How to Cater Your Own Wedding Reception

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cater own wedding

How to Cater Your Own Wedding Reception

Many brides- and grooms-to-be have found themselves lacking the necessary funds to provide food, decorations and entertainment for all the guests they want to invite to their wedding reception.

Unfortunately, all too often this results in a massive reduction of the number of people on the guest list. You do not have to make this kind of sacrifice.

You can decorate the reception hall, entertain and feed your guests all on your own, even with a tight budget.

Creating Your Reception Space

Some people choose to throw their wedding reception in their own house. This is an economical alternative to renting a reception hall.

Other possibilities include paying for an indoor reception hall or using an outdoor space for your reception. You can probably find a good deal on an indoor venue space, especially if you agree to do all of your own decorating.

Choosing an outdoor space can be risky if the weather turns bad, but you can easily rent an event tent as a back-up in case it rains.

By renting some decorating supplies from a local rental company, you can save significantly on the cost of catering your own wedding.

You can rent everything you need to dress your tables, buffets, windows and walls.

Making the Cake

The wedding cake takes center-stage at most weddings. Unfortunately, elaborate multi-tiered wedding cakes are anything but a “piece of cake” to make.

Unless you know someone with expertise in decorating these kinds of cakes, it is recommended that you aim for something more attainable.

Here are some alternatives to the ornate tiered cake:

  • A cake for every table. Instead of one humongous, ornamental cake, consider baking a small cake to put at everyone’s table for the reception. This is becoming a popular alternative to the unwieldy, expensive tiered cake. It is much easier to frost and decorate small cakes, and if you make a mistake, you will not ruin all of your work, only just one little part of it. Make a test cake first to get it just right before you settle on the exact recipe and design.
  • Flowers and cake toppers. Classic cake decorating techniques using pastry bags, decorating tips and fondant sculpting tools are within your grasp, but it will take a lot of time and practice to learn how to become a competent cake designer. Instead, you may want to consider creating a simple, smooth cake surface and topping it with decorative accessories like cake jewelry and edible flowers. These are easy to find and will create an impressive looking cake without a huge time investment.
  • Cupcakes. If you are willing to stray from the classic concept of the “wedding cake,” consider fancy cupcakes instead. Cupcakes are great because they are easier to frost and are already baked in individual portions. You can have fun with them and try multiple designs and decorating techniques. With cupcakes, you do not have to cut the wedding cake or worry about how you will transport a tall, heavy cake to the venue.

If you do decide to create your own elaborate tiered wedding cake, make sure you are thoroughly educated on cake-making techniques and that you have all the tools you will need.

Transporting the Cake

Multiple small cakes or cupcakes can easily be transported in cake boxes. If you stack the boxes, just make sure they are capable of supporting the weight.

Tiered cakes are a lot more difficult to move. If your cake does not make it to the venue, then a lot of hard work was wasted, and there will be no cake for the event.

Before moving a tiered cake, be sure to educate yourself on the best methods for transporting such a wedding cake.

Presenting the Cake

For presentation at the reception, you may want to put the cake at the wedding party table, at the buffet, or – if there are multiple cakes – on each guests’ table. If you will be displaying multiple cakes, you should consider renting cake stands, or displaying the cakes on gold or white cake boards that you decorate yourself with fruit, flowers or accessories.

If there is just one wedding cake, you should purchase an elegant stand that you can continue to use and that will serve as a memento for your wedding.

Generally, silver, chrome or nickel-plated models make great wedding cake stands. Cover up any visible cake board with fruit or flowers.

For a tiered cake, never use a pedestal stand, since the cake is already tall. Instead, use a classic low-rise cake stand with small feet.

Determining Your Menu

Because it is your wedding, the menu should be something that reflects your individual personality and tastes. You will probably want to serve some of your favorite dishes.

If you are religious, you may want to serve dishes traditional to your faith as well.

The needs and tastes of your guests should also be taken into account.

