How to Cater Your Own Wedding in Style: Our Cost-Saving Guide

Here’s a typical wedding planning scenario:

You’re doing a mini-tasting of the possible dinner menu for your wedding, and while it’s mostly delicious, you’re not keen on some stuff the caterer does—and that’s before you get the shocking cost estimate!

This situation makes you think. “Could I cater my own wedding?”

There’s no doubt you can cater your wedding yourself! Not only can it be personally fulfilling, but you can also save on catering costs, often a considerable expense in any wedding budget.

How To Cater Your Own Wedding
Photo by Marissa Rae Photography

But there are right ways to cater a wedding yourself, and knowing everything about how to cater your own wedding will help you decide whether it’s a task you want to add to your wedding schedule.

Are you ready, set, to cater? Check this out!

How Much Cheaper Is It to Cater Your Own Wedding?

wedding cake decorated with flowers
Photo by Chelsey Logan Photography

According to catering statistics, it costs approximately $75 to feed each adult wedding guest. On average, a venue (banquet hall, barn, or historical building) costs $11,000, and with food and alcohol included, costs rise to approximately $16,000.

While it’s generally less expensive to cater your wedding yourself, the savings depend on many factors. It would be best if you also balanced savings against the added responsibility of catering your wedding.

Here are some criteria that will affect how much cheaper it is to cater your wedding:

  • The number of guests: catering a plated meal for 25 people can involve higher-cost menu items and is easier and less expensive to serve for smaller groups than a buffet style.
  • Your reception location: are you considering a backyard wedding or a local hall in your community? A banquet venue may cost you to rent, but the ability to store more food on-site is a relief because personal storage (especially fridge) space gets limited very quickly.
  • Are you covering liquor costs too? Some couples get wine donated by family members, or they cover an open bar during the cocktail hour.
  • Do you want to serve appetizers first, followed by the main course and dessert?

Tip: If catering your entire wedding seems like too much, you can save money by creating edible centerpieces for appetizers, making your own wedding cake, or serving late-night munchies prepared ahead of time like cookies, brownies, soft pretzels, or pizza!

Another big thing to note is rising food costs. Whether you cater your wedding or hire a service, please factor this amount into your budget.

Sample Self-Catering Menu for a Smaller Wedding (Under 25 People)

It’s easier to serve a plated meal to fewer guests, and you can enlist friends or family to deliver plates to seated guests at no additional cost.

We based this sample menu on a few pre-dinner appetizers served during the cocktail hour and a dessert table or wedding cake laid out afterward.

  • Garden salad (dressing on the side to maintain freshness. I love these preservative-free salad seasonings!).
  • Cornbread (you can order cornbread mixes online and make them two days ahead for your wedding meal!).
  • Roasted turkey (mail-order turkey is hugely popular and cost-effective!). Here’s a vegan option too!
  • This turkey brine spice mix is key to making the best turkey ever!
  • Roasted red potatoes (this starchy side dish keeps its flavor and consistency at any temperature).
  • Steamed green beans (check out the best veggies to steam that are easy to make and won’t get mushy).

Tip: Search through local food directories to find farmers in your area. Check to see who may offer a bulk price on fresh vegetables and fruits! Buying locally also ensures the freshest produce available to you seasonally.

With a bit of detective work and some number crunching, it’s possible to get your costs down to $30-40 per guest for a plated meal. In addition, the savings in food catering can allow you to provide a host bar during the cocktail hour if you choose.

How To Find Venues for a Self-Catered Wedding

Hey, I love me a good backyard party! The same goes for a cottage weekend or a short, blissful holiday by the shore.

But I get it. Either you don’t have a suitable backyard, or you don’t have access to a cottage or a beach nearby, or maybe, you’d like a formal-looking venue for your wedding party of a lifetime!

laughing bride, groom and guest in wedding reception
Photo by Jennifer Mercier Photography

No worries, you can score a lovely venue and do your own wedding catering too. Here’s how:

  • Search “BYO Catering + your city/state” online. BYO means “bring your own.” A search term example would be BYO catering + Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Check around your city or town for cultural centers, community halls, or local historical buildings. Many rent their spaces as event venues, with on-site or BYO catering options.
  • Check out Wedding Pioneer’s venue guide for a sweet location near you!

What To Ask a Venue About Self-Catering

Once you’ve selected a shortlist of possible venues, contact each site and ask the following questions:

  • Is there a setup fee to decorate the hall and arrange tables, or an option for their staff to do a setup?
  • Do they offer a waitstaff option if you want to serve your self-catered, plated meal?
  • Do they offer tableware, glassware, serving platters, and utensils with the rental?
  • If not, can they recommend a rental company for tableware and essentials? Alternatively, do an online search for “party rentals or event rentals near me.”
  • Are their kitchen facilities available to keep prepared meats and side dishes warm and salads and desserts cooled?

Many venues don’t allow you to use their kitchens in advance to cook your meats, but you can ask if there’s a possibility to use a kitchen on-site and the costs.

If the venue doesn’t allow that, you’ll prepare your cooking schedule in advance and hopefully ask friends and family to help cook and store food.

