Go old-school to save money with a “cake & punch” reception

Guest post by Kelli Bielema

We've been getting a lot of questions about how to cut back on reception costs, and here's a retro low-budget wedding trend that needs to come back: CAKE & PUNCH!

Dorsey-619

The question a wedding planner gets asked the most from couples is something along the lines of “how can we do this whole thing for less money?” And I usually return with another question which is something akin to “what are the top three things you want out of your wedding day memories?” Never at the top of this list is “we want to spend lots of money to impress people on our really good taste in choosing entrees and votives!” Almost always numero uno is “We want to share our day with our friends and family and have a really kick ass time.” And if you think you can only do that from 6pm on, well, that's just nutters!

Once upon a time (okay, mostly in the '40s and '50s, before weddings became huge social events) weddings were typically held in a church with a cake and punch reception directly followed in the basement. So, the idea of a $20,000 affair has been brought to you courtesy of the wedding industry!

So, let's talk about this concept of a cake reception and how it can save you a ton of money.

Don't fuck this up cake topper by CakeWords

Cake & Punch: doesn't necessarily mean cake or punch

Really, the concept of a Cake & Punch reception is this: instead of serving your guests a full sit down meal or even a buffet, you provide light snacks and dessert with a few beverages. Historically, that meant cake and punch… but things have changed.

First, let's talk about the idea of “punch.” Good gravy, I am not suggesting you have to throw a dry wedding (unless you want one, in which case DO IT, I SAY!). Nothing goes better with cake than, um, just about any alcoholic beverage: Prosecco, White Russians, Irish Coffee, and for crying out loud, there is cake-flavored vodka, people! And if Aunt Sally is just crying to participate in wedding day activities, tell her to whip up one of these booze cakes and wash it down with a latte (rent a percolator or hire a coffee cart).

Second, cake doesn't have to mean CAKE, of course. You can do this donut thingy from Shelley and Wayne's wedding or a whole bunch of different cookies and brownies. And if you do cake, there are certainly five million options out there. Spend your cash on a pretty cutting cake if you want a picture, and then get a sheet cake to serve your peeps. I have had plenty of grody wedding desserts, but if you want the most bang for your buck, Costco does some REALLY GOOD SHIT in their bakery. Plus, you know one cake will serve at least 750 cousins.

And can we talk pie? One of my couples this past summer had the best idea. They gave about 12 wedding guests two pie tins each and said, “Here. Make two pies for our reception. That is all the gift we need.” It cost them the price of two Pyrex pie dishes times 12. And at the party, the bride and groom welcomed guests to the dessert table and topped their slices with whipped cream. It gave the couple an opportunity to say hello to everyone, much like a receiving line. This was likely one of the most well-attended dessert tables I had ever seen! And I still need to get at least three of the pie recipes.

Monica & Phil57

Logistics & Scheduling

Some other logistics to consider when considering a cake and punch reception is time of day and season. Naturally, weekdays before 6pm in the winter will get you discounts on venues. You know what it will also get you? Attendees! Okay, given that the weather isn't craptastic, you will have fewer people going on family vacations, kids are still in school, and you have fewer competition with other couples who are getting married during the other busy months. There should be NO EXCUSE for missing your 2pm party!

So, what would all of this look like in money and time? Consider below for about 100 guests, with Seattle-area rates. Costs don't include your venue, clothes, decor, or cab fare for drunkies (but really, most people aren't going to get totally hosed on a Thursday afternoon, which also saves you several bones as well!).

2:00pm: Ceremony!

2:30pm: Bites and music playing

  • Passed desserts (petit fours, small Mexican wedding cookies in little baking cups), or put them in stations. If these are purchased, you could spend up to $300 for quality items from a bakery.
  • Coffee (with booze mixers like Irish Crème). If you rent a percolator, get some decent coffee, creamer, stir sticks, et al., plus booze to spike coffee, probably all for around $300. If you want to rent cups, figure another 75 cents per cup/saucer set. Otherwise, get compostable paper cups for around $30 for 200.
  • Wine/sparkling wine station. Consider your crowd and their preferences for any wine/booze situation. You can almost always return unused bottles (so long as they have not been chilled in ice and suffered condensation on the label). For 100 people, I would suggest three cases of various wines so there's a red, a white, and a sparkling. Go heavy on the sparkling. It's lighter and more folks will indulge. You could also add a juice mixer, like pomegranate, that will cut back alcohol expense. $10-ish bottles of wine = around $360. Rented glassware around 50 cents per stem. Plastic compostable cups around $5 per 50 (get around 300+).
  • Sodas/Water. Just get a few varieties including fizzy water. $50
  • Punch. Yeah, you can make punch. Get a big ol' Thermos (the kind like football players throw on each other at the end of winning games) and fill ‘er up. Have some on reserve. Mix vodka with just about any few juice concentrates (pineapple, orange, mango) and some Sprite, and you're done. All of those ingredients (if you use the cheap stuff) will run you around $50.
  • You'll need to rent or purchase glassware (see wine recommendations).

3:30pm: Cake cutting (if you wanna)
(This includes other traditional wedding elements or anything requiring people to “do stuff.”)

  • Serve cake to guests (Consider plate and utensil rental costs = 60 cents per plate, 40 cents per fork)
  • A small cutting cake will serve about 10 people, usually. Nobody ever wants a restaurant-sized slice. (I'm looking at you, Claim Jumper!)
  • Fancy cakes will typically cost you around $500 to start, then another $150 or so for additional sheet cakes.

3:45pm: Dancing!
iPod DJ, anyone?

6:00 pm: Party's over
Or order pizza if your venue allows it! And, you can always take the gang to a second location where you aren't footing the bill.

princess bride cake

Want more inspiration?

Offbeat Bride Vendor

This post features vendors from our curated Offbeat Bride Wedding Vendor Directory. They're awesome and we love them. If you're a vendor let's get you in here!

Comments on Go old-school to save money with a “cake & punch” reception

  1. I am desperate for this type of reception!! I’m from a large ‘invite one cousin you have to invite them all..’ type family . Luckily my OH lives at the other end of the country so I’m sneakily using a ‘cake and canapés’ reception as a way for my extended family to opt themselves out but still have the aunts/cousins/neighbours there I absolutely can’t bear not to be there.

    My question is this though, how do you stop the party? What did folks say on invites?

    Dancing isn’t a big priority for us, but merriment will be. Plus we’re a traditional Scottish family*/friends. how do I stop the party and what do my guest do afterwards?

    *big on booze and banter

  2. The article suggests returning unused alcohol, but that can’t always be the solution. It is best to know the ABC liquor laws in your area. I know where I live in CA, returning alcohol is not an option because it is considered “resale” since cash is being given back for the alcohol (even as a refund). Since the customer does not have a liquor license to sell alcohol, this is considered illegal. In our ABC laws, it specifically states that leftover product from events can not be returned, it can only be exchanged for the exact same item if the first product was defective.

Read more comments

Comments are closed.