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From the Archives: Self-Catering Is No Joke

The amount of work that goes into making your wedding perfect is already so much that when you add on ALL the work it takes to self-cater, sometimes it’s just not worth the stress. Pay the caterer to worry about the food so you don’t have to! But for you strong souls who have the wherewithal to withstand all that work, this is for you.
Here I will give you a condensed guide on how to make all that work just a little more doable once you’ve decided that self-catering is for you. So throw on your chef’s hats and get ready to self-cater!

Me and my husband at our wedding eating our DIY tacos! Image captured by Jelger and Tanja Photographers

1. Menu plan – figure out exactly what you want to serve. Picture yourself going through the buffet line: what are you loading onto your plate? You need to think about what a round meal might look like and consider any allergies that might be relevant. If you have guests who are gluten-free make sure you have something they can eat. Same goes for any vegetarians you might have. And ensure that you cover all your food groups!

2. Pick a venue that allows outside caterers and/or self-caterers – and make sure to ask them about their kitchen rules (e.g. does the fire code allow for frying oils?)

3. Recipe creation – once you have decided what will be on your menu, you need to figure out exactly what you will need to buy to make it happen. If you’re doing a caesar salad you need to consider your dressing (are you making it or buying it?), croutons (will you have bacon on top?), and romaine lettuce (will you buy it pre-cut?). While you’re putting your recipes together, consider how far in advance you can make it. Going on with the example of caesar salad, you can’t throw the dressing in too far in advance or everything goes soggy, but if you were serving pulled pork salad, you can make the pork a month in advance, freeze it, and thaw it the day before. This will be important to consider down the line in your self-catering journey.

Captured by Tanja of Jelger and Tanja Photography

4. Self-catering tools/Rentals – some of you might prefer to purchase everything you need for your self-catered meal, but renting is always my recommendation and costs a lot less. Things that you will need to think about that typically a caterer takes care of:

  • Linens for the tables (see our linen rentals blog post!)
  • Napkins
  • Plates (we also have a blog post about plates and cutlery!)
  • Cutlery (you need forks and knives for dinner, forks for dessert and/or appys, spoons for coffee service, cake cutting knife and server)
  • Glassware for your guests and bar (What, we have a whole other blog post for this!?)
  • Bowls for serving salads and whatnot
  • Platters for serving desserts and whatnot
  • Chafers to keep your hot food hot on the buffet
  • Serving utensils like tongs and large spoons
  • Coffee cups
  • Hot water boiler and/or coffee urn
  • Milk carafe and sugar bowls
  • Coolers to transport cold food
  • Cambros to transport hot food The way I find is easiest to organize your rental list is: next to each menu item, figure out what kind of equipment it will require to serve it – tongs? A bowl? This will help you to order exactly what you need. As for sussing out glassware, the blog post that’s linked above about renting glassware has an easy-to-use calculator!

5. Prep timeline – as mentioned with recipe creation, you should have a good idea of how far in advance you can prep everything. Make up a timeline and task list to make sure that everything is ready in time and tastes great! This timeline should include heat-up times and other day-of responsibilities for your day-of point person to take care of. Sit down with this person before your wedding and make sure they’re comfortable with all the tasks.

6. Figuring out just how much food you will need – I could write a whole BLOG just about how much food to plan out when you self-cater, but someone else already has so that makes my job easier (and they explain it so well!)

Captured by Michele Mateus Photography

7. Shopping lists – now that you know how much food you’ll need and the ingredients you’ll also need, compile ALL your ingredients into one nice long list (so if you need red peppers for two different recipes, add them together so red peppers are only indicated once). Then sort your list into categories. Are you getting your groceries from two separate stores? Great, split your list that way. Then into sections like produce, dairy, frozen, etc. This will make shopping much easier so you don’t find yourself bouncing all over the store since you missed buying bacon because it was between sour cream and rice.

Captured by Melissa Baker Photography

8. Hire staff – Make sure you have someone who oversees replenishing the buffet, clearing tables, and dealing with messes and ensure that these people aren’t essential for anything else; they’ll have their hands full for your wedding! Have a list of tasks that you expect from them, from when to arrive through to packing up the rentals.

9. Deep breath – your wedding is a few days away now and you may be panicking, asking “Why did I choose to self-cater? This is SO MUCH WORK!” Fear not my friend, you have conquered the hardest parts of the job, you’re doing great!

10. Prep day – have your prep day a day or two before your wedding. Come prepared with a list of all the tasks, knives and cutting boards galore, and an idea of who is doing what. Trust me, this will make your life so much easier.

11. Execution – this is your wedding day: just sit back and be pampered and trust that the person you put in charge has this covered.

If you have more questions about how to execute a self-catered wedding, leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to help you out!

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