Catering For 100 Guests on a Budget

You’re on trend if you visualize about 100 people on your guest list! Wedding statistics show that guest lists now sit at about 105 people, down from 131 in 2019.

So, how do you cater your wedding as efficiently and stress-free as possible? I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s certainly more manageable and enjoyable with a checklist.

Our checklist breaks down the essential food and beverage categories for your cocktail hour, main wedding meal, and late-night snack attack: again, catering for a hundred is better with a small army like your BFFs and fam!

Sample Checklist for a Wedding Reception With 100 Guests

Cocktail Hour Food

I love a beautifully decorated reception venue, but have you seen the price tag for a room full of fresh flowers with an unfortunately short lifespan? It’s just as glorious (not to mention more fun and way less expensive) to rent a helium machine and create biodegradable balloon arrangements for your tables.

Then you can:

  • Create edible centerpieces with local cheeses, pickles, olives, and crackers that you can purchase in bulk ahead of time.
  • Enlist your BFF to help create decorative, photogenic fruit, veggie, and bread displays.

Cocktail Hour Beverages

  • Your venue may have a separate bar area to serve alcohol during your cocktail hour, but someone can set out non-alcoholic beverages in these cool beverage tubs that make outstanding gifts after your big day.

Main Reception Meal

You can serve a sit-down meal to 100 guests, but in that case, I would hire waitstaff for the dinner portion and cleanup following your main meal. That’s why BYO catering couples plan a buffet-style main meal for their wedding reception.

Then you can:

  • Prepare grilled or boiled chicken breasts ahead of time. Tip: chicken breasts need to reach an internal temperature of 165 F for 30 seconds to be cooked.
  • Prepare a marinara sauce or a creamy beef sauce (made with lean hamburger meat) ahead of time. Tip: hamburgers need to reach 160 F to be fully cooked.
  • Purchase bulk romaine the day before that’s shredded and ready for placement in large serving bowls with croutons and parmesan cheese on the side.
  • Prepare roast beef a day ahead, ask a relative to slice cold the next day, and prepare a vat of beef gravy. Tip: follow this website’s rules on the safe temperature of roast beef according to how you want it done.
  • Tip: it’s just as important to reheat prepared foods safely. Follow these FDA safety guidelines.
  • Watch this video to learn how to roast vegetables for a larger group. Choosing vegetables with similar cook times will make this step simpler.
  • You can learn to make fresh pasta inexpensively without special tools! It creates a large side dish for your pasta sauces, and you can freeze fresh pasta for up to a month before your wedding. Once defrosted, it cooks quickly and is servable in large aluminum foil pans that stay warm.
  • Distribute trays of premade desserts and cookies as a sweet after your meal. If you’ve made your wedding cake, enjoy the cake cutting after your dinner and before the dancing begins!

Beverages

  • Most weddings serve wine with dinner, and boxed wine is always your way to go! However, if you’re serving a sit-down meal, the waitstaff can take drink orders for red or white wine and deliver glasses to guests at your tables.
  • If you are serving your wedding meal buffet-style, you can have a boxed wine station so guests can help themselves.

Late Night Snack Attack

My favorite “midnight buffets” at weddings have been all about the easy stuff. Check out these fun ideas for pre-prepared or hot and ready snacks:

  • Sweet and sour meatballs can be prepared and kept warm in a crockpot.
  • Splurge on custom-made cake pops or get fun DIY ideas.
  • Rental a movie theater-style popcorn machine.
  • Buy single-serve chips and pretzels you can buy in bulk.
  • If you have pasta and sauce left over, keep it warm to serve later in the evening.

I don’t know about you, but I’m craving lots of yummy wedding food right now!

My eyes might be bigger than my stomach, which brings us to our next subject.

How Much Food Do I Need for a 100-Person Buffet?

I choose a buffet as the serving style for 100 guests because it’s your most affordable option.

You won’t require waitstaff for each table, but you may choose to have a few people serving your guests at a buffet for health and safety considerations.

Tip: Check out this webpage for handy tips on preparing a buffet in the post-pandemic world. It’s worth the health and safety of your friends and family!

On to how much food you’ll need! It’s broken down here according to the food checklist above.

Cocktail Hour Food Amounts

A popular hotel chain’s catering department suggests up to six appetizer portions for 100 adult wedding guests.

Main Wedding Meal Amounts

Serving your meal buffet-style may require serving platters to be switched out. Here’s how to portion out your main buffet menu, according to the hotel catering website:

  • Protein (Meat): 6 oz. serving per guest (check out this handy food calculator to help you portion).
  • Vegetables: 4 oz. serving per guest.
  • Pasta: 2-3 oz. for side dishes with one scoop of marinara or creamy pasta on top.
  • Salad: 1 oz. serving per guest.
  • Bread: 1-2 pieces per guest.
  • Cakes, Pastries, and Pie: 1 slice per person of the dessert you choose.

A professional caterer does tend to prepare extra food in advance for “plus one” guests, so account for up to 10 additional guests. You’ll have extra helpings for people at your main meal or leftovers for your late-night snacks.

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