2010 05/04

DIY Wedding: Serving it Up Yourself

By Erin Frank

DIY Desserts made by family members

My Do-It-Yourself wedding advice continues!  If you read my DIY Flowers post, you’ll know my husband and I were on a small budget for our wedding and took the Do-It-Yourself option to the max. We did the flowers, the decorations, the music (courtesy of my iPod nano), brought in the alcohol, and even the handled the food for a 75-person reception ourselves—DIY food being the topic of today’s post.

For the bride on a budget, providing the food for your wedding reception may be the answer. You can save literally thousands of dollars and still end up with satisfied, well-fed guests. But before you decide, take a close look at your resources. Do you have a talented network of friends and family who like creating meals? Do you have bulk food stores like Costco and restaurant supply stores nearby? Do you have transportation large enough to accommodate heavy loads? While saving money on food sounds like a dream, you can’t do it alone—without the right help and gear this endeavor will become a nightmare that threatens to spoil your big day.  And let me say this up front—if you can afford to have the meal you want catered and still stay within your budget, then absolutely have it done professionally. Caterers “get married” dozens of times each year—this is your first.  If you do decide to forge ahead with DIY food, here are a few tips to help you get started:

Boudin Bakery makes animal-shaped sourdough creations that taste even better than they look. They're a big hit with out-of-town guests.

1) Get to know your wedding site inside and out — Ask all of the important questions well in advance: Do they allow food from outside sources? Do they require certification for servers and/or bartenders? What are their policies on Sterno cans and other open flames? How many electrical outlets are there and where are they located? Is there running water and/or a kitchen area available for use? Does my liability insurance cover anything that might go wrong? Knowing the answers to these will help you pick food for your wedding that is easy to prepare in your environment.

2) Plan, plan, then plan some more — There are a number of great resources out there to be found. Cooking for Crowds for Dummies keeps it simple, and there are tons of websites. Just search for “Make your own wedding reception food” or “Cooking for a crowd.” What you cannot do without are estimates on how much food each person needs, so here’s a basic “Rule of Thumb” guide for quantities:

Hors D’oeuvres

  • 6 individual pieces or bites if preceding a meal
  • 4 – 6 bites per hour if hors d’oeuvres are the only meal

Main Course

  • Meat, Fish or Poultry – 6 ounces when you have one main dish, 8 ounces of combined meats if you are offering two or more types
  • Rice, grains – 1.5 ounces
  • Potatoes – 5 ounces
  • Vegetables – 4 ounces
  • Beans – 2 ounces
  • Pasta – 2 ounces for a side dish, 4 ounces for a main dish
  • Green Salad – 1 ounce undressed

3) Keep it simple and don’t be afraid to “cheap it up” — Choose hors d’oeuvres that can be eaten with fingers and a napkin to avoid needing silverware for cocktail hours. Select pre-cooked meats, pre-sliced when possible, to avoid long cook times before the wedding. Ideally you can buy nice cuts of pre-cooked and seasoned meats, store them in their serving dish, then simply heat them to a safe temperature above sterno cans in time for the reception. This keeps things clean, and easy to transport and heat, but be sure to do a trial run in your home a month or two before your wedding to ensure success. Think about what your audience likes to eat, and don’t fancy it up too much.  My guilty little secret? The most popular dish at my wedding was the mashed potatoes. They were awesomely buttery and delicious. And folks, they came from the Safeway deli department. Was it a gourmet recipe? No. Did my wedding guests rave? They sure did, and it was insanely affordable. Remember, at the end of the day only you and the groom will know what the label on the package said.

4)  DIY means Delegate It Yourself — Now listen closely here: on your wedding day you are not to touch the food until it hits your plate. No bride should be slaving over a hot stove before she says I do. Remember that list of resources you made at the start? Assign tasks well in advance to your friends and loved ones. You can provide the recipes, money, and even serving bowls but let them make the food. All you need is a core group to make one dish each in the quantities you need and bring it on site the day of.  Provide them a place to set it up and heat or chill it if needed and you’re off and running down the aisle!

There’s a lot more to catering your own wedding than one blog post can capture. Leave a comment below if you want advice on a particular problem and I’d be happy to help!


  • I love the alligator what a wonderful idea!! I’m all for DYI!!! Great Article!! Very impressed with the author!

  • It’s true. Erin’s wedding was amazing, both location and food. and that alligator was mighty delicious :)

  • I totally ate that aligator, and it was awesome. I think a lot of these little touches add up to an amazing experience for both the bride and groom, and also for their families, who remember the aligator and crab breads, and other small touches for years to come.

  • Arwen Thornton

    That is an amazing bread alligator!!

