You Can Cater Your Own Wedding Buffet –
Wedding catering can be incredibly expensive, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to provide your guests with a spectacular meal if you cater your own wedding buffet. We fed nearly 300 people a filling wedding meal with tons of wedding food to spare for less than $1500.
Don’t go broke on expensive wedding catering! You have alternatives to cut wedding catering costs without compromising on taste or substance. This post is full of DIY wedding buffet ideas.
You can prepare a hearty wedding feast at a much lower cost than traditional wedding catering. The $1500 we spent on catering our daughter’s wedding ourselves was only a fraction of the normal wedding catering prices we would have paid to hire professional wedding catering services.
Great news for you! I’ve created a spreadsheet with a price breakdown, to the penny, and links to the exact items we purchased when available. We have plenty of catering your own wedding menu ideas just for you!
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Why We Self Catered Our Daughter’s Wedding Reception
As those of you who have been following know, our oldest daughter was married while still in high school. She was originally planning to get married in August which would have given us a couple of months after graduation to plan. Then the date changed to the end of March instead.
The couple actually just celebrated their second wedding anniversary this past week. They spent the day driving a couple of hours over into Ohio to pick up baling equipment because they’ve ventured into cattle. I often post pictures of the animals on the Instagram account. The livestock and poultry pose more willingly than the children!
My daughter and her husband are also in the process of building a barn. It’s not even finished yet, and somebody has already added graffiti to the side of the barn. Imagine my daughter’s surprise to find this
- My Daughter was Married in High School
- Today Would Have Been My Daughter’s Wedding Day
- Married in High School Celebrating Six Months
- Married in High School – The Proposal
- Married in High School – One Year Later – Why Marriage Matters Most
Back to the wedding story . . . some family circumstances with my mother-in-law’s illness prompted a date change. The wedding was moved up to March during the couple’s senior year. You can read all about that in My Daughter Was Married in High School. Moving the wedding up gave us only 10 weeks for wedding planning.
With less time to prepare for the financial impact of a wedding, we decided to forego professional wedding catering and DIY the entire wedding buffet ourselves.
While I had not catered a wedding buffet myself before, I did operate the concession stand for the local ballpark for many years. This life experience was extremely helpful for me in regards to self-catering a wedding for 300 guests.
My vast knowledge of the stores that cater to the bulk foods market proved invaluable because I already knew where I could find all the various bulk food items I would need for the wedding menu, and I had a decent idea of which retailer would have the best price.
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Planning the Self Catered Wedding Menu
We wanted this wedding meal to be an enjoyable experience for all the guests. The only part of a wedding anyone remembers is the food anyway, right?! We tried to have two options for each part of the wedding buffet. There are tons of wedding menu buffet ideas on Pinterest, and I’m not sure how people even planned a wedding before Pinterest. After lots of research on wedding buffet food items and wedding catering pricing, we selected the following menu for my daughter’s wedding reception.
This list of wedding receptions buffet menu ideas is not meant to be conclusive. It should serve as more of a sample you can work from if you are looking for wedding buffet ideas or if you have been wondering can I really cater my own wedding?
DIY Wedding Buffet Menu Ideas
- pulled pork & fried chicken
- tossed salad & coleslaw
- au gratin potatoes & mashed potatoes
- green beans
- applesauce & mixed fruit
- sliced dinner rolls (for sandwiches or just a roll)
- tea (sweet/unsweet), lemonade, & water
- cake and punch
Wedding Reception Appetizer Table
We also chose to have a table with appetizers set up for the convenience of guests while the wedding party was getting more pictures taken.
The appetizer table consisted of:
- heart-shaped cheeseball and crackers
- a variety of cheese cubes
- broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots with Ranch
- black olives
- small iced sugar cookies (provided by a relative)
How to Cater Your Own Wedding Buffet
I’m going to try to walk you through the preparation of each wedding food item on our wedding menu. If you have any questions on aspects of catering your own wedding that I didn’t cover, please feel free to ask them in the comments!
I shopped around between Sam’s Club, Costco, Aldi, Gordon Food Services (GFS), and Walmart to find the best prices. Sam’s Club and Costco require a membership. GFS is a restaurant supply store, and they do not require any type of membership. They are located in several different states.
If you subscribe to receive the detailed Cater Your Own Wedding Price List by email, you will be able to see why it’s well worth having a membership to Sam’s Club and Costco. If you don’t already have these memberships, you will want to figure that cost into your wedding budget as well.
You can purchase a Sam’s Club membership here. Sometimes Groupon offers a deal on the Costco membership that includes a gift card. If you are not already shopping Groupon for great deals, you need to sign up here for a free account.
I made one trip to check prices at each store. I had a list of what I needed with a grid to put the price from each store. I circled the best price for each item and created a master list for each store from that.
We did the bulk of the shopping on the Thursday night before the Saturday of the wedding. We were able to drop off most of the items at the church and use the refrigerators there. Items that still had to be prepared by me came home with us. We were also using the refrigerator at our own church to store items as I finished them once we filled our two refrigerators at home.
The pork butt/shoulder was purchased well in advance of that Thursday and frozen for a bit because we caught it on sale. It also required the most advance preparation.
Feeding Nearly 300 Wedding Guests – Wedding Buffet Food List
Heart-Shaped Cheeseball & Crackers –
I’m pretty sure I invented Heart-Shaped Cheeseball. I made it for my brother’s wedding reception many years ago. I will eventually write a post with instructions. We served two different types of cheeseball on the appetizer table at my daughter’s wedding. One was an old fashioned cheeseball with cream cheese, Old English cheese, garlic powder, and almonds. The other was a simple Ranch cheeseball. You can find my recipe for that here.
Cheese Cubes –
We have an awesome Amish grocery store near us that has the best deli with fantastic prices. I bought several blocks of cheese which I cut into cubes for the appetizer table.
Broccoli, Cauliflower & Carrots with Ranch –
Sam’s Club and Costco both sell big bags of pre-cut, pre-washed vegetables at a decent price. I might have been able to save a little bit of money by purchasing vegetables at Aldi, but I would have needed to clean and chop them myself. It was well worth paying slightly more for the convenience.
We purchased Ranch by the gallon from Sam’s Club. We served this from a half-gallon mason jar with a mini ladle. We purchased a 3-pack of mini ladles on Amazon. Unfortunately, those are no longer available, but I’m
Black Olives –
We also served the black olives from a half-gallon mason jar. I’ve been hoarding mason jars for many years.
Small Iced Sugar Cookies –
My dad’s cousin is a superb maker of sugar cookies. Her sugar cookies are locally famous, and people go crazy over them. She was so kind to make tiny sugar cookies that matched the wedding colors.
Pulled Pork with Pork Chop Charley BBQ Sauce –
Pork Chop Charley catered our wedding over 20 years ago, but he retired several years ago. It’s difficult to find any catered meal that isn’t disappointing compared to the legendary Pork Chop Charley meals.
That’s actually one of the reasons we ended up just self-catering this wedding. None of the wedding catering options available seemed worth the price because they aren’t Pork Chop Charley.
Fortunately, we were able to secure bottles of the infamous Pork Chop Charley BBQ Sauce to serve with the pulled pork!
I know many people smoke their pork for big shindigs like a wedding reception. I chose not to smoke the pulled pork. If smoking the pork, I would have needed to keep a much closer eye on it to keep from drying it out.
Instead, I just borrowed crockpots from all the relatives and cooked the pork shoulder/butt covered in water on low overnight in crockpots. Pork shoulder/butt is pretty much the cheapest cut from a hog. We were super excited because Meijer ran it at $1.09 per pound a couple of weeks before the wedding.
I started cooking the pork in batches about a week before the wedding. I poured French Onion dry soup mix from the Amish store in each crockpot with the pork and covered it completely with water. I cooked most of it on low for 12-14 hours, tearing it apart a few times through the cooking process.
You really don’t have to pay attention to it. It won’t burn or overcook as long as there’s water covering it. As each pot was finished, I would pour it into a strainer that was sitting over a stockpot to catch the broth.
I tore the meat apart with a fork, knife, and scissors. It probably would have been easier to use meat claws, but I had to improvise.
I left the
Because we were within a week of the wedding, I stored all the gallon zipper bags of pulled pork in my basement fridge in a shoebox-sized plastic tub. You will want them in a tub because they are kind of greasy and drippy if they fall over.
