How to self-cater your own wedding

Not many of you know that we’re not having a caterer for our wedding. This was a tricky decision but one that we made out of necessity. For us, food was lowest on the priority list. Don’t get us wrong, we want people to eat tasty food at our wedding, we want them to enjoy their meal – but with caterers in our area starting at around £30 per head for the most basic meals, and our budget already maxed out on a fantastic photographer, a band to get everyone going, a marquee, the dream dress (and believe me, the list goes on) we had to decide on cutting costs somewhere. And food got the chop. Excuse the pun.

That’s when my amazing mum stepped in and offered to take charge of the food department. My mum is a great cook, but she’s by no means an experienced caterer. For all of us involved, the journey has been fun, long and slightly terrifying (we still don’t quite know how it will work out on the day – will we have enough for everyone? Have we under or overestimated?) but ultimately it’s saved us a couple of grand – and the food will largely be home made and have a lot more heart in it. Metaphorically – it’s a vegetarian wedding after all.

However – I cannot stress how big an undertaking this is – also most venues won’t let you do it. If you happen to have a blank canvas “bring your own everything” venue, then think carefully about whether you’re up for the task. If you decide that you are ready for a few months of hardcore cooking, here are some things to consider:

Things to consider when catering your own wedding

How much food to make

It’s vital to get advice from a caterer or a friend who has experience catering for large numbers on how much food to make. For example, consider whether you’re going to do courses or a buffet – this will make a huge difference to your calculations. If you’re doing a starter, a main and a dessert, you’ll need to take people’s options into account in advance, make a bit extra in case and decide whether you’re doing a different meal for children or special dietary requirements.

If you’re putting on a spread, consider how much of each dish to make. How many people does the dish serve? Bear in mind that people will take bits of everything rather than a full portion. Perhaps have a dummy meal with a small sample of friends and family and make a note of how much of everything people took in order to be full and happy.

You also need to remember to provide canapés, food for the evening and any side dishes like salads and bread.

How long will the food keep for? 

Even deep frozen, some foods won’t keep for more than a couple of months. Make sure you look up how long your various dishes will keep for in a deep freezer – and do a trial run. Make a few samples well in advance and defrost them a few months later to try them out. Again it’s good to get advice from a caterer – particularly as you don’t want to poison your guests! Speaking of not poisoning your guests, know which foods to avoid serving to minimise the risk of anything going wrong. Don’t touch mayonnaise with a bargepole and if you’re going to cook meat, you have to really know what you’re doing. Look up any dishes you plan to make just in case they could present a danger. Make sure you have proper packaging and storage for the food and that brings me to…

Where will you store it?

We have access to two chest freezers now – and it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re cooking and storing in bulk, make sure you have the freezer space. It might even be worth getting and old, second-hand chest freezer like we did and using it for the sole purpose of catering the wedding.

Dietary requirements

If you’re catering your own wedding, remember that some people may have allergies or specific dietary requirements that you need to cater to. The first step to take is to ensure you have a vegetarian option as standard. The second step is to request people’s dietary requirements on the RSVP card – that way if anyone has any allergies or is intolerant to any food, you’re prepared well in advance. If it’s a religious wedding, you need to consider the way the food is prepared – does it need to be kosher? Halal? Is it easier to go entirely vegetarian to avoid any more observant guests being unable to eat?

If any dishes contain nuts or anything else with the potential to cause a reaction, label them carefully. Conversely if something is made specifically for someone with dietary requirements, for example a vegan diet or gluten free, label that too so they know what they can and can’t eat.

Having said that – like any other aspect of your wedding it can be easy to get caught up in people’s various arbitrary likes and dislikes. While it’s nice to keep people happy, remember that you’re catering for potentially hundreds of different taste buds and you can’t please everyone. If people are being fussy you have to be firm – you wouldn’t change your whole menu on someone else’s whim if you had an external caterer so there’s no reason to do so just because you’re in charge. Choose options that will be popular with most people and give some variety – that’s really all you can do.

Don’t forget the extras

Not having a caterer doesn’t just mean not having someone making the food – it means (unless the venue has everything there) you will need to source everything that comes with having a caterer yourself. For example, off the top of my head, you’ll need to find your own linen, crockery, cutlery, cooking gear, serving dishes, condiments, glassware (although you can rent these for little or nothing from most supermarkets) and sauces, utensils and, most importantly, somebody will need to be in the kitchen preparing, dishing and serving the food. No mean feat.

We’ve done our own thing with the crockery (vintage hire all the way) and it does present an opportunity to get even more creative and source beautiful dishes, plates, saucers, teacups etc. like us. However, it is also a big challenge and means you have a lot more to remember in the run up to the wedding.

I would strongly recommend that you don’t attempt to prepare and serve the food yourself on the day. Call local caterers or even catering colleges for quotes just for their waiting staff for the evening. Many of them will have basic food preparation skills and will be more than capable of running the show behind the scenes without it breaking the budget.

Supplement with supermarkets

Many of the major supermarkets offer catering pick-up services for a fraction of the price of a caterer. While we’re making all the main dishes ourselves, we’ve supplemented a lot of the extras with salads, cheeses, fruit and side dishes from supermarket pick-up services. And here’s another secret – we’ve spent the last year scouting out the best of off-the-shelf cakes, canapés and party foods. With the packaging removed, nobody has to know where they came from – and we’ve had so much fun going round to my mum’s for food tasting sessions – we know exactly how enjoyable it will be for our guests.

Catering your own wedding is not something to take on lightly – we didn’t quite know what we were getting ourselves into. But we’d do it all again because it was a real blast, brought us together and we’ll feel a real sense of pride on the day. Are you planning to cater your own wedding? Or does it sound a bit too full on for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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