I grew up spoiled. No, I didn’t wear designer clothes or get an expensive car on my 16th birthday – my dad cooked extraordinary meals that we almost always ate as a family. This meant supper was a sort of ‘movable feast’ that might take place anywhere between 5 and 9 pm, depending on everyone’s schedule, but it was worth it. Because I grew up with such great food, it’s always hard for restaurants or catering to impress me. I was never one of those girls who concocted wedding plans years before a groom was in sight, but I had always kind of hoped my dad would be able to ‘cater’ it. In the end, our self-catered wedding was a family effort that ultimately involved not only my immediate family, but also an aunt and uncle as well as a cousin and her husband who helped by putting food out and mixing drinks.
Most people who asked were pretty shocked that I didn’t have a wedding planner. I can’t even imagine what they’d have said if I used the words “self-catering!” It seems really crazy, and I’ve both read and heard lots of people advising strongly against it. I’ll be completely honest: it was a lot of work and sat one point on the Tuesday before the wedding I wanted to cry, throw everything in the trash, and see what I could find already made at the grocery store. A few cake layers did make it to the trashcan, but I stuck with it and everything worked out beautifully. If I had to do it all over again, I would chose self-catering every time. If you’re thinking of making your own food for a reception or other large event, I’m here to tell you it absolutely can be done, it just takes planning, practice, and preparation.
Today’s focus is on the planning portion of my “three p’s.” I started planning as soon as my dad said he’d be willing to help, long before we actually knew how many people would be coming. That part doesn’t matter yet – just start planning! Here are some questions you need to ask yourself at this stage:
1. Who well help me? It’s DIY, not DIAY (do it all yourself)! I am a die-hard do it yourself-er, but even I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I did all the planning and most of the preparation, but all day-of cooking and putting food out needed help from friends and family.
2. Have I (or someone who’s helping) ever cooked for a crowd before? I actually hadn’t, but my parents had and I’ve attended enough large events and worked at dozens of weddings and had seen things I liked and didn’t like.
3. What facilities will be valuable to me on site? Will there be a fridge? A stove? A grill? Nothing at all? The equipment on hand at your venue will have a huge influence on your menu.
4. Do I want something formal or informal? Sit down, buffet, or family style? Self-catering doesn’t have to mean informal, but buffet or family style will be far, far easier to accomplish yourself.
5. Do I want heavy hors d’oeuvres, light snacks, a full meal, or something else?
6. How much cooking am I willing and able to do? Do you want to grab a bunch of frozen appetizers at Costco, make everything from scratch, or somewhere in-between?
7. Do I want a food theme? Food themes are really popular at weddings. Stations like taco bars, build your own burger, or create your own pasta dish are just a few possibilities. You don’t have to go with something heavily-themed, but the food should at least make sense together.
Once you’ve answered these questions, you can begin looking for recipes that match your venue facilities and desired food style. Pinterest is obviously a great place to start looking for inspiration! When something catches your eye, ask yourself these questions:
Can it be made ahead? If not, how much on-site preparation does it need and do you have the facilities/people to make it? I highly recommend choosing things that can be made ahead or that require minimal preparation the day of.
How difficult is it? Is it one of those recipes that everyone says is really hard to get right or that contains 25 different specialty ingredients? If so, it might not be a great choice. There will be so much going on that keeping is simple is a really good idea!
How does it look? People always begin eating with their eyes – it’s why restaurants put effort into attractively plating meals! It doesn’t matter how delicious something is, if it doesn’t look appetizing fewer people will try it. Also, try to consider how your meal will look as a whole. Having different colors and textures is a good thing!
Have I ever made it before? If not, make sure you practice! There will be more on the importance of practice in a later post.
Make sure to find more recipes or dishes to try than you’ll actually end up serving. One or more of them may not work out as well as you’d hoped. I know this happened to me! These are a few of the sources I found most helpful:
Razzle Dazzle Recipes – Includes planning advice, recipes for a crowd, and food safety tips.
Dayle’s Incredible Links Self-Catering Help – The page doesn’t look fancy, but it’s super helpful! There are recipes for large groups, as well as sample menus for various occasions.
Cooking for a Crowd on Pinterest – This is just one board with some good ideas – there are even more if you look through the site!
The Old Farmer’s Almanac Party Planning: Cooking for a Crowd – No recipes, but some quantity suggestions so you have an idea of how much food you’ll ultimately need!
Of course, don’t neglect your favorite cookbooks or recipe sites. Not all recipes can be scaled exactly, but many recipes can be scaled up to accommodate additional people. If you have a family favorite, don’t be afraid to include it! In fact, a “bride’s signature dish” and a “groom’s signature dish” can be a great way to add personality to your reception.
That’s all for today, folks! Plan, plan, plan. Gather more ideas than you think you’ll need, read up on what other people have done, and get ready to start cooking soon!