It’s just one aspect of a successful wedding day, but it can be one of the most expensive and overwhelming. The options are truly endless! Should we have a full service dinner or a mid-afternoon hors d’oeuvre reception? Hire a caterer or do it ourselves? How much food do we need? What should we serve? Many of these items are inter-related and you’ll need to think about them all together rather than one after the other. If your budget can handle it the best option is to hire a professional caterer, or at the very least, a day of coordinator to run the kitchen and buffet tables for you. This way you will enjoy eating your food instead of serving it! But if you decide that “Do-it-Yourself Catering” is your best option, the information below will help you approach this aspect of your big day:
The key to a successful reception is planning, planning, and more planning. Starting as early as possible will give you more time to look into your various options with less pressure that a decision needs to be made right away. Plus the earlier you start, the better chance you have at getting the venue you want on the day and at the time you want, especially if it’s in high demand.
Determine your budget!
Depending on your menu, even Do-it-Yourself Buffet dinners can cost up to $10 per person. Seriously contemplate your priorities and remember what it is you’re celebrating. You’ll want to be able to look back on this day and have pleasant memories of the fun you had, not how stressed out you were!
Start a notebook
Keep all the information you gather while planning your reception. A binder with pockets is perfect. Include a pen – preferably permanently attached – a calendar, lots of clear page protectors (to hold recipes, business cards, etc.) and plain lined paper or a spiral notebook for notes. Having everything in one place will be invaluable.
Consider liability insurance
It’s not pleasant to think about, but if someone gets sick due to food poisoning, or injured when a chafing dish falls on her foot, you could get sued. Single event liability insurance is available and rates are generally very reasonable. Make sure to get quotes from several reputable companies. Check with any venue you’re considering to see if they provide any coverage.
Determine what day and what time of the day your event will be
With your budget in mind and check your guest list to get an estimated head counts. Timing really is everything! Consider holding your reception at an “off time” rather than during normal meal times (see chart below); people will eat up to one-third less food! Dinners are generally the most expensive and complicated events to pull off. If you’re not offering a full meal, add a line to your invitation telling your guests what to expect (i.e., “Please join us for an hors d’oeuvre reception” or “Drinks and desserts provided.”). SEE Catering Chart Below
Determine your serving method and arrangements
A common serving method at LDS weddings is buffet-style, which is cost effective and relatively simple. Other options are cafeteria-style, family-style, or individual full service. While cafeteria style, where servers dish out food to guests coming through a line, is best for portion control, it can be very slow and requires more help or waitstaff. Family style meals, where serving dishes are provided to each table, can be difficult to coordinate as servers are needed to bring the food to each table and it can be quite a challenge to keep the food at the appropriate temperature.
You’ll also need to plan for larger tables and more serving dishes and utensils. Individual full service is, of course, the most formal and most expensive option, and you’ll need lots of serving help!
Self-serve buffet-style receptions are a great option to help keep your costs in line with your budget. They are also relatively simple to set-up and serve from. Plan for one serving line for every 50 to 70 people to keep the line moving. It’s best to have a single starting point; put the plates and utensils on that end of the table. Place the rolls, butter, salads and cheaper buffet items right after the plates and utensils so guests fill their plates with them. That way they’ll be less likely to take huge portions of the more expensive main dish. Make sure to leave some space for guests to set down their plates if they need to.
Setting up separate stations for your main food service, desserts, beverages, and bussing will lighten the flow of traffic around the main table. Your guests will be able to get their food more quickly and will allow your guests to mingle better with each other. Or consider placing the beverages on each of the tables (where the guests will be seating instead. Don’t forget salt and pepper and butter (if needed) on each table, too!
Recruit a committee
This is not something you can pull off by yourself or expect your parents to coordinate on the day of your wedding! Delegate duties to specific people. For example, you’ll need someone to be in charge of equipment rental, (or borrowing) including pick-up before the event and returning the items afterwards. Someone will need to pick up ice and another person should be in charge of making sure the cake or cakes are at your reception location on time. Table and chair set up will take several people, as will table setting and decorations. You’ll need at least one person for each 25 guests focused full-time on food preparation on the big day; and don’t count yourself or any other member of the wedding party! Add to that three or four servers for a buffet-style reception. And don’t skimp on the clean-up help! Six or seven people would be ideal to help clean up the kitchen as well as the dining area.
Ask someone you trust to be the point person on the big day. Help him or her draw up a schedule or sequence list of tasks that need to be done to set up, prep food, serve, and clean up afterwards, to keep everyone on the same page. Of course, if you hire a wedding planner he or she will be the point person, but make sure responsibilities are clearly delineated so you know exactly what they will be in charge of and what you need to find someone else to do.
Reserve the hall/kitchen and any equipment needed as early as possible
Inspect the kitchen you’ll be using whether it’s your own or a kitchen or one at the reception site. Find out exactly what is available there for your use. The hall or location you’re renting has almost certainly hosted events like this before and may have great ideas and suggestions. If the items you need are not available at the venue, and/or you don’t have the items needed or can’t borrow them, consider the cost of buying vs. rental.
It’s amazing what you can rent: punch bowls, baking pans, warming and chafing dishes, plates, flatware, and glasses of various formalities, decorations, tables and chairs, large pots and pans, large serving bowls, trays and serving utensils, ice chests, linens, tents and canopies, food safe containers for mixing and storage, freezer or refrigerator space. The list goes on and on! However, if you may use some items again, it might be cheaper to buy them. Check with several rental companies in your area, if possible, to get the quality and style you want for the best price.
