How to Cater Your Own Wedding
Wedding receptions are expensive. With pricy venues and the cost of food for a large group, the price of a wedding can be astronomical. Add in the fact that limited menus can hinder your creative spirit, and you could be left feeling restricted by your wedding budget. To get around these costs and let your inner foodie soar, perhaps it’s time to consider catering your own wedding. This endeavor certainly has its share of obstacles, but with proper planning, it’s easy to get the fairytale ending you’ve always wanted. Below, you can find some tips and guidelines to consider when catering your own wedding.
Create a Detailed Plan
Nothing is more important when catering your own wedding than staying organized. Start by planning your menu. Once that’s nailed down, consider everything that you need in order to serve what’s on your menu and write that down. Then consider the equipment you need to prepare your menu items, and again, write that down. Create lists, check them twice, and get help from a close friend or family member to assist in the organization and delegation of tasks.
Design a Menu That You Love
Whether you want a hot, sit-down meal or cold cuts on a buffet line, your options are endless. While you could easily let your creativity run away with you, remember that you have to prepare all the food. Assess your resources, your number of guests, and your budget to come up with a realistic menu that you feel you can achieve. Once you’ve come up with a plan, be sure to test each of your recipes before the big day, so you know if you need to make any adjustments.
Keep the Food Simple
While having exotic ingredients and intricate dishes is attractive for such a special occasion, it’s best to keep it simple when catering your own wedding. Keep in mind that you’ll be serving a significant number of guests, so now is not the time to try something new. Don’t feel pressured to provide several hors d’oeuvres, three main entrees, and four side dishes if you don’t think you can pull it off. A simple menu with just a few crowd-pleasing options can save you stress and help ensure that your food comes out well on the day of the event.
Consider these wedding menu ideas that are easy to make in bulk:
- Garden salad
- Roasted chicken breast
- Steamed vegetables
Do you have a recipe that you already love, but you need to resize it to feed a crowd? Use our recipe converter to make your favorite dishes wedding-ready.
Ask for Help
When making plans to cater your own wedding, remember that you are one person. In fact, you are one very busy person around the time of your wedding. From photo ops to first dances, your wedding day will be filled with a frenzy of fun. Food will probably not be at the forefront of your mind from start to finish. Do all that you can in advance to prepare, but remember that on the day of the event, you will need help serving the food to your guests. That being said, family and friends may not be the best people to ask, since they will want to be part of the festivities, too. Instead, ask your loved ones if they know someone looking to make a bit of pocket money. You could even put out an ad to see if there are any local teenagers or college students looking to earn some cash by helping out.
Buy Your Supplies, Don’t Rent Them
Because the wedding industry is such a booming business, you may find that wedding-related products and services have inflated prices. As a result, renting your serving and dining supplies is not always the most cost-effective option. Buying wholesale catering supplies, on the other hand, could be much more affordable and would save you the hassle of returning them the day after the wedding. Once your wedding is over, you can pack them up in storage for the next big occasion or sell them to another bride-to-be looking to buy. You can find the chinaware, flatware, and glassware you need at wholesale prices to save some money.
Save Money by Buying in Bulk
When catering your own wedding, buying in bulk is key for staying within your budget. You’re most likely cooking for more people than your typical meal, so you may have to buy much larger quantities of ingredients than you are used to. This means that smaller ingredients like spices and sauces could add up very quickly at a grocery store. In the same way, disposables and dinnerware are key to serving your meal, but they may take up a large portion of your budget if you don’t look for the best deal. Buying in bulk is traditionally much more economical than buying at an everyday retailer. If you’re certain that you need large quantities of some items, buying them in bulk is an excellent way to find the best price point.
Iron Out All the Details
Once you’ve decided on your menu, narrowed down your list of ingredients, and found help for your big day, it’s time to focus on your plan for operation. Consider these things once you start examining the logistics of catering your own wedding:
- Does your venue have cooking equipment?
- Does your venue have refrigeration?
- How will you transport all of your supplies and food to and from the venue?
- When will you cook the food?
- What temperature must you maintain for your food to be safe to eat?
- How will you keep your food at that temperature?
- If you are using chafing dishes, when will you light them?
- How will you light your chafer fuel?
- Do you have serving utensils?
- Who will prepare the food once your wedding has started?
- Who will clear the food while you are spending time with your guests?
- Do you have somewhere to clean the dishes afterwards?
When questions arise while you are planning, write them down. Make sure that you have answered all of your questions before the wedding, so you aren’t left scrambling on the day of the event.
Create a Timeline for the Event
|Sample Wedding Timeline|
|Noon - 3:00||Set up/decorate venue|
|3:00 - 6:00||Prepare food|
|6:00 - 6:30||Send food out to buffet line/send appetizers out with servers|
|6:30 - 7:30||Appetizers end, dinner is served; keep food stocked during service|
|7:30 - 8:00||Send food back to kitchen; tear down buffet line|
|8:00 - 10:00||Wash dishes/package & put away food/clean up kitchen|
|10:00||End of event|
After you have your help lined up and the details ironed out, it’s time to plan a setup and cleanup time. Let your helpers know when to arrive and when they need to start packing up. Many venues put limits on how long you’re able to occupy the space, so make sure everyone is aware of those restrictions. Additionally, schedule times for when to begin cooking the food, when to serve the food or put it out for a buffet, and when to clean up the food. Don’t forget to incorporate cocktail hour and dessert into your timeline.
Make Your Food Preparation Safe and Sanitary
Thousands of people each year get sick from improper food handling. Make sure your wedding reception doesn’t aid in that statistic. Remind your help of safe food handling techniques, and ensure that a food thermometer (or two) is present on your big day, so food is kept at the proper temperatures. Gloves are key to safe food handling, as are proper sanitizing chemicals for use throughout the preparation and cleanup processes. This is not the time to forget food safety, so create a strategy in advance for how food will be handled and make sure everyone handling the food is in the know, too.
Have a Plan for Your Leftovers
No matter how much planning and preparation you put into your big day, chances are that you’re going to have some food left over. You could bring take-out containers to let your guests take food home with them. Alternatively, you can make a plan to donate the food after the event. Not only do you need to make sure that all of your food is taken away, but you must also have a plan for any cooking equipment, serving supplies, or display ware that you brought with you. If you are taking your honeymoon immediately after the wedding, be sure to delegate these tasks to someone you trust, so nothing gets left behind at the venue.
When All Else Fails, Hire a Professional
If you’re feeling overwhelmed after reading this, consider hiring a professional instead. Below, we have a few tips for hiring a wedding caterer:
- Do an internet search for caterers in your area, or ask your venue if there are any companies that they would recommend.
- Find out how much you will be paying per dish. The caterer may even have packages with a flat rate for your number of guests.
- Remember that the cost may end up being different than the caterer’s original quote, depending on market prices and availability of ingredients.
- Always ask for a tasting. If you are going to invest in a caterer, make it worth the money by ensuring that you like their food.
Catering your own wedding can be a big task, but it is possible with a plan and some help. In fact, starting to plan early makes the food just like any other item on your wedding to-do list. You can strart by crafting a menu, then acquiring help and supplies, and finally, you can move on to making plans for the day of the event. If you're considering catering your own wedding, use this article to help you get organized and understand what you'll need to do leading up to your big day.