If we had been more than a week from the wedding, I would have needed to freeze them. Freezing is a good option if you want to free up more of your time closer to the wedding.
On the day of the wedding, the pork went into my mother-in-law’s giant roaster pan.
Fried Chicken –
The fried chicken is the place where we cheated. It’s the only item we had prepared by a restaurant instead of self-catering. We bought the fried chicken from Richard’s Restaurant in Muncie.
My daughter doesn’t like pulled pork, and I know some people don’t eat pork for religious/dietary reasons, so we knew we needed a second meat option. Fried chicken is my daughter’s favorite.
I priced making fried chicken ourselves, but it was nothing like the pork where I could make it so far ahead and have it taste just as good the day of the wedding. The logistics of cooking the chicken ourselves didn’t work out in my mind.
The school had been getting Richard’s fried chicken for sports banquets, so we knew it was really good chicken. The cost was a little over $1 per piece. The recommendation is two pieces per person. We purchased 300 pieces (150 people) assuming half would eat pork and half would choose chicken.
We had plenty of both left at the end of the evening!
Walmart also has surprisingly good fried chicken. Our church ordered chicken from Walmart last week for a funeral dinner, and I wouldn’t hesitate to get that either if you need a less expensive option or don’t have a Richard’s near you.
We were super blessed that my sister-in-law was able to pick up the chicken for us on the way to the wedding. She definitely saved the day for us!
The chicken was in a different city than the wedding, and if you’ve read My Teenage Daughter’s Wedding Almost Caused My Own Divorce, you know our morning got a little hectic when the father-of-the-bride had to finish the church league basketball championship, and then the whole thing happened with his haircut and the dog clippers. We would have been in big trouble without someone else picking up the chicken.
Tossed Salad –
Gordon Food Service carries huge bags of shredded lettuce. We threw this in a big bowl and tossed grape tomatoes in there. We had bowls of shredded cheese and croutons to the side. We served Ranch and French which we bought by the gallon from half-gallon mason jars.
This is sold in big, white tubs in the cooler section at GFS. It’s typical restaurant coleslaw.
Au Gratin Potatoes –
These are sold frozen in foil trays at GFS. They are excellent. You just put them in the oven and heat according to the instructions on the package. I heated them that morning at home. Then I wrapped a towel around the whole stack and put them in a cooler to trap the heat. At the church, we placed them on metal racks with Sterno which we purchased as a set at Sam’s Club.
The GFS au gratin potatoes were the only food item we actually used completely. We had leftovers of all other dishes, but there was maybe one serving left of au gratin potatoes that could have been scraped out of the last pan.
Mashed Potatoes –
The GFS frozen bags of mashed potatoes are also excellent. They come in 5-pound heat-and-serve bags. We left these in the refrigerator overnight and poured them into all those crockpots we borrowed in the morning.
In hindsight, we probably should have taken all the crockpots to the church the night before when we had the rehearsal and asked someone from the groom’s family (who all lived near the church) to start the potatoes there a couple of hours before the wedding instead of starting them at my house. That would have significantly reduced the chaos of trying to load crockpots in our van while the father-of-the-bride was still cutting his hair with the dog clippers when we were already supposed to be at the church. You live and learn, right?!
Green Beans –
These were gallon-sized cans of green beans. They were also in crockpots.
This also came in gallon cans.
Mixed Fruit –
I love this frozen mixed fruit. Sam’s Club carries it. It’s Dole brand. It’s packaged in 5 separate 1-pound bags. This somehow keeps it from getting freezer burned as quickly as most frozen fruit. The frozen fruit you see us using in the Easy Spinach Fruit Smoothie Video post is leftover wedding fruit that had been in our freezer for almost a year at that point. It was still in amazing shape.
I put the bags of fruit in a cooler in the basement overnight, since we were out of refrigerator space at that time. It was still slightly frozen when we poured it into the big bowl on the wedding buffet. Slightly frozen is the perfect way to eat it! It also looks so colorful and pretty in the bowl.
