A DIY Wedding Reception for 200: The Party Plan

Gatherings from The Kitchn

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This month we're going to bring you a slightly different Gathering from The Kitchn (see our whole party series here!). Usually we show you a party we've thrown in our own homes, like a baby shower or a game night with friends. This week, however, I'm going to show you how I catered a friend's wedding reception last month.

It was a big job — appetizers and drinks for 200 people! But this is still a very reasonable thing to do as an amateur cook, with a few notes, caveats, and precautions. I'll share those this week, along with some favorite recipes. Here are the basic details of what I took on.

The Wedding Story

I don't cater weddings often, although I did serve dinner at my brother's wedding last year. It's truly a lot of work and not something to be undertaken lightly, but the budget here was reasonable and I wanted to be able to share an appetizer-style reception with all of you.

This wedding was a sweet family affair, and one that went beyond the bride and bridegroom. The bride is the younger sister of one of my best childhood friends, Ann, and the bridegroom is the youngest brother of another best childhood friend, Sarah. Our families go way back, and the rest of my immediate family was involved with the wedding: My dad officiated, one brother was the best man, another brother was in the wedding party, and a third brother (and sister-in-law) shot the photos. Yet another sister-in-law made the cake.

So, when I signed on to do the food, the bride joked that it was a Stockdale-Short wedding, as brought to you by the Hoplers.

The whole affair promised to be homey, sweet, and happy.

The Wedding Reception Plan: Appetizers & Drinks

The wedding ceremony was scheduled for late in the day — 6:30pm — so the reception wouldn't begin until at least 8:00pm. So we planned on appetizers and drinks.

  • Reception time: 8:00pm on a Saturday
  • Number of people expected, including children: 200
  • Type of food served: Heavy appetizers and non-alcoholic drinks
  • Venue: A church with a good-sized but by no means luxurious kitchen
Lots of food lined up and ready to go the morning of the wedding.
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The Wedding Reception Menu Plan

The bride didn't have a lot of direction on the food; she just wanted the appetizers to have a touch of elegance (no pretzels or Chex mix!) and to suit the wide range of dietary needs. There are a lot of gluten-free and dairy-free family members on both sides.

For drinks, they were skipping alcohol for mostly budgetary reasons (plus, this wasn't really a drinking crowd).

We discussed lots of options — toasts, bruschetta, stuffed mini potatoes, flautas, veggies. My priorities were having a good range of options and enough bites. I also had limited refrigerator space and prep time, and I like to have a nice mix of hot things and cold things.

It took a lot of time to come up with a final menu — I'll share that with you tomorrow! In the end, we went for a farm-inspired and elegant spread of finger foods and small dessert bites.

  • Food: Small yet filling bites for about 200 people, with a mix of sweet and savory, hot and cold.
  • Drinks: Two non-alcoholic punch options, plus water and coffee.

The Wedding Reception Budget

The bride and bridegroom had a good budget for the day:

  • Reception food budget: $2500 for food, disposables, and helpers

This didn't include anything for decoration (I wasn't responsible for any decor or even tablecloths). It was plenty for my purposes and we even came in a bit under budget.

It may surprise some people, but appetizers — far from being less expensive than doing a full dinner — can be just as expensive, or even more so, than a full meal. This is partly because you usually need a greater variety of food, and is also due to the disposables needed.

A DIY wedding reception also usually requires someone like me, who is willing to commit quite a lot of time and energy to making it happen. Even if you're mostly purchasing food, not making it yourself, you need someone to coordinate storage, transportation, and serving. (They didn't pay me for the reception work; I offered to do it for free as a gift, and in return for being able to blog about it. I did, however, send gifts to some of the helpers I had.)

What I'll Share With You

This week I'll share the process of making the menu, which is a lot more involved in this case than drawing up the menu for a dinner party! I'll talk about how I plan how many bites are needed for each guest, and then how I shopped and prepped. And, just because there's always learning, I'll talk about what not to do when catering a big event like this.

What else would you like to know? Any tips or advice in particular?

(Image credits: Faith Durand; D Squared Photo & Video)