Almost There: Feeding a BIG Wedding on a Small Budget

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Feeding a BIG Wedding on a Small Budget

I have to start this blog off with an apology. During our #hollicon series (where we posted about my big, inexpensive, DIY, fun wedding), I neglected to answer one reader's questions about wedding food. 

I had a caterer scheduled to blog on the topic, but she was unable to last minute, and well, last minute I was all getting ready to walk down the isle and didn't get to it myself. Please forgive me, reader(s)!

Anyway, I thought now is as good as any time to talk about wedding food, first mine, then some other ideas I chose not to use for various reasons. 

First things first, our wedding ended up being about 175-200 people and our budget came in right around $3,000! The food costs were the parts we worked really hard to keep down so we could convince my parents that our guest list wasn't too ambitious. 

I didn't want a straight up potluck, but I also knew that hiring a caterer would be completely out of the question for what we were trying to achieve. We also opted to have a 4:30 p.m. wedding, putting our reception right at dinner time, so finger foods weren't really an option. 

What the heck did we eat?
  • Popcorn Bar for pre-reception snack
  • Make your own sandwich bar
  • Soups in crockpots 
  • So. Many. Cakes.

The popcorn bar: This was really pretty simple. It turned out the venue we used had a popcorn machine that we could use. (They also sell popcorn machines for about $40 at Walmart/Sams Club/Party Stores). I bought various popcorn seasonings to spice things up: Ranch, white cheddar and Tony Chachere's for the Cajun flavor. I found popcorn bags at Sam's Club for $5.72, making this total around $15.

Make your own Sandwich Bar: We really lucked out here and found a caterer who let us order quality sandwich meats and cheese at cost to her. Boy were they amazing meats, too! The meat (turkey, ham and roast beef) and cheese (provolone and cheddar) ended up costing us around $150! Then I spent about $250 at Sams Club on various rolls, plates/cups/utensils, coffee, tea, garnishes for the sandwiches and breakfast foods and snacks for our wedding party. I spent another $15 on some higher end mustards and mayonnaise at Publix. Total sandwich bar costs: $415.

Soup bar: This cost me $0. We chose to ask a few of our closest family and friends to bring a crockpot full of soup as their wedding gift to us. We ended up with around 10 different soups that were oh, so tasty! Jambalaya, Gumbo, Taco Soup, Potato Soup, oh gosh, so many kinds! We got huge compliments on the variety, and no one said anything like, "Oh, that's tacky how you potlucked that!" 

Cakes: We decided instead of one big wedding cake, we wanted a bunch of regular sized, homemade cakes. This was less out of wanting to save money and more out of, "We love so many kinds of cakes we can't decide!" Plus, we wanted our reception to have a dinner party-type feel to it. We actually had Joseph's grandma and my mom volunteer to make several; I made several (just because I like baking); and we had a couple other volunteers make some. We ended up with 13 cakes, and people ate that up (both literally and figuratively!) 

In total, it cost us under $450 to feed around 200 people. That includes drinks, utensils, plates, bowls, etc. 

This is how I managed my food costs, but I had plenty of other ideas before I settled on this one. Here are just a few tips on cutting wedding food costs that may inspire you:

1. Order food from a wholesale store

If you can get food at cost or close to at cost to you will save a lot of money. Another idea we had besides the sandwiches was to bake chicken or to make a pasta-type bar. This is all contigent on how many people you have to volunteer and what your venue space allows.

2. Seek volunteers

This was so important to us keeping our food costs down. We had a large family that volunteered to orchestrate our entire set up of the food, and they were extremely essential. Obviously us and our parents were a little occupied pre-reception. Ahead of time, the caterer we ordered food from recommended about 3-4 people helping with preparation. We also had tons of volunteers cook soups and bake cakes for us. This normally isn't too difficult because usually surrounding weddings a lot of people will come out of the woodwork and say "Is there anything I can do to help?" That's when you come in and say, "Well, actually…"

3. Consider a restaurant

To keep costs down, you could still order food from a restaurant, but you wouldn't necessarily have a caterer. For instance, you could order BBQ or a giant container of tacos from a Mexican restaurant. I don't know what all you could order, but you know what restaurants are nearby!