However, for do-it-yourself catering, there are other important considerations:

  • Time constraints. Your wedding is stressful enough to plan without having to cook and deliver your own food for the reception. Since you will probably be very busy around your wedding day, you may want to schedule the reception for a few days later to give yourself enough time to pull off all of the food and decorations. If you do decide to have your reception the day of the wedding, make sure the items on your menu can be prepared well in advance of the big day.
  • Help in the kitchen. Most do-it-yourself brides and grooms recruit friends or family members to help them cater their wedding. Determine exactly who will be helping you in the kitchen and gauge their level of culinary skill. That way, you can make sure that your menu items are feasible and within the reach of their abilities.
  • Kitchen limitations. Unless you can convince the venue manager to let you cook on-site, you will probably be making the food in your own kitchen, or that of a friend or family member. Be sure to think about the limitations of your equipment. You only have so much space in your oven and on your stovetop. You are also confined by the utensils at hand. For example, if you want to add special garnishes, like corkscrew shapes and flowers, to your menu items, be sure to purchase the proper garnishing tools ahead of time.

Take all of the above into consideration as you develop your menu. You may also want to check out some wedding menu tips and ideas to help decide on practical menu items that will satisfy both you and your guests.

Preparing, Storing and Transporting the Menu Items

Deciding what is on your menu is the easy part. Making it happen is another story. Start a few days before your reception, beginning with the menu items that can keep for several days, like casseroles, breads, pasta salads and mashed potatoes.

Items that need to be served shortly after preparation, like leafy salads, fresh fruit and grilled, seared or fried foods should be left for last.

Once you have prepared your menu items, transfer them into disposable food pans, cover them with tin foil, plastic wrap or paper lids and refrigerate. These food pans will serve as your food transport containers.

If there is an oven on site where you can reheat the food, you can transport the food cold. If not, you will need to put them in your own oven right before transport.

When the pans are ready to be taken to the venue, put them in standard Styrofoam or plastic coolers. Styrofoam coolers are economical and can be purchased in a variety of sizes.

You can use cold-packs or hot-packs in the cooler to keep your food hot or cold for longer.

Serving the Food & Beverages

Since you are catering your own wedding, you will probably opt for a buffet-style service as opposed to table service.

It is a lot easier to put all the food out on a buffet than to plate it all and serve it to your guests, and you have limited tools available.

Here are some tips to create your wedding buffet:

Displaying Food

You can warm the menu items in the same disposable food pans you used to store and transport the food. Simply fill a deep food pan with an inch or two of water and place it on a chafing rack, fit the shallower pans of food snugly on top of this water pan, and light a canister of chafing dish fuel.

Set the fuel in place on the shelf underneath the chafer. Chafing racks are economical enough for you to purchase, and the food pans fit directly on top.

For a more elegant buffet, you can purchase standard chafing dishes or rent them from your local rental company. If you do not like the look of the disposable food pans, you can rent or purchase reusable steam table pans as an alternative.

Bottled or Canned Drinks

You should transport ice to the venue in a cooler. Find an attractive large bowl or tub for displaying your beverages.

Fill the tub with ice, and place bottles and beverages in the tub to stay cool. Bury them halfway to make sure they remain cold. Place your beverage tub on either end of the buffet.


Wine and champagne can be served in wine buckets full of ice at each table, or you can place the bottles in buckets or tubs at the buffet near the other beverages.

You can provide each table with a corkscrew, or ask a friend to be the official wine-bottle opener.

Open each bottle of wine only when it is needed. You may not use all of the wine, and if you open up every bottle beforehand the unused wine will aerate and slowly start to turn to vinegar.

Once the food and beverages are out on the buffet or at the table in their proper warming or cooling stations, you can start to relax and allow your guests to serve themselves.


Forget the cleanup. It’s your wedding reception! Ask a friend or family member to deal with it and escape before they realize what they’ve gotten themselves into.

Just make sure they save the leftovers for you.

Also, be sure that all of the rented or borrowed items are set aside to be returned to the proper owner.

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