Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Q & A: Wedding Reception Food Logistics

Reader Question: My fiance and I are getting married out of state (Brevard, NC) and are planning on feeding our family for three days. Two days before the wedding and the day of. How did you order your cakes? Did you order ahead of time, do taste testing, etc.? I'm just trying to figure out how we can do all of this the day before everyone arrives without stressing out cake decorators and ourselves.

Yeah, figuring out how to time all the food just right is a logistical puzzle (very akin to the LSAT!).

When Matt and I first started wedding planning, we worked from a long to-do list. However, we found that we were overwhelmed by the sheer length of it and its lack of prioritization. So, we decided to take the major things on the list--attire, food, cakes, rings, DIY projects, etc.--and spread them out over our remaining wedding planning time. This strategy left us with only one or two things to worry about each week (which was way more manageable).

At this time, we also decided what the week leading up to our wedding would look like.

Tuesday: Buy food and drinks for Friday's Welcome Picnic and Saturday's reception

Wednesday: Drive to the reception site to unload the food

Friday afternoon:
Start preparing some of the food for the Saturday reception (i.e., the marinade for the fajitas) and set out food for the Welcome Picnic

Work with our closest friends from 1-3 pm to prepare the remaining reception food (i.e., guacamole, salsa, and 7-layer dip).

This plan worked nearly perfectly for us. Matt and I both love to entertain and host parties, so it was fun to be involved in the food preparation for our wedding. Also, we love spending quality time with friends, and cooking with them was such a fun way to hang out before the wedding. Further, we paid the innkeepers at the reception site an hourly rate to heat up the food, set it out, refill it, and clean up. That way, we didn't have to worry about it during our reception.

[Editor's Note: I realize I haven't answered your question yet!]

There were a few items that didn't fit neatly into this plan:
  1. The Cakes: About a month before the wedding, we decided we were going to simply buy several different cakes from Whole Foods (since we couldn't find a good local bakery in Denver). We had tasted some samples about a month in advance and then placed our order. They promised to make them the day of our wedding to maximize freshness. The dilemma was that Whole Foods was an hour and a half away from our mountain wedding. Fortunately, we had a friend driving up on the day of the wedding. We found a Whole Foods that was between her house and the wedding, so she could just swing by and pick them up on her way (we paid for the cakes in advance).
  2. Fresh Bread: For the Welcome Picnic on Friday night, we originally wanted it to be catered by a local deli. However, our budget didn't allow for that, so we had to get more creative and make a basic make-your-own-sandwich bar instead. I was nervous about whether this would seem too "budget." I didn't want our guests to fly all the way across the country and then think, "This is it? This is all we get?" I had to calm down a bit and remind myself that we only invited our closest friends and family so they are coming to celebrate with us and not judge all the details (side note: I do have a couple relatives who "judge all the details" but I figured that was more of their problem than mine). I knew I would feel better about the whole thing if we at least had fresh, yummy bread from Whole Foods. I didn't want to buy the bread on Tuesday with the rest of the food because it wouldn't taste as good on Friday. To solve the dilemma, I simply asked another friend to help out. I found a Whole Foods on her way to the Welcome Picnic and gave my friend some cash and a shopping list. She was more than willing to help out.
  3. Alcohol: We served wine (which we bought in advance), beer from kegs, and frozen margaritas from a machine. We ordered the kegs and paid for them in advance and then asked a different friend to pick them up (again, we ordered from a store that was on his way to the wedding). As far as the margarita machine goes, we had it delivered to a friend's house and then she brought it with her when she came for the wedding.
Long story short: We put a lot of time and thought into planning the schedule and solving all the little dilemmas. But front-loading our energy was worth it. We were able to stay within our budget and none of it was stressful.

Well, there was one stressful part: Tuesday. Buying something like $1,000 worth of food from three different stores was exhausting. I would highly, highly recommend splitting the trip into two: one trip a couple weeks in advance for non-perishable stuff and one trip closer to the wedding for perishables.

I'm not sure that I have helped with your particular situation, but perhaps seeing how Matt and I worked through our situation will give you some ideas. Best of luck!

E-mail your questions to saracotner@yahoo.com

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Hannah said...

Wow that is a lot of work, planning, and cash! We're not serving a dinner at my wedding, just lots of different finger foods. I'm going to try to do something cool with them so they aren't the traditional veggie-tray-style stuff though.

Yivinns said...

Wow... my goodness, sounds like quite a bit of volunteers and an intricate plan played a huge part in a reception that was just an hour away. NC is almost ten hours from us. Regardless, I think we'll be able to pull it off. Thanks for the tips!

Becca said...

This is really helpful - thanks! I'd love to hear more about how couples managed the DIY aspects and logistics for their week/day of the wedding. Especially with food for large crowds for the welcome evening, wedding day and 0Sunday after. I'm thinking of ordering drop-off catering (120-150 ppl) with some friend help, and more posts like this would help me figure out if I'm nuts or not!

Anonymous said...

becca - you can find smaller catering companies that will do cheaper buffet food and will stick around to help tidy up etc. We had mexican food at ours - it worked out at about $20 a head and there was plenty of food left over the next day. My concern would be that you will end up finding yourself being server for the day!

We also got our cakes from Ralphs and they were yummed up. I always think its so sad to see expensive cake wasted at weddings. We found pretty glass cake stands at yard sales and then brought various different flavoured cakes the day of. The 'posher' Ralphs do the better cakes.

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