recipes

  6. Work out food quantities to ensure you don’t run out

  7. Source ingredients needed for each recipe

  8. Decide if you are going to do all the cooking or get help

  9. Work out how to store food that has been cooked in advance

  10. Determine how you are going to get the food to the venue

  11. Plan on how the food will be warmed and dished up on the day

  12. Hire or borrow necessary equipment

  13. Consider food safety

  14. Food set up details

  15. Insurance

  16. Clean up after

  17. Disposal of trash

  18. Remembering to bring the little things

  19. Create checklists

  20. Conculsion

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.

1. Find a Suitable Venue

When catering your own wedding you need to find a suitable venue.

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.

  • Find out if there are any restrictions on bringing in outside food? Many places will insist that you use their own caterers or caterers that they recommend and if you don't use this service the hire for the facility increases.

  • Is the location large enough to hold the number of guests you intend to invite? This question should also be asked if you are holding the reception in a private home.

  • Does the kitchen have a refrigerator and sufficient table space for food preparation? Although a refrigerator is not necessary it would save you the trouble of hiring or bringing in coolers to keep the food from spoiling. Also ensure that the venue has a sink large enough for washing up and a good supply of hot water.

  • Are there enough electrical outlets and are these located in the areas that you intend to set up the serving tables? You may want to set up an urn for hot water, food warmers to keep the food hot, or decorate the hall with fairy lights.

  • Will the venue provide items that you otherwise may have to hire or buy? Some venues have their own tables and chairs, linens, trash cans and other items that their customers can use when they hire the hall. This will save you a lot of money and help stretch out the budget.

  • Do check out these items provided by the venue and make sure that they are usable because you don't want any unpleasant surprises on your wedding day when it is too late to do anything about it.

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

2. Determine Your Wedding Food Budget

Determine your wedding food budget when self catering a wedding.

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.

For example:

  • Let's say your budget is $4000 and you have 120 guests that means you will have $33.33 per person.

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:

  • Trim down the guest list so that you will have more to spend per head or

  • Get creative and change your menu plan using inexpensive items.

3. Come Up With Wedding Dinner Menu Ideas

Try new recipes when considering self catered menu options.

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.

For Instance:

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:

  • Hire staff to dish up and serve the meals which would increase your food costs or

  • Enlist the help of some of your wedding guests – which is what you really didn’t invited them for.

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.

More Catering Your Own Wedding Menu Ideas

4. Find Ways To Stay Within Your Budget

Use inexpensive seasonal produce when catering your own wedding buffet.

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.

  • Use seasonal and local produce where you can, these are usually fresher and cheaper.

  • Be on a constant look out for specials that your supermarkets and markets have on offer.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask your local butcher and baker if they can give you a better price for buying in bulk.

  • Purchase items that have a long shelf life such as any canned goods that you may need for cooking your wedding menu when they are on special – even if you are not ready to cook.

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.

5. Be Prepared To Test New Recipes

Catering your own wedding reception - Be prepared to test new recipes

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.

6. Work Out Food Quantities To Ensure You Don’t Run Out

Catering your own wedding with plenty of food.

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:

  • Not everyone eats the same, you will have big eaters and little eaters.

  • Then there are people whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs and will over fill their plates and never finish what’s on them.

  • And people also tend to eat more if the weather is cold.

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.

7. Source Ingredients Needed For Each Recipe

Source ingriednets needed for each recipe when self catering your own wedding.

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:

  1. Ask each the people helping you prepare the meals to purchase the items on their individual shopping list and then reimburse them later or

  2. You can shop for all the ingredients, then sort out the items that are required for each dish and deliver these items to each of the helpers. This will work out if you want complete control of how much is spent and the quality of the food purchased.

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.

8. Decide If You Are Going To Do All The Cooking Or Get Help

Self catered wedding ideas.

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.

9. Work Out How To Store Food That Has Been Cooked In Advance

You need to find ways to correctly store prepared food when self catering a 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.

10. Determine How You Are Going To Get The Food To The Venue

Decide on how you are going to transport your self catered wedding food to the venue.

