A buffet prepared by family and friends is a wonderful way to celebrate a wedding but it needs a little preplanning to be successful.
The Elegant Potluck
Have you ever been to a potluck? Everyone brings something and a buffet is set up. A large party can be handled in essentially the same way except that the menu is planned in advance. Each person’s contribution is quite manageable when limited to one task. Someone brings the pasta, or the salad, or perhaps volunteers to help serve. You get together months in advance, design the menu, and decide who can do what. Planning should cover everything from decorations to serving dishes to cleanup. If you decide on this method of providing food for your reception, you must be sure everyone knows exactly what they are to bring and in what quantities. Otherwise, it could result in a very unbalanced menu.
If you ask for this kind of assistance you should always offer to pay for the cost of the food, even if someone else is doing the preparation. It may be that a friend may offer to prepare some of the food as a gift, but you should never assume anything.
There may be other options for you to explore. Perhaps your caterer is open to allowing you to provide side dishes or desserts while they supply the main course, or some other combination which will permit you to stay within your budget. You may also find yourself in the position of contractor, purchasing foods from a variety of vendors that offer what you want at the best price. Many couples rely on their favorite ethnic restaurant to supply several main dishes for the buffet and then bring in family recipes for side dishes and salads.
As your plans develop, make up a roster with names of people who will be involved along with the role assigned to each person or vendor. Do not overlook the importance of such jobs as shopping, errands, busing tables, buffet maintenance, and bar service. Keep a good record of whatever is rented or borrowed.
A buffet is probably the easiest type of meal for a novice caterer to serve. The menu should reflect the time of day, any specific theme, and the degree of formality of the wedding. Breakfast offerings might consist of pastries, muffins, fruit kebabs or fruit salad, sliced ham, and breakfast casseroles.
For a luncheon menu consider salads; sandwiches or a selection of cold meats, cheese, condiments and rolls; salmon or shrimp; pasta or rice dishes; crudités and dip; a fruit and cheese tray; and an assortment of sweets.
Evenings require more substantial selections such as savory pastries, carved beef or ham, pasta, rice pilaf, or ethnic specialties. Late evening would be a nice time to offer a romantic desserts-only reception with a wonderful cake and an assortment of pastries, truffles, pretty fruit tarts, or fruits with dipping sauce.
Your efforts will be successful if you can visualize the day’s activities and plan ahead. Know your facilities. Don’t plan a menu with items that cannot be prepared due to lack of equipment, counter space, refrigeration, outlets, or supplies.
Your budget will stretch farther if you plan to make good use of seasonal produce. In the fall, an assortment of mushrooms would be nice. Offer grilled portobellos or button mushrooms stuffed with spinach and herbed cream cheese. In the summer, fresh fruit makes an attractive and tasty display. Simply cut the fruit into bite-size chunks and arrange as groups of one kind or as small mixed kebabs. Offer a suitable dip such as creme anglaise or vanilla yogurt mixed with a little crushed pineapple.
A wedding is probably not the time to try unfamiliar foods. Serve dishes that have broad appeal. Many families have old favorites. Use these as your menu base, adding some newer items for variety. Be mindful of how long it takes to prepare each dish, especially in large quantities. If you are serving fancy finger foods, can they be made ahead and frozen? Will you have enough freezer space? Test freeze the dish for two weeks, then defrost it and evaluate the quality.
Items such as delicate greens (which may wilt) or items containing mayonnaise (anything perishable) should be avoided if the food is going to have to sit at room temperature for long periods of time. This is especially true outdoors in hot weather.
Always supply extra tableware to account for extra guests, seconds, or the occasional broken plate. Put out small quantities of food which can be replaced regularly with fresh platters kept in the kitchen. Repair platters of food before they get too messy. Make sure one of your helpers knows this is to be done regularly.
Here is a site we love that has a DIY wedding reception menu for 200 people. Check it out here: