Our plan: rather than pay $15 per head for upwards of 160 guests (is it just me or is the guest count never where I left it?) we're stretching our $5,000 budget as far as we can by offering a variety of snacky things. Here's how we'll pull it off.
We "update" the expectations
Guests tend to expect a meal, but that's because most weddings take place during or before a major mealtime. We set our ceremony time to 7pm, and included a card in the invites that specified our outdoor reception will feature dancing, cocktails, and heavy hors d'oeuvres. (Which my uber-conservative mom calls the "Heavy Hors." Heh.) Guests will have time to grab a meal before they arrive, they'll snack throughout, and go home kinda buzzed and full of goodies.
I'm typically a help-decliner type, but I'm learning to say "yes" a little quicker when people offer assistance. We have a network of grannies and great-aunts who are just dying to get their hands in this, and as long as I don't have to pay for it, I say the more the merrier. I have two lists and a recipe database and they are welcome to them.
We research and organize
These go hand-in-hand, as my goal is to not have to actually cook anything within 48 hours of the wedding. So while searching, I'm focusing on terms like "freezer friendly," "make-ahead," "quick," and "seasonal." The good ideas get Pinned and/or added to a favorites folder, and I've moved onto the stage of culling the list and organizing a very simple spreadsheet. Column A: hors d'oeuvres. Column C: desserts. Column B: the link or store name where the recipe or item can be found.
Click here to download Meg's self-catering Excel spreadsheet!
Anything exotic or dubious (can you really pre-make fancy little grilled cheese and chutney sandwiches?) has been getting tried out on family or friends at a rate of one recipe or so per week. Things get cooked and then thrown in the freezer for a few days, left on the counter for a few hours, etc. The point is to replicate the environment they'll be served in and make sure the recipes still work. So far, so good — but anything that can't be refrigerated for at least 48 hours is either getting the boot or outsourced to the granny brigade.
The best tip I found for figuring out quantities: caterers recommend at least ten "bites" per person. If you have a mini-tart that takes two bites to eat, then count it as two "bites." (Column D on that spreadsheet: Bites. Two bites times forty pieces, with a running tally at the bottom of the column. Scary, but do-able.)
We buy frozen
I walked through the local big-box store and Trader Joe's and used my cell camera to document frozen appetizers that looked do-able, along with their price and quantity per box. When it's closer to the day of, we'll go pick them up. Boom. Done.
We plan raw and buy fresh
Our local farmstand* is cheaper than the grocery store. About one-third to one-half of the hors d'oeuvres are going to be based off of produce that comes from the farmstand. Fresh is delicious, simple is better, and I want there to be plenty of healthy fare alongside the mini peppermint cheesecakes and bacon-wrapped whatevers.
- A tip about farmstands: if you get in touch with the owner (or whoever does their picking) and give them a list of ingredients and quantities and let them know it's for a wedding, they can pick and pack ahead of time. They'll make sure you get the highest-quality produce they see, and sometimes they'll give you a discount for making their lives easier by not cleaning out their stand.
We multitask the cheapest ingredients
Tomatoes are plentiful and inexpensive in early September and can make raw bruschetta with garlic toast and a hunk of chevre, a basil-tomato-mozarella platter, as well as a big bowl of salsa with pita chips. Bread is also cheap, and cheap bread can become mini-sandwiches, toast wedges for dipping, croutons, and fillers in things like meatballs or tuna salad. The recipes are simple, and can be trusted to the many hands that will be on deck the day-of while I enjoy chillaxing.
And most importantly…
We stop worrying about things in time to actually enjoy the day.