Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Catering your own wedding reception

Tracy asked if I knew how much fruit to buy for a wedding reception. Hmmm...

Whether you're hosting a wedding or just planning a breakfast, buying the right amount of food saves money. (Remember the potato salad that never quit?)

I recommended she read a library copy of the oldie-but-goodie, How To Have A Big Wedding On A Small Budget Brush away the tacky ideas and concentrate on the plans for catering your own reception.

I always like to copy the professionals. We found these photos of fancy fruit displays. Wow...and yikes! These could be a disaster if you're not artistic.

The good news? Elegance is a silver platter piled only with strawberries in season. Add a crystal bowl of freshly whipped cream or powdered sugar for dipping.

Finally I stumbled upon EZ Wedding Planner, which tells you exactly how much of each food to buy per person. Bingo!

What tips do you have for catering your own wedding reception?


Anonymous said...

I agree. Keep it simple. Serve MORE of FEWER items to make the table look abundant.

Most of those fancy fruit displays would cost a fortune in fruit.

Look at the ones that use greenery and other things to add height and interest. That's a much cheaper option than a tower of fruit.

Get a few plant stands in staggering heights, put a pineapple and some grapes and a big flower bloom on top, and use a cascade of ivy or ferns to stretch down to the fruit platter. Add a few pieces of fruit on each level just to make it look connected.

Viola! A fruit tower without a ton of fruit.


Anonymous said...

She needs to check with the produce wholesalers/distributers in her city. Every area has them. She should be able to buy case amounts of fruit at a huge discount.

Don't be too proud to beg for the chance to buy wholesale as a one-time event. Tell them you are willing to pay the tax up front.

Sallie (has done this for 2 weddings so far!)

Anonymous said...

I think it is very important to give the appearance of abundance whenever food is being served. I think guests are uncomfortable about taking what they want if it seems that might be just enough food for a gathering. Once you are absolutely sure you have plenty of food, then concentrate on making it look abundant. Fruit spilling out of containers gives the feeling that there is so much it is overfloweing. Lots and lots of a few things can look more abundant that an adequate amount of a lot of things. Mirrored surfaces give the illusion of abundance also. Again, so much is about presentation!

Shannon said...

I like to mirror the table by putting two of each tray on the table. That way people don't have to reach across and it makes the table look very full. And easy way to add height is to put bricks or books on the table and cover with fabric, then set the platters on top. Height really adds to the tablescape. Another fun thing to do is to spread the food around the room. I had a main table, a punch table with cookies, a cake table, a table with apple cider and a warm dip, a the groom's cake table. It was nice to have the traffic spread around the room and it made it seem like we had tons of food.
Above all, delegate someone else to be in charge during the reception so you can enjoy your day!

the momma said...

thanks, Merideth!! you are so kind!
ladies ~ keep it coming ~ thanks so much!!


Anonymous said...

Did you do your own wedding reception or was it professionally catered? If you did it yourself, did you economize, or did you become frugal after running a home of your own?

Heather said...

Thank you! I'm doing a small one in two weeks and am doing mostly on my own with a little help from a friend. Including the Cake! Yikes. Lots of prayers will go into this party prep.

Queen of Carrots said...

Definitely have someone else in charge of the food--not the bride! (I'm not even sure what was done at my reception, I was so uninvolved. It all looked lovely, though.)

Make sure that you put a good person in charge and that everyone KNOWS who's in charge.

This won't be appropriate in every situation, but having a lot of friends used to pitching in, we made up a simple menu plan and had anyone who asked to help bring things off the list. It allowed us to do a full meal for 350 people on a very low budget. (We found a good deal on sliced meat and had various people bring bread, salads, fruit, veggies, etc.) This was for a relatively informal outdoor wedding.

Clear recipes, diagrams, plans, etc., make it easier for people to help. One thing I do remember is that my roommate--who was in charge of the food--had labeled plastic pitchers with the correct height to fill for each ingredient to mix up a new batch of punch.

April said...

I love this advice! We just catered my sister's wedding in September. I echo the advice about simplicity and presentation. Different cake pedestals (you can get them very cheaply at Dollar General, if you can't find them elsewhere) helped add height.

The other thing that helped create the look of abundance was not scrimping on the inexpensive things. We had lots of carrots and celery and dip. Lots of crackers, spread and cheese (which we got very inexpensively). That helped round out the sandwiches, cake and fruit well. And we were all very full when we headed home!

lizzykristine said...

We catered an afternoon brunch for just over 200 at our wedding last year. Some thoughts:

~ Keep your receipts. We had tons of punch leftover and could have returned the unopened bottles of juice & 7-up.