Make sure to get everything in writing! Specifics in your rental contract should include the exact equipment you’re renting, pick up and return times, cost, and penalties for late return and loss or damage. Inspect everything visually when it’s picked up and write into the contract any damage or variations before accepting the item. Count utensils, take punch bowls out of the box, and check the linens for stains to prevent surprises. Arrange for pick up during normal business hours if at all possible, that way if something is missing or damaged you have a better chance of catching it in time to find a replacement. Test everything. Plug it in, turn it on, and light it up to make sure you know how “it” works while you still have time to ask questions or replace it.
If you’re borrowing items from individuals, discuss what the value is and what you’ll do if it’s damaged or lost. Provide a receipt, even to friends and family, and keep a copy. This will not only help you get it back to the right person, but if you’ve dealt with the issue of value ahead of time, it will minimize the stress and tension if something happens. Keep all receipts and rental contracts in your notebook for quick reference!
If you are going to be serving in a cultural hall, ensure the church has enough serving dishes, serving ware, dish soap, dish towels, trash bags, etc. or plan to bring your own from home. And before you plan on cooking at the church building or other rental site, check out any rules and regulations with your local health department. For example, many LDS church kitchens are legally only to be used for “warming” and serving food; additional permits may be required for actually cooking on site. In this case, you’ll have to cook the food elsewhere and plan on a way to transport the hot food to the church.
For health reasons, make sure that you have the proper equipment to keep hot food hot (at 140° F or above), including chafing dishes or crock pots, and cold food cold (at 40° F or below), such as ice and large containers to keep the ice in, or ensure that there are working refrigerators with sufficient room in them for your food.
Make menu plans
If you’ll be preparing the food yourself, don’t get too ambitious! Pick dishes that are within your cooks’ comfort zones and that can be done in the space you have. Use recipes that you have made before, or “test drive” the recipes before making a final determination. Consider using recipes that can be made ahead of time or in stages to spread the work out over several days. And check out the many wonderful recipes here at Wedding LDS, courtesy of Hotel Temple Square, Lion House Weddings & Lion House Entertaining.
Remember to include at least one entree suitable for vegetarians or others with special diets. You don’t need to accommodate every possible allergy or preference, but for example, if several people in your extended family have a gluten intolerance, it would be thoughtful to provide something they can eat safely. Labeling the dishes that are safe for those with special diets or noting ingredients that commonly trigger allergies (like peanuts or eggs) is another thoughtful touch.
Also, think about what will make life easier for you and your guests. Light-colored drinks won’t stain if spilled. Non-drip foods will create less of a mess for your guests and the clean up crew. Choose meats that are easy to cut or that are precut. Especially if providing a buffet, pick foods that people can serve themselves easily with one utensil (since their other hand will probably be holding the plate!) and provide tongs for dishes such as salads and rolls. Avoid large foods that are hard to handle, like whole chicken breasts or spareribs, but plan at least one “special” dish, something that is a little different or exotic that most people won’t often make at home.
Generally, the more dishes you have in your menu, the less of each particular food you’ll need. But remember that with buffets many people take a little bit of everything, so add some extra!
Figure out how much food you’ll need
Knowing the right amount of food to prepare for a large group is tricky. You don’t want to run out, but you don’t want to waste food, time, or money making too much either. The chart below gives some general guidelines to get you started. Keep in mind that guests in their teens and early 20s tend to eat more than other ages, as do people in comfortable settings (like with friends and family instead of business associates or strangers). People also eat more at meal times than off hours, eat less at lunch than dinner, and eat less at an early lunch or dinner than late one. Generally, your guests will eat less and drink more on hot days, so plan for three 8-ounce beverages per person.
CATERING (Times and Amounts)CHART
Consider suppliers for food
Grocery stores are the obvious place to buy food, but they may not be the most cost-effective or have the best selection. Check local warehouse stores, especially for pre-made appetizers or trays of fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses. You can always transfer the food to a different serving platter or add a garnish to give it a personal touch. If you are feeding a large group, restaurant suppliers may be an option as well. And don’t forget online sources! Many gourmet items are available for overnight delivery.
Make a master list of every ingredient you’ll need for your chosen menu and start compiling a list of their costs from various sources. Keep in mind that it may be better to buy everything at one or two locations, even if it costs a little more, instead of running around town to a dozen different stores.
This is definitely an area to delegate specific jobs to specific people. If you’re using personal cars, remember it’s safest to transport food in the cab of the vehicle rather than a trunk; the temperature is better controlled. And remember to not leave food in your car if the air conditioner is not running. Cars can become hot very quickly when parked in the hot sun!
Decide what to do with any leftovers
Of course, anything that needs to be kept cool must be refrigerated immediately after the event; don’t leave it out indefinitely for your guests to graze over. Add large re-closable food-grade bags or disposable containers (like Gladware or Ziploc) to your shopping list to hold the food that wasn’t eaten. Most food can be frozen for you to enjoy later; it’s nice to have a few meals in the freezer for those crazy early days of adjustment to married life. If you’d like to donate the leftover food, call your local food bank or women’s shelter and ask about their requirements for accepting food. Perhaps your local fire station would appreciate a special treat. Or maybe you know of a needy family who could benefit, and there are sure to be some hungry missionaries nearby. Again, this is a great task to delegate as you and your brand new spouse will be otherwise occupied!
Also, remember to provide extra plates (an additional 30% or so) in case guests come back for seconds. Consider every detail you’ll need to make the day successful. Will you need extension cords? Liquid fuel or matches for chafing dishes? Put them on your list!
When the big day arrives, relax and enjoy this special occasion! There will always be a hiccup or two, but if you’ve done the work ahead of time and delegated specific duties to your wedding planner or committee, the event should go off just fine. Congratulations!
♥ Emily H. Geddes
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We have sent 450 invitations and I have no clue how to estimate how many guest will actually come. Is there some kind of average percentage?
Hi Suzanne, plan on about 75%. Rose