Perhaps the largest expense of your reception is food. Let’s look at some viable options for feeding you and your guests without having to mortgage your house.
Food can take a huge chunk out of your wedding budget. It’s often difficult to figure out what’s acceptable as it is an area in which expert’s (etiquette or otherwise) opinions vary widely. It can also be difficult to choose what type of food to serve at your reception…especially when you consider all of the different varieties of food available to you.
If you are having your reception at a hall that offers food service as part of the package, choose your menu wisely. While you may dream of a steak and lobster meal at your reception, this will be quite expensive and is not really viable when throwing a wedding on a budget.
There’s nothing wrong with an elegantly prepared chicken breast for your wedding meal. Perhaps offer a vegetarian alternative like fish as well. Beef tends to be more expensive than poultry or fish, so be completely committed if you must have steak, you’ll pay for it!
Consider having hors d’ouevres if your reception hall will be catering. Almost always, these will be cheaper than a sit down meal, and guests can enjoy them just as much.
Here are some general tips for your wedding dinner catered by your reception hall:
- It’s a myth that a buffet-style meal is less expensive than a served one. In reality, buffets require more food and more labor so their cost is higher.
- If you are working with a smaller group (say 40 to 70), piggyback onto another group’s menu. This allows the hotel to buy in bulk and lowers your price.
- Whenever possible, order in bulk yourself.
- Consider other main entrees besides beef and chicken. Chefs can do a lot of things with pastas and the price is usually very reasonable
- Allow the chef to try out his new, original recipes with your group. Most welcome the chance to be creative and lower the price per serving in exchange for the group’s feedback. Be careful that it’s not something too exotic, though. Lamb or swordfish might not appeal to everyone in your party!
- Negotiate house wine price with dinner versus a specialty wine.
- Find out how the caterer/hotel taxes food. If gratuity is part of the taxed bill, the cost will be more.
For halls that will allow you to bring in your own caterer, the key here is to shop around. Check with a local family restaurant and see if they have bulk meals they will offer for your reception. Almost all will or at the very least, will try for the money.
At my first wedding, we did this. At just $2.15 a plate for 200 people, we got fried chicken and ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, rolls, butter, coffee, tea, and all the utensils including plates and napkins. All of our guests ate till they were full and we had food left over! It was very much worth the cost.
The truly frugal bride will probably want to do what we did at my second wedding, though. As I’ve mentioned – what is this, the hundredth time? – Family and friends pitched in a lot for us as a wedding gift.
My uncle has a business where he smokes meat for people. He smoked some pork butts that I got discounted from the local butcher. We shredded the meat and added barbeque sauce for pork sandwiches. The buns were bought at Aldi for $.29 a package.
My dad has a rather large family which provides me with 4 aunts along with 2 other ladies I consider family making 6 “aunts” in total. Each offered up a dish for my reception. One made macaroni salad, one made potato salad. We had coleslaw, a green tossed salad, green bean casserole, and baked beans. I bought huge bags of potato chips and all the utensils in bulk at Sam’s Club, and we had a simple, homemade, and very tasty meal.
Along those lines, you may want to explore a potluck reception.
The Potluck Reception
Don’t be shy to pursue this potluck reception idea. It is truly the traditional way to celebrate. And, it is truly the number one low budget wedding option.
Today’s weddings are so commercialized. You will learn that caterers offer very limited menus to very limited budgets! Guests will likely be very pleased and welcome the idea of a potluck reception.
The potluck reception goes well with any wedding theme. If you are shy about approaching this option you can simply call it an “Old Time Traditional Wedding Celebration” The potluck dinner will suit this theme quite naturally and no-one will even question it!
You may even want to pick an “Old Time” theme for your decorating and favors. This will further incorporate the idea of an old time tradition theme. Why not try a 50’s theme or a 20’s theme. These are both popular old time themes.
Simply slip an added note with the invite, or on the invite, to give guests this option. For example the note might read…
~Our reception will be an “Old Time Traditional Celebration” with a potluck dinner.
____. Please check here if you would like to bring a dish for the reception in place of a wedding gift. Call with dish suggestions please.
Have them call to get or offer suggestions on a dish so you have control over the menu. No one is obligated to participate, but I’m sure you will be surprised at how many guests will opt for this.
You and your guests will be equally surprised at the great variety and quality of the dishes provided. Guests will want to bring only their best recipes to a grand occasion such as a wedding reception!
Here are some descriptions of a few reception types in which a full meal is not served. All of these options are less expensive than a full meal (whether buffet style or sit-down) if you are willing to do most of the work yourself. All of these receptions are acceptable if you aren’t holding the reception during meal-time.