~ I'll second Marie & anonymous (#3) that it is better to have tons of a few things so that guests feel comfortable taking what they want. Also, better too much food than not enough in case more guests than planned arrive. Also -- it is much easier on the kitchen staff to have fewer things to think about. ;)

~ You'll have leftovers, so have some ziplocks, foil, cling wrap, etc., on hand. Your cleanup helpers can take some home, and the rest can serve as a little snack after all the cleanup is done (you'll be hungry by then!)

~ If you're part of the immediate wedding party's family, you probably won't have time to be in the kitchen -- too many guests will want to speak to you! So write up a sheet of instructions & tips for the ladies in the kitchen. That way they can handle it even if you don't make it back there.

~ Food was the most expensive part of our wedding, but even then we kept in low. For example, instead of buying chip dip, the bridesmaids and I made homemade hummus as part of our time together!

~ Keep in mind how much fridge space you have available -- some churches have lots of fridges, others don't. If you're short on space, something like strawberries that can be dumped into a bowl at the last minute might be easier than trying to fit in a large, already-prepared fruit display.

Just a few things off the top...

TheNormalMiddle said...

Elope :)

And afterwards, go eat at your favorite restaurant and call it a day.

Hey, you asked!

Ames said...

We did our own wedding - we used Sam's club for most of the produce. All we had were fruits and cheesecakes. The most important thing for me was having a "coordinator". This person need not be an expert (although ours was a friend who happens to be a chef and baker extroidinare), but needs to be organized and prepared to handle anything from set up to "portion watching" and everything in between!

Layla said...

Thanks for this post and the comments! These tips will be VERY useful for me in June!

Kristy said...

A friend made the cake for my wedding. I don't like white cake all that much so it was a simple chocolate cake with raspberry jam between the layers.

She got some of those plastic pillars that you stack cake on (can't think what they're called) and made 3 layers.

The cake was iced with a simple basket weave design in homemade butter cream icing and we used a wholesale fruit vendor from the local farmer's market to buy enough berries (mostly strawberries with some blue berries, black berries and raspberries mixed in) to cover the top of each layer.

It was very simple and looked very elegant. It also tasted fantastic.

Also flowers are pretty easy to do yourself. Hand-tied bouquets were all the rage when I got married. Another friendly wholesaler provided field bunches of yellow and white daisies, a 50 count bunch of roses, and a huge bunch of lemon leaves for just over $100. A crafty friend turned that into flowers for bride and groom, 2 bridesmaids, 4 groomsmen, parents and grandparents and even an arrangement for the front of the church.

Those less crafty could make the hand-tied bouquets for the ladies and order the rest from a florist and still save money.

Anne Marie@Married to the Empire said...

My tip? Don't!

I guess that's not very helpful, is it? ;-) In the spirit of being somewhat helpful, presentation is everything! You don't have to serve anything expensive, as long as it looks good. And make sure there's plenty for everyone.

I had a caterer, and there's no way I could have copied her presentation on my own. However, some of the more simplistic things could be easy to pull off. We opted for finger foods, as I didn't want to do a full-blown dinner, but I wanted my guests to have something more substantial than just cake and punch. The caterer had different breads, meats, and cheeses. People could put together their own little sandwiches. There was also plenty of fruit. Find a grocer/baker who makes artisan breads and buy several types. Deli meats can be bought in bulk fairly inexpensively at places like Sam's or Costco. Have a couple of different cheeses available.

One thing I recall about the presentation that I think just about anyone could pull off was that the caterer had long, thin loaves of bread in silver buckets. It had an artistic look about it, and it fit in with the sandwich station.

Oh, for do-it-yourself types, borrow borrow borrow! Using real silver and crystal in your displays is so much nicer than those fake trays made of plastic. Not that there's anything wrong with that if that's all you can get, but if your family has friends who are willing to lend their real stuff, go with that option!

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

My daughter had a very small wedding and reception (she and her future hubby paid for most of it) but then we had a huge wedding open house a couple weeks later.

The actual wedding and reception were mainly for relatives and a few very close friends.

At the big open house (in our home at the time), we served inexpensive sandwiches (on white and wheat bread), cutup veggies and fruit (in season only), cookies, and two different kinds of cake. We already had serving plates and platters so it was easy to make everything LOOK pretty.

For her wedding flowers, she had purchased roses through a local florist for a good price. She and her bridesmaids made simple bouquets and flower arrangements.

Her bridal bouquet was copied from a Martha Stewart Wedding magazine. It was simply a lot of roses (all same color) put together in a bouquet and then the stems tied. Then a silky ribbon that matched her wedding colors was wound around, all the way up the stems.

