Cutting Food Costs at Your Wedding

by Rachel Shreckengast


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The most expensive thing in our wedding planning is trying to cover the cost of food. Since we are planning a mid-morning or early afternoon wedding, would it be acceptable to just have cake and coffee or punch? What would an acceptable menu be, provided we didn't hold the wedding right at breakfast or lunch time?

Food can take a huge chunk out of your wedding budget. It's often difficult to figure out what's acceptable as it is an area in which expert (etiquette or otherwise) opinions vary widely. It can also be difficult to choose what type of food to serve at your reception...especially when you consider all of the different varieties of food available to you.

The type of reception that you are referring to is commonly called a "cake and punch reception." It's usually held during early to mid afternoon...but can also be held during a mid- morning time frame. The only rule with this type of reception is that it should not be held during a mealtime. Most guests expect a meal during this time...and one should be provided. I'll go into further detail on this type of reception as well as others further along in my answer.

There is some debate on whether it's a good idea to add a line on your invitation stating what type of reception is occurring. Some examples of this are: "Cake and Punch Reception to Follow Ceremony", "Light hors d'ouevres reception to follow at two o'clock" and "Dessert Reception Following Ceremony". My personal opinion is that it makes it easier--not only for the couple...but for the guests as well. It's a clear way for the couple to inform guests that a full meal should not be expected...and guests have the option of eating a meal (if needed) prior to or after the wedding.

Here are some descriptions of a few reception types in which a full meal is not served. All of these options are less expensive than a full meal (whether buffet style or sit-down) if you are willing to do most of the work yourself. All of these receptions are acceptable if you aren't holding the reception during meal-time. Breakfast is often served around 8:00 a.m., Lunch at 12:00 p.m. and Dinner at 6:00 p.m., and these are the times in which a full meal is generally expected by guests. These times also vary depending on your area. You should hold your reception two hours before or after these times if not considering a full meal.

Cake and Punch Reception - The most common time of day that this type of reception is held is early afternoon (approximately 2:00 p.m.), but it can also occur in mid-morning (approximately 10:00 a.m.). A cake and punch reception generally consists of the wedding cake and refreshments. Refreshments can include: punch, coffee, tea, champagne, etc. You can also supplement the wedding cake with other types of cake in different flavors and textures.

Dessert Reception - This type of reception is one in which desserts are served. Desserts can include pies, cakes, doughnuts, cookies, pastries, brownies, etc. Another option, which can be combined with a normal dessert reception if you'd like, is a sundae bar. In this type of reception, you serve bowls of ice cream (usually vanilla) and let your guests choose their topping. Toppings can include chocolate or fudge sauce, shredded coconut, chocolate chips, crushed walnuts, whipped cream, fruit toppings, etc. Basically, the same things you'd find in any sundae bar. Summer is the most common time of year for a sundae bar. A normal dessert bar can be used year round though as there are desserts specific to season. For example, pumpkin pie and apple pie would be a great choice for fall weddings. This type of reception is also an example of an inexpensive choice if you purchase the items on your own.

Hors D'ouevres Reception - There are actually two distinct types of hors d'ouevres receptions. The first is light hors d'ouerves and consists of a lighter fare than the second which is a heavy hors d'ouerves menu. A light menu often includes items such as: crackers, vegetable platters with dip, fruit, cheese, etc. A heavy hors d'ouerves often includes these as well as items such as: meat and cheese trays, chicken fingers, egg rolls, etc. These types of receptions are also (casually) called "finger-food receptions" in some areas. In order to save money on this type of reception...check your local grocery store deli for prices on "meat and cheese" trays as well as "vegetable" and "cracker and cheese" platters. Their prices are often very reasonable. Another option is to buy the ingredients yourself.

Tea (or Coffee) Reception - This type of reception is a relic from a bygone era. Originally, tea receptions were meant to reflect the mood of an "afternoon tea." An authentic tea reception will include items such as petit fours, watercress sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, scones (biscuits), etc. Be sure to cut the crusts off the sandwiches and cut in a diagonal cross (X shape) for an authentic look. If you're looking for a more modern approach...you can serve coffee with (or in place of) the tea. You can also serve: bite-size pieces of cake (such as carrot), any manner of sandwich which is easy to cut, cinnamon rolls, etc. This type of reception is relatively inexpensive (depending on the items you decide to serve) and can be relaxing for both the couple and the guests.

Salad Reception - This choice is becoming more popular and is a viable choice for vegetarians who don't want to serve a full meal. Items served can include: green (lettuce, spinach) salads, fruit salads, pasta salads, potato salads (lacto-ovo), coleslaw (lacto- ovo), etc. A veggie bar (to supplement green salads) can be added as well and may have such choices as: chopped onions, carrots (baby or sliced), celery, broccoli, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, etc. A salad dressing bar can be chosen as well and may include such choices as: vinegar and oil, Italian dressing, garlic and olive oil, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice, etc. If you're a lacto-ovo vegetarian other dressing choices could include: bleu cheese, green goddess, ranch, French, etc. This type of reception is also inexpensive if you prepare most of the items yourself.

These are just a few of your options. For a more substantial meal...you could try a pasta reception in which your guests are served plain pasta with their choice of toppings...a restaurant catered affair where they supply warming trays and a few food choices (such as fried chicken) to supplement a hors d'ouevres menu or even a pot-luck or backyard barbeque. Your choices are truly unlimited.


Rachel writes and advises on wedding budgeting.

c. 1996 from "Wedding Dollars and Sense"

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