Sliced Dinner Rolls –
The sliced dinner rolls from GFS were perfect for us because they work well as a roll with butter, or they can make a great sandwich. People eating
Tea (sweet/unsweet) –
I made the base of all the tea ahead of time. I saved all the apple juice containers from the times I fed the varsity girls’ basketball team that year. Yes. We were planning this wedding right in the middle of my daughter’s senior season. The groom’s basketball season ended only a matter of days before the wedding.
The Lady Rockets actually got to be the test subjects for experiments with the punch coloring too. When it was my turn to feed them during the last few weeks of the season, their beverage was a concoction of Tiffany Blue. They were good sports about taste-testing, and it gave me a nice supply of containers.
Anyway, back to the tea! And I do really mean tea, like the beverage, not tea like the gossip my middle daughter is always telling someone to spill. I made the base of the tea with my coffee maker using the Walmart Great Value brand large ice tea bags.
Between shredding all that pork, I was brewing batch after batch of tea. I would brew one coffee pot of tea, then add two cups of sugar to the pot and stir. I think this is way too sweet, but this is how my mom makes it for the kids, and everyone gets angry if it’s Mom’s Sweet Tea instead of Nana’s Sweet Tea. I made it Nana’s way for the wedding.
Once the sugary tea syrup in the coffee pot was cooled, I would pour it into a recycled apple juice bottle and mark the line where that batch ended on the bottle. Then I would make another batch, let it cool, and add it to the same apple juice container. Each apple juice container held enough tea syrup to make two gallons of tea.
At the church on the day of the wedding, we just needed to add half the contents of one of our previously prepared bottles of tea syrup to our gallon mason jar dispensers (borrowed from my sister-in-law) and fill the rest of the space with water.
I think I prepared 6 bottles of sweet tea syrup (enough to make 12 gallons of tea) and 3 bottles of unsweetened tea base (enough to make 6 gallons of tea). I had the extra tea bags and sugar at the church just in case, but we had plenty. I bet we used only a gallon of unsweetened tea.
This was Country Time powdered mix. It was easy to just add water right at the church.
We had some pitchers of water. I’m not sure if anyone drank any of it. I should mention we were very fortunate that the church (which was the groom’s church and where my daughter had been attending most of the time they were dating) had an ice machine. We would have needed to bring in bags and bags of ice without having the use of that ice machine.
You can read all the more specific details about the cake situation, prices, and what we ordered in DIY Rustic Log Wedding Cake Stand. We served Costco sheet cakes to guests and had just a small tiered cake on the table for pictures. This saved a small fortune on the cost of the wedding cake alone.
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And the Costco sheet cakes are just better cake. Have you ever had a Costco filled sheet cake? I don’t mean just one that you grab off the shelf at Costco one day. I mean one you order yourself and pick up before it gets dried out.. I’m not really a cake person, but these Costco filled cakes are THE BEST CAKE EVER!
You have to order the chocolate cake with the cheesecake filling. You will thank me for that tip later! The cakes they sell pre-made are always chocolate cake with chocolate moose filling or white cake with vanilla cheesecake filling. GET THE CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH THE CHEESECAKE FILLING! It will change your life! It’s why I still have a Costco membership.
Okay, I’m joking about that. I actually still have a Costco membership because of the shrimp trays.
Seriously, we saved hundreds of dollars on the cake though and served wedding
This punch took some experimenting as I mentioned above. We tried some different proportions and different ingredients. We tried adding Sprite. We tried adding juice. In the end, we went back to the most simple mixture because it was the closest to the correct wedding color.
The punch was just one part Blue Hawaiian Punch to one part lemonade which was convenient because we already had the huge canister of Country Time lemonade powder anyway.
Serving the Wedding Reception Food
As I mentioned before, we borrowed many crockpots from relatives. I asked specifically for ones that were white, silver, or black, so they wouldn’t clash horribly with the decorations. I also had my mother-in-law’s large white roaster pan for the pulled pork.
Conveniently, the wedding was in March, so all the Easter products were in stores. We were able to find lots of great tubs and bowls at Dollar Tree in the color my daughter calls Tiffany Blue but I call mint green. We used these bowls for fruit, these tubs for coleslaw, and these pitchers to carry water to and from our beverage dispensers.
I am a major hoarder of all mason jars, so we used quart, half-gallon, and gallon sized mason jars for many purposes both for serving the food and as table decorations.