  • That was a great article. I know a few people in the Army always looking for ways to DIY on weddings. I am going to pass this along to them!!

  • Really great tips! Nowadays, couples are waiting a bit longer to get married and so families are pitching in less and less. Your DIY guide makes it manageable to actually throw yourself the wedding of your dreams. I especially liked your “delegate it yourself” section. That seems to be key. I follow your DIY blogs and I have to say, “I want more.” Hope to get some more tips from you soon.

  • Kathryn Valler

    Great article! In todays economy this is something every bride should consider. I will definitely pass it on to my 5 daughters!!!

  • Thank you so much for the DIY tips for wedding food. I look forward to sharing your ideas with my friends and family. I appreciate that you gave specific suggestions on the amount of food. I think that is important to plan for the transportation of the items to the venue and really keep in mind that everyone “helping”needs to know what the bride expects them to do before, during, and after the special day. Your wedding must have been pretty unique and special. Keep the information coming!

  • Wonderful ideas! Love the alligator and ive never seen flowers more beautiful!

  • That was an awesome article! Very helpful. I will have to come to you for advice when I get married..hopefully in a couple years :o ) GREAT JOB!

  • Very impressive article and very sound advise! Incredible ideas with the flowers, very beautifully executed.

  • Melissa Poulos

    Thanks for the great tips! Now I want to plan a party so that I can try them out, and I would love to try an awesome bread alligator!

  • The advise is great. These things can get so stressful having a list to start from can be a life saver. The one thing I would add is remember who you are feeding. Not everybody likes the same thing, like, meat. I have several vegetarians in my family, I had them bring things that they could eat. I have found that people with diet requirements are usually willing to help out

  • Good point, Shel! Make sure to have enough veggie-items to please non-meat lovers. Our feast was carefully thought out as both my husband and I are lactose intolerant (though we did have butter in the mashed potatoes—it didn’t seem right to deny our guests that tasty goodness). I can cheat with dairy every once in a while, so I enjoyed a bite of the wedding cake, and the groom was fed a bit of a dairy-free macaroon! You can work around any dietary requirements with a bit of careful planning.

  • i’ve *always* wondered what the recommended servings were for appetizers! this is so useful! great article! thanks!

  • Fantastic article! I like your tips on knowing where to spend your food budget for the most effect. The mashed potatoes were more affordable (but still delicious), and you were able to mask where they came from, leaving you money in the food budget to make a splash with something ultra-local and memorable like the Boudin bread animals, which are clearly a crowd-pleaser and a great memory for all your guests visiting San Francisco with its famous sourdough bread… it actually became part of their “San Francisco” experience. Great work!

  • Great advise Erin. You never cease to amaze me!

  • That’s awesome! I never thought it could be so easy!

  • My husband and I are preparing to renew our vowes. We went to the court house for our original wedding but now we want something that our families can attend. It can get very expensive fast, but this article gave some great advice on how to help keep things simple and it’s easy to forget there are things you can do yourself! Thanks!!

  • great article, tasty alligator!

  • As always you give such important and creative information in your articles…I will be taking many of your ideas for when i start planning my own wedding. Thanks so much!

  • Great info!!!

  • Looks like some great DIY tips Erin!

  • Thanks for all the helpful hints. Makes me hungry!

  • Thanks for the tips! I’m not planning a wedding, but the tips are great for sone other events I’m working on. As always – you’re the best!

  • Delegating is key! Thanks for showing an easy breakdown of serving sizes–very handy. I’ll keep many of these ideas in mind for my wedding this October!

  • Great!! Even my husband likes it

  • Amber Tomcheck

    Wonderful insight! Your wedding was beautiful and many people could learn from these ideas! The small detail as well and the lager ones (food) made it all terrific! Love You!

  • Great advise! Wish I would have had it when I did my first DIY wedding 15 years ago! We did have people bring in the food, but didn’t have a clue as to how much would be needed per person. The wedding went off just fine, but that was probably due more to the fact that it was just family and friends than any great success on our part! Great advice to anyone wanting to keep wedding costs low.

  • Great article for having a beautiful wedding without breaking the bank.

  • What a great article! Not just for weddings, but for party planning in general. Thanks!

  • One thing people never think about is serving utensils. I don’t know how many weddings I have been to where the family & friends bring food, but no serving spoons. The result is a nice hot dish served with a little plastic fork, or the pasta spoon multi-tasking into the beans and fruit salad. YUK! People bring roast meat and have no proper knife to slice it, leaving the dish to be hacked on with a butter knife. Then, who washes the pans & dishes? Usually the bride & groom are left to sweep up & empty garbage late into the day. There needs to be a designated clean-up crew. No one thinks about that.

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