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Planning your DIY, Self-Catered Wedding Reception

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I was never one of those girls who concocted wedding plans years before a groom was in sight, but I had always kind of hoped my dad would be able to ‘cater’ it. In the end, our self-catered wedding was a family effort that ultimately involved not only my immediate family, but also an aunt and uncle as well as a cousin and her husband who helped by putting food out and mixing drinks. I’m so glad we had a self-catered wedding reception because we had exactly what we wanted and the whole family really came together to make it happen, which was awesome!

Most people who asked were pretty shocked that I didn’t have a wedding planner. I can’t even imagine what they’d have said if I used the words “self-catering!” It seems really crazy, and I’ve both read and heard lots of people advising strongly against it. I’ll be completely honest: it was a lot of work and sat one point on the Tuesday before the wedding I wanted to cry, throw everything in the trash, and see what I could find already made at the grocery store. A few cake layers did make it to the trashcan, but I stuck with it and everything worked out beautifully. If I had to do it all over again, I would chose a self-catered wedding reception every time. If you’re thinking of a self-catered wedding reception, I’m here to tell you it absolutely can be done, it just takes planning, practice, and preparation.

How to cater your own wedding reception

Today’s focus is on the planning portion of my “three p’s.” I started planning as soon as my dad said he’d be willing to help, long before we actually knew how many people would be coming. That part doesn’t matter yet – just start planning! Here are some questions you need to ask yourself if you’re planning a self-catered wedding reception:

1. Who well help me? It’s DIY, not DIAY (do it all yourself)! I am a die-hard do it yourself-er, but even I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I did all the planning and most of the preparation, but all day-of cooking and putting food out needed help from friends and family.

2. Have I (or someone who’s helping) ever cooked for a crowd before? I actually hadn’t, but my parents had and I’ve attended enough large events and worked at dozens of weddings and had seen things I liked and didn’t like.

3. What facilities will be valuable to me on site? Will there be a fridge? A stove? A grill? Nothing at all? The equipment on hand at your venue will have a huge influence on your menu.

4. Do I want something formal or informal? Sit down, buffet, or family style? Self-catering doesn’t have to mean informal, but buffet or family style will be far, far easier to accomplish yourself.

5. Do I want heavy hors d’oeuvres, light snacks, a full meal, or something else?

6. How much cooking am I willing and able to do? Do you want to grab a bunch of frozen appetizers at Costco, make everything from scratch, or somewhere in-between?

7. Do I want a food theme? Food themes are really popular at weddings. Stations like taco bars, build your own burger, or create your own pasta dish are just a few possibilities. You don’t have to go with something heavily-themed, but the food should at least make sense together.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can begin looking for recipes that match your venue facilities and desired food style. Pinterest is obviously a great place to start looking for inspiration! When something catches your eye, ask yourself these questions:

Can it be made ahead? If not, how much on-site preparation does it need and do you have the facilities/people to make it? I highly recommend choosing things that can be made ahead or that require minimal preparation the day of.

How difficult is it? Is it one of those recipes that everyone says is really hard to get right or that contains 25 different specialty ingredients? If so, it might not be a great choice. There will be so much going on that keeping is simple is a really good idea!

tips for planning a DIY wedding reception

How does it look? People always begin eating with their eyes – it’s why restaurants put effort into attractively plating meals! It doesn’t matter how delicious something is, if it doesn’t look appetizing fewer people will try it. Also, try to consider how your meal will look as a whole. Having different colors and textures is a good thing!

Have I ever made it before? If not, make sure you practice! There’s more on the importance of practicing in this post. The black bean salad pictured below is a recipe I developed for our wedding reception. It took me a couple tries to get just right, but it was a huge success!

Make sure to find more recipes or dishes to try than you’ll actually end up serving. One or more of them may not work out as well as you’d hoped. I know this happened to me! These are a few of the sources I found most helpful:

Razzle Dazzle Recipes – Includes planning advice, recipes for a crowd, and food safety tips.

Dayle’s Incredible Links Self-Catering Help – The page doesn’t look fancy, but it’s super helpful! There are recipes for large groups, as well as sample menus for various occasions.

Cooking for a Crowd on Pinterest – This is just one board with some good ideas – there are even more if you look through the site!

The Old Farmer’s Almanac Party Planning: Cooking for a Crowd – No recipes, but some quantity suggestions so you have an idea of how much food you’ll ultimately need!

Of course, don’t neglect your favorite cookbooks or recipe sites. Not all recipes can be scaled exactly, but many recipes can be scaled up to accommodate additional people. If you have a family favorite, don’t be afraid to include it! In fact, a “bride’s signature dish” and a “groom’s signature dish” can be a great way to add personality to your reception.

If you’re planning a DIY wedding, you may also enjoy these printable wedding fans. They’re absolutely free – no signup required!

DIY wedding hand fans with free printable templates

That’s all for today, folks! Plan, plan, plan. Gather more ideas than you think you’ll need, read up on what other people have done, and get ready to start cooking soon!

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Billy May 17, 2017, 08:30

    I love that you mentioned that friends and family helped you self-cater. I think that is one of the major positives to self catering is that you can spend time with your family and friends to get the work done. It can be a bonding experience rather than a chore. I do worry about the presentation aspect of self catering, as I want the food to look beautiful when it is on the dinner table and not something that looks like a cook-out potluck. Thank you for sharing your guide and experience!

    • Natashalh May 17, 2017, 10:17

      I did all the planning and most of the prep, but help on the day of was great! People still tell me how much fun they had nearly three years later. I think having my cousins mix the drinks played a large part in that – I didn’t realize until we were packing up but they’d used all the rum for mojitos but basically none of the mixers!

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