DIY Wedding Catering Tips
- Use non-consumable items (like utensils, serving containers, etc.) you already have as much as possible or borrow from relatives or friends.
- If one of your wedding colors is more expensive, supplement with accent colors. For instance, cake plates, plastic table covers, and so on were more expensive in the Tiffany Blue/mint green color. The Tiffany Blue table covers were $3 each. The silver table covers were around $2 each, and the white table covers were only $1 each. We were able to cut costs significantly by using a mixture of Tiffany Blue, silver, and white on the tables. Cake plates in Tiffany Blue would have been $3 for an 8-pack. Silver cake plates were only $4.59 for a 48-count package. We paid $27.54 for 288 silver cake plates. We would have paid $108 for the same number of Tiffany Blue cake plates. Not a single person’s cake eating experience was lessened in any way by having
cakefrom a silver paper plate instead of a Tiffany Blue paper plate. (We actually did have a small number of plates with some kind of Tiffany Blue floral pattern on the cake table as well because I found them at the Dollar General on a clearance rack for $.25 a pack. I didn’t bother including those on the spreadsheet.)
- Guest mainly just care if you have enough tasty food that they didn’t have to stop at McDonald’s on the way home. They probably won’t even remember if you had real china or paper plates.
- Keep in mind – A WEDDING IS ONLY ONE DAY OF YOUR LIFE! Do not spend money that will put you or your parents in debt for years for ONE DAY. Debt=Stress. Stress could have a huge impact on the quality of your marriage in the long run. How your wedding day goes or how fancy your wedding reception tables look will have zero impact on the quality of your marriage in the long run.
Lessons Learned from Self-Catering a Wedding Reception
Learn from our mistakes before you begin catering your own wedding buffet.
In hindsight, we bought way too much of several of the items on the wedding buffet menu. We did purposely overbuy paper products like the foam cups, cutlery, and plates because we knew we would be having a graduation party a couple of months later.
However, there were lots of food items with tons of leftovers. We had full cans of applesauce and green beans left. We had two entire cakes left and a couple of bags of lettuce. We only opened one canister of the lemonade.
We could have saved some money by buying less of these items, but I would probably still do the same just because I would rather have too much than not enough. I tried to make notes on the spreadsheet where there were unopened items left, so others can plan accordingly.
One area where I feel we were completely unprepared was the amount of work it would require to keep the wedding buffet and the beverages filled. Guests were serving themselves from a buffet, so I did not anticipate needing as much manpower for the serving of the food.
We would have been in huge trouble without several people stepping in to save the day – refilling beverages, restocking paper products, and bringing out more food. I knew serving nearly 300 guests a meal we catered ourselves would require all of my attention for the day, and I was fine with that. I did not expect it to take way more people than just me.
It ended up taking A LOT of help from many of our relatives to keep everything filled that day. I wish we had not required that much help from them because I wanted all our guests, including the close family, to be able to relax and enjoy the event.
If I had it to do over, I would have tried to hire some teens to keep the buffet running smoothly. It would not have added a huge expense to pay for a few hours of labor from a couple of industrious young people looking to make a little extra cash. Then our family members could have sat down to enjoy the entire reception.
Overall, we were pleasantly surprised by the final product of our efforts considering we had roughly ten weeks to plan the entire event.
The Final Wedding Catering Cost for a Reception with 300 Guests
The grand total for feeding nearly 300 guests was $1499.60. This was approximately $5 per person. You would be hard-pressed to hire wedding catering for even $10 per person. Most of the venues I researched were more like $15 per person.
Click here to gain access to my detailed, down to the penny, spreadsheet of EVERYTHING we purchased and where it was purchased (with links when possible)! Some prices may be slightly different because it’s been two years since the wedding, but some of the prices have actually decreased, so I’m confident you can match this budget still today.
DIY Catering Is Not Just for Weddings
Now that we’ve established wedding buffet catering is possible, I’m sure you realize this wedding menu is suitable for so many other large gatherings. You do not need to pay someone else to cater your next event. You are perfectly capable of self catering a wedding, a birthday party, a family holiday, or any other meal.
I hope I’ve given you enough information that you are now confident you know how to cater a wedding. If you have questions about anything I didn’t cover, please ask in the comments. Comment with your best wedding buffet catering ideas.
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