For music at her reception, she hired a string quartet from the local high school!

Her wedding was small and elegant. The open house a couple of weeks later was very festive and since the bride and groom were relaxed, they got to spend time with their friends.

Anonymous said...

I think the biggest mistake I see when people do a reception on a budget is serving a mediocre meal when just hors d'oevres or even cake and champagne would have been so much more elegant. If all you can really afford is cake and punch, then serve cake and punch, and make it so beautiful that everyone will feel honored to share it with you. Buy or make a high quality cake (so that it tastes fantastic) and of course it should be beautiful. Serve it on fancy plates with silver forks and use linen or cotton cocktail napkins and put that punch in a beautiful bowl (borrow or rent these items if you need to. Napkins could be made or bought inexpensively on eBay perhaps). I would rather my guests think that my reception was the most elegant they had ever seen (and what you serve is irrelevant) than for them to have had a forgettable meal and nothing breathtakingly beautiful to remember. Simple done well is better than a lot of food done "just ok". At least that is my opinion. Patsy

Anonymous said...

When our oldest son married 11 years ago HE wanted to get married in our house. It blew my mind. I could not believe he wanted to be married here..but he did. So we cleared out our den, and we RENTED chairs. I had a firm rule. No more than 50 people. They did just that 50 people. It was not easy, but we did it. The reception was nice, I made a huge dinner of everyone. I had turkey and ham, potatoes, corn, salad, rolls, and coffee, tea, and punch. There were 3 different cakes. (all store brought by the bride) I did not have china for 50 so I rented it too. I also rented 6 big round tables. It was not expensive and it went well. Now I admit I was frazzled at the end of the day when Jimmy and Jean were off on the honeymoon I was still washing dishes...but my son was happy. So this mom was happy too.
So my advice is to look for a rental service too. I have a lot of nice pieces, but not enough for 50. So renting made good sense to us. I do not like plastic. Roxie

Anne Marie@Married to the Empire said...

I agree with Patsy about the cake. Buy or make a fabulous-tasting cake. Grocery stores may make an affordable option for a wedding cake, but IMO, they taste dreadful. Better to have a homemade cake that might not be as beautiful, but tastes a billion times better. Or make it a splurge to get a cake from a great bakery.

This has little to do with budget, but please make sure that if you're taking pictures between the ceremony and reception, your guests are able to munch on something at the reception site while awaiting your arrival. I absolutely hate those receptions where the guests are left alone for an hour while photos are being taken, yet they're not allowed to eat or drink anything. You don't have to have anything elaborate for them, just make sure they can drink the punch and nibble on something.

Anonymous said...

Another thought if you were to opt for just cake and champagne/punch, I would try to hire at least one server for both convenince and impact (your friends and family should be enjoying the celebration, not serving). He/she could plate the cake and depending on the type of cake it is, maybe have a swirl of raspberry sauce on the plate with just 3 or 4 fresh raspberries. I would also try to get the most "bang for the buck" in the flower dept. Lots of small beribboned vases thoughtfully positioned can sometimes be more impressive than just one large centerpiece on the cake table. Patsy

the momma said...

Sallie ~ the tip for the wholesale produce is great!! thanks so much!

A case isn't as big as one might expect. For example - a case of grapes is 17 lbs.
Shoot - I might just have to start shopping there regularly :-)

Melissa said...

it is all about finding food that can be made in advance. Choclate covered strawberries, truffles, meatballs, most things can be made a day or longer in advance and then regrigerated or frozen.

Mama Squirrel said...

Oh, we used that book! Does that bring back memories...

Renee said...

Thanks for the link. I agree with keeping it simple with foods that can be made ahead. Filling in areas on the table with greenery and other items really adds a nice tough.

My cousins wedding was a show stopper. There were tables for each course a pasta bar, cheese/veggie/fruit table and the best thing I ever saw was the candy bar. Jars of the couples favorite candies with little scoops,a nd little baggies for a treat to take home was the best!


Amiyrah said...

We didn't cater our own wedding (I worked at the cartering hall we had it at and got a DEEP discount) but we did come up with our own centerpieces to save money. We decided on an italian themed wedding and bought beautifully etched glass bowls from Bed bath and Beyond for about 2.00 each(we had 11 tables including ours) and we got 11 bags(about 2 pounds each) of green seedless grapes from the store the night before. All together, the 11 centerpieces cost about 50 bucks. Around 4.50 each! Plus, I anounced that the centerpieces were edible and everyone nibbled all night. Those that were the last to go, besides us, I told them that the bowls were gifts for them to take home. Much better than flowers that would die in a few days!