I have never tasted truly exceptional wedding food. Yet the wedding industrial complex says food is one of the biggest costs associated with getting married, particularly when bundled together with the reception space. The wedding industry also seems to believe that cooking for hundreds of guests is kind of like cooking for hundreds of passengers on an airplane: you have to cater to all tastes, and it has to have a certain level of convenience to it. Not true.
When we first started planning our wedding two and a half years ago, we had the support of my parents, emotionally and financially. We had chosen our venue in part because they would allow outside caterers, and because we, personally, had never had a good experience with weddings at a venue where the food was made internally. We began to look at caterers for what was a relatively modest, outdoor wedding reception for 80. Only one of them was going to meet our budget and their menu didn’t amaze us. Another caterer came in at twice what we had anticipated, and wanted one service staff for every three guests. More than cost, we were concerned that none of the caterers saw weddings as fun, but rather as formal, serious events.
Before we could sign our names to a contract, my parents announced that they could not help us fund the wedding. Our budget was one-fifth what it initially had been. We realized that simply scaling back the number of guests would not do.
To be brief, a old schoolmate of mine organized the on-campus vegan pay-what-you-can eatery. The food is quite delicious, especially considering that they serve 100 hungry, poor university students every day. Sara would help us cater.
This was our solution: Sara, our wedding elf, along with her brother, would do the preparation work for the vegetarian and some the appetizers as well as one of the three salad choices. Sara and her brother also did all the cooking on the day of and were in charge of a berry salad for those who were not having cake.
We, the royal we, the we that included friends and family from all parts of the world and all aspects of our lives were responsible for a bit more than half of the prep work including:
- Drinks, including mint-lemonade
- Hummus and white bean dip
- Two salads (Cucumber-berry and potato salad)
- The meat skewers (marinating, skewering)
- Shucking corn for 60
- Party rentals and linens
But, there’s also something that I found incredibly satisfying about walking through the grocery store two nights before our wedding with eight cans of chickpeas and six cucumbers. Don’t ask how many lemons we bought, or whether or not we remembered to bring the ice cream (two dozen and we didn’t).
While the barbecues heated up, people broke into the beer, wine and lemonade and the appetizers. The best part is that it encouraged walking about the estate or the playing of Frisbee. About a third of our guests play Ultimate Frisbee and so it was a nice opportunity to connect with them, especially while little ones ran about and climbed trees.
The food at our wedding was sheer insanity. We had more than enough of some things, and not enough of others. In the end we only had red wine, because the white wine had been stored in our cellar and it was forgotten. Not only did we survive, but we ate until our bellies ached and drank until we could no more (thanks in part to a mid-evening beer run from two guests).
Still more delightful was showing up to my wedding in jeans and a t-shirt and putting up tables and chairs, laying out tablecloths and namecards, and hanging up balloons. I felt like the luckiest person in the world because I had the conscious support of friends and family, near and dear.
No one can tell you what kind of food to have at your wedding or who to make responsible for it. But food is an integral part of the tradition associated with weddings. Our wedding was about creating our own traditions defined by our own terms, and the food reflected that. (For example, the cake was a quarter of our food budget. This exemplifies how low our food budget was, but also our commitment to eating good cake!)
If I may make one sweeping recommendation, it is this: never underestimate the generosity of friends and neighbors. One barbecue came from my seamstress, who also made the table linens for the cost of the fabric. The other came from a pair of friends. Neighbors helped with transportation in exchange for a few photos. We didn’t have enough transportation for rentals, leftover food and gifts. So, I called a friend at 1:30 in the morning, and he came out with his hatchback.
Ask, and you shall be overwhelmed by what you receive.
There are so many options for wedding food and sometimes the venue or time of year can effect the food as much as the budget or the number of attendees. But, please, do not assume that all wedding food is boring or outrageously expensive, or both.
Of course, the choices we make reflect our tastes, but also those who influence us. Considering how successful, albeit insane, the food at our wedding was, I owe a great deal to blogs and websites, food and wedding related. At the end of the day, we were able to say that the food was fabulous, and reflected who we are as a couple.
(All photos, except "boy with corn" and "the cake" by Sarah Naegels).