A self-catering reception
29 Mar 2012
A self-catering reception
BACK in times gone past it was virtually unheard of for a couple (unless they were very wealthy) to have a wedding caterer.
The idea of paying someone simply to provide refreshments for the big day seemed extremely ostentatious.
Of course, now it is common practice for most brides and grooms to hire in outside help, with caterers being one of the biggest expenses of the day.
But many people are turning back time and shunning catering services in a bid to not only save costs, but to give their wedding a more personal feel.
It’s true, catering for your own wedding is definitely cheaper (half the price in some cases), yet it is not something to be taken lightly as this is one mammoth task.
Everything must be meticulously planned down to the teeniest detail - which means there have to be quite a few hands on deck.
How to start
It sounds ridiculous, but you will have to start a ‘wedding banquet’ committee.
This committee should be made up of friends and family who are willing to contribute to your wedding reception by way of preparing, cooking, cleaning, hiring and delivering.
Once snared, your willing victims should have regular meetings in the six month run-up to the big day.
On the first meeting decide your maximum budget, whether it will be a sit down or buffet meal, how many guests are to attend and where the cooking will take place.
You will need four people to prepare the food in advance, one person in charge of hiring equipment, two people in charge of laying the tables, two people in charge of serving on the day, two people in charge of cleaning, and one person in charge of returning hired items.
At your meetings have a file ready to record recipes, menu ideas, who is doing what, and the general running order of the day.
Once you’ve decided on the style of the reception, you’ll need to let your guests know too on their invitations.
You don’t want famished guests turning up expecting a full dinner when you’ve decided to just serve a few canapés - so make the food arrangements clear.
At the same time, arrange insurance for your reception.
Wedding caterers are insured just in case someone unfortunately gets food poisoning or is injured on the day of an event, and you need to do the same.
The best way of getting covered is to take out single event liability insurance, which should cover any eventuality.
Planning in action
There are lots of arrangements and planning surrounding a wedding reception. You’ll need that notebook handy so nothing is forgotten.
To start with check out the kitchen (hired or domestic). There will need to be adequate oven, fridge and freezer space. It may even be worth buying a cheap chest freezer and extra fridge for storing wedding food.
Measure the oven shelves and see how many racks there are - you might have to spread the cooking across several people’s ovens.
If you are catering for a lot of people, then hire out restaurant sized mixers, bowls, utensils and trays to make light of hard work.
The next job on the list is to hire the essentials for the meal, which include: cutlery, plates, serving dishes, linen, napkins, serving equipment, heating dishes for hot food, glassware, tables, chairs, coffee and tea urns, pans and dishes, salt and pepper pots, sauce jugs.
Arrange to have everything delivered a few days before the wedding, and check every box to make sure it’s all there, plugging in electrical items to test them too.
When hiring anything always get a receipt with the date the item is being delivered or picked up, the price and the state in which it must be returned. Also check what the penalties are for losing or damaging items.
The same goes for borrowing from friends.
Next comes choosing the menu.
For a sit down dinner allow at least one vegetarian option for each course and allow for special diets.
It’s recommended that you ditch the formal sit-down dinner and instead go for a buffet, which is cheaper, easier to plan and tends to please the majority of guests in its variety.
In your menu choice for a buffet try to avoid foods that must be served either piping hot or very cold as it is easier for bacteria to grow if food isn’t at the correct temperature.
But if you must choose hot food then hire some heating dishes and a food thermometer to ensure food is kept at a temperature that is safe.
Also, don’t choose anything that will be difficult to eat with just a fork - your guests don’t want to drop food all over themselves.
How much food is needed?
Depending on your budget you may want to calculate for a few different menus, allowing one plate of food per person plus 30% extra for each course
Look at the recipes you have and multiply them accordingly, calculating the cost of every ingredient used.
Go to wholesalers for items such as flour, spreads, chutneys and non-perishables, negotiate the price of fruit and vegetables with local farm shop or market stall and get wholesale prices on meat from local butchers.
Ensure you calculate the cost of every single ingredient - right down to the salt and pepper.
For a traditional roast-style reception lunch allow 2 slices of meat, 3 pieces of roast potato, 2 tablespoons of vegetables, 1 Yorkshire pudding, one stuffing ball, one chipolata and 3tbsps of gravy per person. Then allow 20-30% on top for seconds.
And onto the cooking of your feast. All prepared food must be delivered either in ice boxes or even in a hired refrigerated van to ensure it stays at a safe temperature.
Once on site the designated cooks will have to work hard to prepare food.
In the kitchen there should also be a ‘washer-upper’ to either man the dishwasher, or take control of washing, drying and putting away any used items.
Those in charge of setting tables will need to lay out tablecloths, napkins, salt and pepper pots and any decorations, as well as cutlery if it is a sit down meal.
For buffets there are three types of service, and so varying types of set-up.
Cafeteria style buffets need a couple of people to serve all of the food from the buffet table.
Self service buffets will require greater space on the serving table for people to put their plates down and serve themselves.
And family style service involves a few people dishing up and serving the buffet food to the tables.
So know the plan for your service so that tables can be set up accordingly.
In setting the buffet table there must be plenty of large spoons and forks so food can be easily served, as well as tongs for salad items and bread rolls.
Don’t forget to allow for 20% extra clean plates for people wanting seconds.
Unless a bar has been hired, the ‘setter-uppers’ should create a drinks station with the provided alcohol and soft drinks as well as ice and glassware.
Once everything is set-up the operation should run smoothly enough as long as all food is served on time.
So that havoc doesn’t ensue there must be someone available to clear tables and do general tidying up as the day progresses.
Most of all, enjoy your months of planning and have a fantastic reception.
Taking pot luck
A fun idea for an informal wedding reception is to take pot luck.
This basically involves you catering your wedding by asking each couple or person to bring a dish with them.
This way not only are you minimising your costs, but you are increasing the variety of foods on offer.
If you choose this method remember to keep a list of who is bringing what (you really don’t want everyone to turn up with a potato salad) and if someone has a speciality dish that you love make sure they are down to bring it.
You will need a good mix of meat, vegetarian, salad and side dishes as well as desserts, so when looking at your list of contributed food check that it is balanced.
As well as knowing what your guests are bringing, you will need to know if any items require refrigeration so that you can arrange extra fridges at the kitchen on the venue site if necessary.
Obviously all of the food needs to be at the reception venue before guests arrive so arrange for everyone to drop off their goodies to the venue’s kitchen beforehand, or have a couple of friends collect everything in the hours running up to the ceremony.
As with catering your own wedding yourself you will need someone to serve up the food, people to lay tables, and people to clear up so try and grab volunteers as early on in your wedding planning as possible.
A lovely way of displaying your wedding food is to place boxes of varying heights on the buffet table and draping them with covers to match the tablecloth on the main table.
This brings an interesting rise and fall pattern to the display, and adding some fresh flowers and decorations makes it look all the more professional.
Bruschetta topped with fresh sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and basil or crushed cannelloni beans with tuna, olive oil and garlic; bagels topped with cream cheese and smoked salmon; homemade savoury cheese biscuits; tartlets filled with pesto, vegetables and parmesan; whole dressed salmon; whole cooked ham; a whole turkey; fresh bread rolls; pasta salads with interesting dressings; cooked new potatoes in mint; rice salads; quiches; mini pizzas; a green leaf salad; tomatoes drizzled with olive oil; salt and black pepper; a vegetarian Wellington; olives; breadsticks and crudités with dips; spring rolls; hoisin duck wraps; coleslaw; coronation chicken; Moroccan cous cous, skewered meats