4. Hearty/Inexpensive meals from a caterer

Hiring a caterer isn't a terrible idea! Don't think I'm hating on the business over here. In fact, we actually didn't try this route ourselves. Though, I'm sure if you have a budget, you could take that to a caterer and say, "What can you do for this amount of money?" Large pans of pastas or salads (or pasta salads) are some dinner type foods that are pretty inexpensive. You may also opt for some finger foods/Hors d'oeuvres if you aren't having a dinner time reception. 

5. Alternate reception times

This all depends on your hopes and dreams (and venue availability) for your wedding day. While we opted for a dinner reception (because our wedding was on the bay and we really wanted to be there for sunset), you obviously don't have to do this. If you do have a different time, you can easily cut your costs. For lunch, you don't have to serve as hearty of meals as you do for dinner. If you have an afternoon reception you could just serve some finger foods (which are super easy to potluck if you choose that route) or you could even have a late night reception and just serve dessert (um, delicious!) One of my favorite things I've heard is a brunch reception, following an early morning wedding. Breakfast casserole or pancakes? Yes, please! 

6. Utilize your culture

Say you don't want to have potluck because you don't want your guests to bring food or any other reason you have. Well, there's a way to bypass the general potluck appearance and actually pull it off in classy fashion (besides my incredible soup idea!) Instead of asking everyone to potluck, maybe use just your families and serve foods based on your culture. People love cultural foods, and chances are, your families love cooking them! 

7. Potluck

I mean, I just sort of bashed potluck in the last point, but I'm not really against it. Have you ever been to a church party? I mean, that junk is amazing! People participating in your big day would be more than happy to bring a dish, most likely. You could ask everyone or you could just ask a select few. Either way, variety and homemade meals are not usually a bad combination, so don't be afraid to go this route if you want to cut costs! When I chaired a church social committee one time, our parties often consisted of us providing the meat and others bringing sides and desserts. This is another way to handle that. The partial potluck!

8. Just say no…to alcohol

This one was easy for us because we don't really drink. Also we are frugal. But the open bar can get out of control expensive, and even the just beer and wine selection (though less expensive, for certain). Even if you don't want to ban alcohol completely, you could let your guests know they can bring their own booze. That's a common thing that happens at parties, so it's no big deal if you want to do that for your wedding.

9. Don't be afraid to bend the rules

Most of all, this is YOUR day. If you want to serve cake and punch only at high noon, well, that's your prerogative. If you want to go all out at 2 p.m., you also can do just that. If you are bending tradition too much (like if you are only serving cake at lunch time) you might want to give your guests a heads up about that on the invitation, so everyone's not starving and mad. But most of all, just make this day all about what you want and don't compromise too much!

I hope some of these tips at least get your ideas flowing. If you have any other questions that are more specific, I'd be glad to discuss them with you. Comment below or e-mail us at chasingthere(at)gmail(dot)com with the subject "Wedding Food" and I'll get back to you ASAP!

—Holli Anne


  1. THANK YOU! This is exactly the type of thing we want to do for our wedding!

    The challenge we keep coming up against is that a lot of venues wont let us serve food that isn't from a caterer (even the ones that allow outside catering need them to be licensed and certified - they wont even let us have a relative do the cake).

    What venue did you use? Did you get any push back on that?

    Thank you!

    1. Hey Kaitie! Glad this was helpful :)

      We actually used a church hall so there wasn't any weirdness about bringing in food from non-caterers. Maybe you could find a church or something like it to let you DIY your food. We seriously saved a ton of money and people still tell us how much they liked the spread! Good luck to you guys!

  2. My fiance loves the soup and sandwich idea! We have been trying to figure out how to keep to a low budget and you just gave us one of our most likely candidates!

    1. Yay! We seriously still get comments about it and it's a good conversation piece for people to talk about what different foods they all have. Good luck in your planning and happy wedding!

  3. great ideas. A lot of the foods you had I will have also. Being from new Orleans, gumbo and jambalaya is expected by the guests. I am also going to seriously consider this idea but I will use coupons for the groceries to keep my cost even lower. A lot of people do not think about using coupons to save when making their own food.

    1. Coupons are always a great idea! My husband's also from Louisiana. Yay Cajuns (and their food!) Good luck with your savings :)



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