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Catering Your Own Wedding

Face it. Weddings are expensive. These days, the average wedding - including dresses, limos, music, food, and all the little details - costs between $20,000 and $25,000. In some locales, particularly large urban areas where services like renting a reception space are more costly, the average wedding can climb to $40,000 or more. And this doesn’t count the engagement ring or the honeymoon!

With wedding costs this high, many couples are disappointed as to just what they can afford when it comes to planning their once-in-a-lifetime affair. They realize they’ll need to make adjustments and cut some costs, but where?

Because food and drink constitute a large portion of the wedding bill, this is a good place to trim the fat, so to speak. While you might opt to choose a buffet instead of a sit-down dinner, or to have a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres gathering instead of a full meal, you can still enjoy an elaborate meal with all the trimmings if you cater the reception yourself.

Cater yourself??? That probably sounds a little drastic. But the fact remains that many families are choosing to do this in order to save large amounts of money without having to cut down the guest list. If there’s plenty of advance planning and all the details are organized with care, the event will go smoothly, despite the stresses of the big day.


Whether you’re the bride and groom or the parents of the bride (or groom), you can self-cater simply by following some guidelines. Chances are, however, that you will need some help with a number of things, so start the planning by asking friends and family members to chip in with their time and brawn. These volunteers can help you:

o Shop for food and other supplies
o Cook
o Package the food and transport it to the reception venue
o Set up at the reception venue
o Tend bar
o Clean up

The Venue

Holding the reception in your home is fine if you have room for the number of people on your guest list. If the weather is warm and you have a large back yard, you might consider renting a tent for the wedding reception.

However, if a home-based reception just isn’t in the cards, you’ll need to find a venue that allows you to bring in your own food. Many reception halls require you use their caterer. Instead, check out places like fire halls or banquet rooms in buildings that belong to service organizations, like the Elks or Knights of Columbus. They generally allow you to bring in your own food.

The Food

When choosing a menu for your self-catered wedding reception, the main factor to take into consideration is how far ahead you can prepare each particular food. While you certainly want to design a menu that both you and your guests will enjoy, you don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen for hours on the morning of the wedding. Instead, search for recipes that feed a large group and can be prepared several days in advance or even earlier. This way, only the perishable menu items, like green salads, will need to be prepared on the day of the event.

Another option is to hold the reception a few days after the wedding. That works well if all or most of your guests live in town and haven’t traveled to the wedding from other locations. Otherwise, they’ll need to commit to staying for more than one day.

Once you’ve decided on your menu, you’ll need to be sure there’s sufficient space in your home kitchen to get all the prep and cooking done. If not, consider asking your church or synagogue if you can use their kitchen to prepare the food or rent a commercial kitchen for a day or two and cook there. Though this might not come cheap, it will still cost significantly less than a caterer. Also be sure that there is sufficient space to store the food until the day of the wedding.

You’ll probably want to opt for a buffet dinner instead of a sit-down event, where someone will have to plate all the food. This way, items can be set up ahead of time in chafing dishes or on ice and no one will be stuck in the kitchen during the reception.

The Cake

Those who cater their own wedding often opt not to take on the wedding cake, choosing instead to hire a baker to make the multi-tiered cake of their dreams. However, if the cost of a professional cake is going to make too much of a dent in your budget, consider some other options.

You may want to make a small cake for each table, big enough for everyone to have a slice. They can all be decorated in the same manner or you can choose a different theme or color scheme for each table.

Cupcakes are also popular these days. They’re easy to make, fun to decorate, and they’re just the right size after a large meal. And they can be artfully arranged on a cupcake tree, which cost as little as $8 - $10 each, sometimes less.

Don’t forget, however, to have a small bride-and-groom cake the couple can use for the cake-cutting ceremony.