Even before the coronavirus pandemic, weddings were trending toward more small and intimate affairs. And what could be more intimate than cooking the food for your own wedding? 

While that might sound like a tall order – and make no mistake, it is – an increasing number of couples are going the DIY route for their wedding catering. 

One major driver of this trend is budget. According to The Knot, couples spent an average of $9,170 or $20 per person on catering for their wedding in 2019. So, if you plan effectively, you can save a lot of money by skipping the professional caterer. 

Other couples may choose to caterer their own event simply because they enjoy cooking and see it as a way to make the experience special for their guests. Food is, after all, a universal way of expressing love and affection. 

Whatever your motivation may be, here are some expert tips and tricks for creating and serving your reception meal. 

1. Plan and prep ahead 

The key to any successful meal, but especially one this important, is planning ahead. 

“People who have no experience cooking for large groups really need to sit down and think about how they’re managing the menu in terms of prep and service,” says Elizabeth Wexler, founder of Emlan Events, a wedding and event consulting company. 

Wexler recommends first crafting your menu and then breaking down each item step by step to calculate your timeline. Also, be sure to work ahead, prepping as much as possible (i.e., chopping vegetables, braising meat, etc.). That way, you’re not scrambling the day of to get everything cooked when you should be getting ready or posing for pictures. 

2. Keep it simple yet special

When creating the menu itself, don’t stray too far from what you know best.

“Simple is always better. I think your wedding day catered experience isn’t the time to start playing with sous vide and all these crazy techniques. At the end of the day, people love things like mac and cheese and lasagna and flatbreads,” says Wexler. “There’s a reason all of that food is really popular.”

Since it’s a special occasion, though, you can stick make small changes to enhance even the most comforting dishes. 

“Make it elevated for your wedding. Make lobster mac and cheese with a fabulous gruyere bread crumb crust. It’s a bit elevated from the normal mac and cheese we eat all the time, and it’s just buying different ingredients,” suggests Wexler. “It’s little things like that that elevate the things that we’re used to every single day.”

3. Choose food that’s flexible

Another important consideration when deciding what to serve is how well it keeps when sitting on a buffet. Kale, for instance, is an ingredient that can stand the test of time.

“You can leave kale out for like three hours and an arugula salad you can have out for 10 minutes, and it’s wilted and disgusting,” says Wexler. “A kale Caesar salad is the perfect example of something that can sit out on a buffet for a few hours.”

Wexler recommends offering a baked dish for the entrees, like a lasagna, because it’s good at staying warm and can be served straight out of the dish it was cooked in. Consider a braised meat for the main protein, since it can be prepared well in advance, or go for a tenderloin or hanger steak served with fingerling potatoes, which still taste great room temperature.

“People think you need to serve filet or serve certain cuts of meat in a very formal way, but you can actually have the steak out on a beautiful wood board, slice it and serve it with a horseradish sauce or chimichurri sauce,” adds Wexler.   

4. Don’t forget presentation

We do eat with our eyes first, so plan for presentation, too. If you don’t have a lot of service ware on hand, like salad bowls, platters, serving tongs and serving spoons, consider renting them.

“Another trick for your buffet is you want to have height variety. This is both for the guest experience – the ease of serving food to yourself – and also, it just looks better. When you put out all the food, you don’t want it to all be on the same level,” says Wexler. 

A great caterer’s trick: turn a bowl upside down and balance a platter on top for added height. Just be sure to check that it’s stable!

5. Ask for help

The last thing you want to do is to add extra stress to your wedding day. So, don’t be afraid to ask for some extra hands to help with the meal. 

“You should enjoy your wedding day,” says Wexler. “So, either create a committee in your family to help out or spend a couple hundred bucks and hire someone to help you.”

You might also consider other catering alternatives, like a drop-off catering service, which simply prepares and delivers the food. Or you could split the difference and hire a caterer to prepare part of the meal and still cook a special dish or two yourselves. That way, you can still save money and avoid a headache on your big day.

©CTW Features