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.

  • You will need sufficient boxes, food storage containers and insulated coolers to put the food in.

  • You may need to organize extra transport if your vehicle is not large enough to carry all the containers.

  • If food has been prepared and stored by friends and family you will need ensure that they can deliver the food to the venue on time. If they can’t deliver the food, you will have to make alternative arrangements for the food to be collected from their homes.

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.

11. Plan On How The Food Will Be Warmed And Dished Up 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:

  • Foods that have been frozen will need to be defrosted before reheating – so think about defrosting them the day before and when these are thawed refrigerate until you are ready to reheat on the actual day.

  • Containers that have massive quantities of food in them will take much longer to reheat than a container holding less.

  • If you are in a kitchen with limited equipment it will take longer to reheat the food and there is a chance that the first batch will get cold before you finish reheating the last dish. You may need to hire chafing dishes to help keep the food hot.

You should sit down with your kitchen coordinator to make a plan of what needs to be done on the day including:

  • Creating a food heating schedule clearly outlining timings and how the food is to be warmed up, displayed and served on the day.

When freezing your food attach notes to the dishes outlining reheating heating methods, temperatures and approximate timings.

  • You should also do the same for the other food items on your menu, such as when the salads need to be dressed, bread to be sliced, desserts to be plated and so on.

The clearer the details the smoother everything will run.

12. Hire Or Borrow Any Necessary Equipment

If necessary hire, borrow or buy necessary equipment for your self catered wedding.

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.

13. Consider Food Safety When Catering Your Own Wedding

Keep proper food handling hygiene and saftey in mind when catering your own wedding.

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.

14. Food Set Up Details

Decide on how you are going to set up your self catered wedding buffet table.

Catering your own wedding isn’t just food preparation you will need to consider:

  • The location of the buffet table and will it allow easy traffic flow?

  • How will your food will be presented on the buffet table?

  • What type of linen and decorations (if any) will be used to make the table look more attractive.

  • Who and how many people will be setting up the buffet table.

  • What time should the cold food be placed out.

  • What time should the hot food be placed out.

  • What time will the main meal be served?

  • What time should the main meal finish and table be cleared?

  • What time should the dessert buffet start and finish?

  • Make sure that you have sufficient and appropriate serving utensils for all the dishes.

  • Will you be making it a fully self-serve buffet or

  • Would you like to have some control over the food by having one or two people serving up several of the food items.

  • Who will be responsible for replenishing empty food dishes.

  • Where do you want the plates and cutlery placed – these could already be laid out on the table, or you could do it buffet style where guest collect their plates on or near the buffet itself.

15. Insurance

You may need to consider some form of insurance.

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.

16. Cleaning Up After

Self catering also includes cleaning up after the event.

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.

17. Disposal Of Trash

When catering your own wedding you need to consider disposal of waste.

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.

18. Remember To Bring The Little Things

Don't forget to bring items for cleaning up etc to your self catered wedding venue.

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:

  • All the necessary things required to complete your dishes, such as spices, herbs, salt and pepper or anything else. To make certain that you don’t forget these write them down as you cook your dishes - including the quantities needed for each dish.

  • Dishwashing liquid, sponges, drying up cloths (bring more than you think you need), pot scrubbers, draining racks and sink plugs (sometimes you find these are missing and can make washing up difficult). You should take these with you even if the venue has a dishwasher on site.

  • Absorbent paper, plastic food wrap, aluminium foil, food storage containers, rubbish bags serving utensils and oven mitts.

  • Can opener, hand mixer, kitchen knives, cutting boards (your venue may not supply these).

  • And any thing else you can think of for you situation.

19. Create Checklists

To enusre nothing is missed use checklists for every aspect of your self catered wedding.

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.

20. Conculsion

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.

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Wedding Tips and Ideas

Winter Wedding Attire Tip

If you are planning a winter wedding and still want to wear that strapless dress, see if can hire out a cape from your local gown shop. A cape will keep you warm and should help avoid those goose bumps showing up in your wedding photos.

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