Most couples getting married have a budget that they are working towards for all the expenses relating to their big day, and regardless of whether that budget is large and small, most brides and grooms find themselves having to make certain compromises along the way. It may be that you decide to have a pay bar in the evening to cut costs, or that you limit the number of guests for the day or you may decide to DIY some aspects of your day.
When my husband and I got married last year, we made the decision to cater for our own wedding. I have catered for so many other people’s events, and knew that I would always be critical of any other caterers food thinking that I would have done it differently or I could have done it better myself. I also know many other couples out there that decided to cater for their own wedding, or have friends and family help with the food for the wedding day. We even decided to make the cake ourselves (with some help from my sister).
Of course, catering for your own wedding can save you a significant amount of money but it’s a huge undertaking, and you have to think long and hard as to whether you want to put yourself (and friends and family who may help) under the additional pressure. Some key considerations before you make that decision are as follows:
What food to you plan to provide your guests?
It’s unlikely you will be able to provide a hot three-course sit down meal for your guests if you’re catering for your own wedding – it’s likely a hot or cold buffet or tea party menu is going to be more achievable and considerably less stressful. Ideally you don’t want to have to do any preparation on the day as you should be getting ready and enjoying a glass of bubbly, so try to choose options that can be made one day in advance and put in the fridge so they can just be bought out on the day and are ready to be eaten.
Many people underestimate just how long it takes to cook for the quantity of people who typically attend a wedding. For example think about your oven space and how long it takes to bake just one quiche or just one batch of scones – now think about how many quiches/scones you will need and quickly you will see how long the cooking will take as you can only get so much food in one oven at a time.
The key is to keep it simple and to make sure not all the food needs to be cooked in the oven at the same time. If you can get friends and family to cook dishes and bring them along then that is great and will help enormously. We opted for a hog roast to compliment a vegetarian buffet, and it worked very well.
Equipment and facilities
As caterers we have a huge amount of equipment some of which is essential from a health and safety perspective, and some that simply makes catering for large amounts of people much easier. The number one consideration if you are preparing your food in advance is whether or not you have sufficient fridge space as all food needs to be kept chilled to help avoid the risk of food poisoning. Also, if you are transporting food, do you have enough cool boxes and ice blocks to keep everything cold? Equally, if you are serving hot food, do you have the right equipment to keep everything hot? Look at guidance on the internet from organisations such as The Food Standards Agency as to “high risk” foods and best practice for food preparation and storage.
Depending on what you are serving you may need ample tables to set the food out on, tupperware for storage, serving platters and bowls, serving spoons, sauce/cream jugs, bread baskets etc. This is in addition to plates, bowls, table linen, cutlery, salt & pepper pots, napkins, teacups & saucers, teapots, glassware and butter dishes.
Think about how much room this all takes up and how you will transport it to your venue – we often have people say they are coming to collect our vintage china in their little car and we have to explain that vintage china for 80 persons is usually in excess of 10 large storage boxes!
Some venues have very limited kitchen facilities, and you may have to amend you plans depending on what’s available. Ideally you want somewhere with fridges, a sink with running hot water, electricity sockets, plenty of counter space to set everything out and a dishwasher would be a real bonus. Obviously if you’re serving hot food, you will also need a cooker and hob.
Staff for the day and tidying up afterwards
Even if you are preparing the food yourself, I would highly recommend that you employ at least one member of staff per 20 – 30 persons to help on the day. Ideally you should brief them before the day on setting out the food (and re-heating it if appropriate), serving the food and topping up dishes as it’s unlikely all the food will be set out in one go. The staff can then clear away plates and the serving dishes once the meal has finished.
Washing up all the plates and serving dishes after the event is no small task, so factor in some additional staff hours for the clean up.
Presentation and quantities
People eat first with their eyes, so when your designing your menu have a think about how it will all look. For example if you serve scones, sausage rolls and coffee cake the table of food is going to look very bland! Try adding some vibrant salads and some colourful, fresh foods to your menu ~ for example garnish dishes with pretty coloured salad leaves or edible flowers.
Finally, in my experience, the biggest concern for anyone catering for their own wedding will be whether or not there will be enough food. Most recipes give a guide to how many people a dish will serve, but you must also factor in that if it’s a buffet people will take a little of each dish rather than having a whole portion of each dish. It’s very difficult to estimate with any great certainty how much people will eat, but it’s always best to make a little extra.
~ Lucy is menu designer and chef at Mayflower Events – a company specialising in wedding catering in Sussex, Surrey and Kent www.mayflowerevents.co.uk ~