Of all the things that I told people I wanted to DIY for my wedding, the one that got the most crazy looks was the catering. It, they would proceed to tell me, simply couldn’t be done. Especially since I wasn’t talking about a potluck type of affair or a quick reception with just a couple appetizers. So now that it has been done, do I agree that it was crazy? Basically, yes. But it’s still not impossible, and I learned some things along the way, should you feel brave enough to take on the task yourself.
DO NOT GO IT ALONE.
I can say with absolute certainty that if I hadn’t recruited many friends and family members to help with our wedding food, it would not have worked out. In fact, it would have been a complete disaster. It was no small time commitment from these people, either. They had to be there the day before the wedding (all day) washing, chopping, mixing and sweating in the kitchen. Then, they had to show up early on the wedding day to finish prepping and make everything presentable. If you have the idea that you will be able to do your wedding food, just you (and maybe one or two generous friends), all I can do is pray for you.
ASK AN EXPERT.
One of the reasons I felt okay about tackling this project was that one of my bridesmaids is a (very kind) caterer. From the very early planning stages to the day of, she was offering expert advice on every element I was curious about. It ended up being a big job, bigger than either of us probably thought it was going to be, and I couldn’t have figured it out without her. Chefs, caterers and those with experience doing food for very large groups just know things the average Joe (or Chloe, in this case) doesn’t. Especially about what dishes to make, when to buy the ingredients and the order of preparation.
If you don’t have a food industry friend you can tap for this, my advice is to start tracking down a friend of a friend who does catering for events and see if they’ll take pity on you. If that fails, you could always offer to pay them to sit down with you and answer your biggest questions.
DON’T EXPECT TO SAVE MONEY.
I chose to DIY our wedding food because I couldn’t find a cater that made the type of food I was looking for, and, coincidentally, the tapas style I was pursuing included many dishes that are relatively easy to make (think lots of olives, cheese platters, breads and easy spreads). I didn’t make the decision with the thought that I would save much money, and, in the end, I didn’t. Caterers can often get better prices on ingredients than you would and they will think of dishes that are cost effective, so even if you’re cutting out the preparation costs, you’ll often wind up paying more.
PASS ON THE PLATED DINNER.
Committed to doing it yourself? Time to get a bit creative. There’s no way to DIY a plated dinner, so you need to think of other options. Buffets are good, especially if they feature mostly cold dishes that can hang out for a day or two before hand. Picnic baskets are another option that’s actually a lot of fun for guests and can be stocked with relatively cheap ingredients that are relatively low prep (most people won’t complain about a nice sandwich on good bread with a mini bag of high quality chips and perhaps a small container of potato salad). Similarly, food stations where guests can assemble their own ingredients for a final dish—like a taco or hot dog bar with tons of topping options—make life a little easier and aren’t any less enjoyable for guests.
Finally, I have to encourage you not to write off caterers completely. In the end, we made appetizers and side dishes ourselves and hired a guy with a portable pizza oven to come and make pizzas as the main. He was affordable, it kept us from having to do the hardest part of the menu (the entree), and was a highlight of the wedding for many guests, who queued up repeatedly to get another thin-crusted wonder. We loved it too, since pizza has sentimental meaning to us (I sound like I’m kidding, but I’m not).
In the same vein, you could hire a food truck to come and dish out a very small set menu and prep a few other items for guests yourselves, or you could place a bulk order from a local store or restaurant for a handful of set items (like veggie platters, wraps and sushi) and put them in different dishes to display so that they look a little fancier.