Breakfast is often served around 8:00 a.m., Lunch at 12:00 p.m. and Dinner at 6:00 p.m., and these are the times in which a full meal is generally expected by guests. These times also vary depending on your area. You should hold your reception two hours before or after these times if not considering a full meal.
Cake and Punch Reception – The most common time of day that this type of reception is held is early afternoon (approximately 2:00 p.m.), but it can also occur in mid-morning (approximately 10:00 a.m.). A cake and punch reception generally consists of the wedding cake and refreshments. Refreshments can include: punch, coffee, tea, champagne, etc. You can also supplement the wedding cake with other types of cake in different flavors and textures.
Dessert Reception – This type of reception is one in which desserts are served. Desserts can include pies, cakes, doughnuts, cookies, pastries, brownies, etc. Another option, which can be combined with a normal dessert reception if you’d like, is a sundae bar.
In this type of reception, you serve bowls of ice cream (usually vanilla) and let your guests choose their topping. Toppings can include chocolate or fudge sauce, shredded coconut, chocolate chips, crushed walnuts, whipped cream, fruit toppings, etc. Basically, the same things you’d find in any sundae bar. Summer is the most common time of year for a sundae bar. A normal dessert bar can be used year round though as there are desserts specific to season. For example, pumpkin pie and apple pie would be a great choice for fall weddings. This type of reception is also an example of an inexpensive choice if you purchase the items on your own.
Hors D’ouevres Reception – There are actually two distinct types of hors d’ouevres receptions. The first is light hors d’ouerves and consists of a lighter fare than the second which is a heavy hors d’ouerves menu.
A light menu often includes items such as: crackers, vegetable platters with dip, fruit, cheese, etc. A heavy hors d’ouerves often includes these as well as items such as: meat and cheese trays, chicken fingers, egg rolls, etc.
These types of receptions are also (casually) called “finger-food receptions” in some areas. In order to save money on this type of reception, check your local grocery store deli for prices on “meat and cheese” trays as well as “vegetable” and “cracker and cheese” platters. Their prices are often very reasonable. Another option is to buy the ingredients yourself.
Tea (or Coffee) Reception – This type of reception is a relic from a bygone era. Originally, tea receptions were meant to reflect the mood of an “afternoon tea.” An authentic tea reception will include items such as petit fours, watercress sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, scones (biscuits), etc. Be sure to cut the crusts off the sandwiches and cut in a diagonal cross (X shape) for an authentic look. If you’re looking for a more modern approach…you can serve coffee with (or in place of) the tea. You can also serve: bite-size pieces of cake (such as carrot), any manner of sandwich which is easy to cut, cinnamon rolls, etc. This type of reception is relatively inexpensive (depending on the items you decide to serve) and can be relaxing for both the couple and the guests.
Salad Reception – This choice is becoming more popular and is a viable choice for vegetarians who don’t want to serve a full meal. Items served can include: green (lettuce, spinach) salads, fruit salads, pasta salads, potato salads (lacto-ovo), coleslaw (lacto- ovo), etc.
A veggie bar (to supplement green salads) can be added as well and may have such choices as: chopped onions, carrots (baby or sliced), celery, broccoli, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, etc.
A salad dressing bar can be chosen as well and may include such choices as: vinegar and oil, Italian dressing, garlic and olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice, etc. If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian other dressing choices could include: bleu cheese, green goddess, ranch, French, etc. This type of reception is also inexpensive if you prepare most of the items yourself.
Some other general ideas for do-it-yourself food at the reception include:
- Try a pasta reception in which your guests are served plain pasta with their choice of toppings
- Have a Mexican buffet
- Provide simple lunch meats and cheeses with bread for sandwiches
- If you’re a member of a church and will be having your reception there, check with the ladies auxiliary and see if they’ll do the food in exchange for a donation to their organization.
- Try a local service organization: the Kiwanis, the Jaycees
- Call a community college and see if their culinary students would cook for you if you provide the food
There is some debate on whether it’s a good idea to add a line on your invitation stating what type of reception is occurring. Some examples of this are: “Cake and Punch Reception to Follow Ceremony”, “Light hors d’ouevres reception to follow at two o’clock” and “Dessert Reception Following Ceremony”.
My personal opinion is that it makes it easier–not only for the couple…but for the guests as well. It’s a clear way for the couple to inform guests that a full meal should not be expected…and guests have the option of eating a meal (if needed) prior to or after the wedding.
Another important aspect of cuisine at the wedding is the cake. You don’t have to spend a fortune to have a delicious and beautiful wedding cake.