Guests getting food at self catered wedding reception buffet table

Self-Catering - How to Calculate the Food at Your Wedding Reception

Budgeting for a wedding in this unpredictable economy is increasingly becoming a struggle for brides and grooms. In turn, this is forcing couples to look for ways to slash costs. Typically, the first item to go has been the guest count with couples leaning towards smaller more intimate affairs. Another aspect of the wedding that has seen a major change is the food. Many couples today are deciding to prepare and self-cater their own wedding reception to significantly reduce the cost associated with food.

Why self-catering?

Self-catered wedding receptions have become popular among brides and grooms trying to reduce costs. However, many couples are deciding to take on the food at their wedding for other reasons too. Self-catering is also popular for couples hosting a laid back wedding, for families who want to make their own family recipes, for smaller weddings served buffet style or family style, and when hiring a caterer simply is not an option.

Please keep in mind that while self-catering your own wedding reception will typically reduce costs, your amount of planning and stress level will significantly increase as a result. But don't be discouraged. Self-catering is not impossible. With hard work, preparation, the right equipment, and the right people, it is possible to pull off a fabulous self-catered wedding reception. The key to success is to plan ahead.

First, it is best to decide right away which route is going to work best for you. Some brides decide it is best to simply fork out the extra cash for a professional caterer just for the peace of mind while others think the hard-work is worth the extra bucks saved. If you would like to save some extra cash but self-catering your entire reception is not an option due to time or a lack of helpers, consider using a professional caterer for only the small side dishes or just the main course. Have friends and family make the rest. Just remember to leave everyone close to the wedding out of the catering plans. You, your fiance, your wedding party, and parents of the bride and groom are going to be busy with other aspects of your wedding day. Delegate the food to other trusted friends or family members.

Salad bar at self catered wedding reception banquet

Before You Buy

Things to keep in mind when planning your menu - The amount of kitchen space you have to prepare and serve your food will directly influence the amount of guests you invite. It does not make sense to try and prepare a meal for 150 guests in a small home kitchen. However if your venue has a commercial kitchen available on site, it will make preparing larger meals more realistic. Also keep in mind that you will need containers to serve the food in. You will need to budget for this equipment which can include warming dishes, punch bowls and pitchers, baking pans, utensils, table linens, and tables/chairs if your venue does not provide them. To decrease cost, consider using nice disposable plates and napkins. Disposable personalized paper wedding napkins and personalized party plates are an inexpensive way to add a custom touch to your wedding without the high price tag of rented china and glassware.

Before you can determine how much food to buy for your wedding, you will first need to decide on your budget, menu, and guest list. To begin, calculate what amount of your budget will be used for the food. Once you know how much you will be spending on the food, you will then be able to plan an appropriate menu around that number. Next using your guest list, plan on feeding about 75 percent of your guest list. You can assume that approximately 25-50 percent of people will not attend your reception. Once you have a rough estimate of the number of people who will be attending the reception, you can then determine if your food budget is going to accommodate your desired menu plans for that number of guests.

To calculate how much money per person you have to spend, take your budget and divide that by your number of guests. For example, a couple feeding 125 guests on a $5,000.00 budget will have $40.00 per person to spend on the food, utensils, and equipment. This number will help you determine the type of menu to prepare. It would be difficult to prepare a prime rib dinner for 125 guests at $40.00 per person. A chicken and lasagna dinner would be a more appropriate menu choice. If you determine that the your budget will not accommodate the amount of people you're inviting, you will need to decide to either trim your guest list to fit within your budget or alter your menu choices.

Menu Suggestions - Consider the items you will be serving and how you will serve them. Buffet style and family style receptions are easier pulled off then trying to assign an inexperienced wait staff to serve each of your guests. Also, when serving buffet style, keep in mind that people are visual eaters so it is better to overestimate the amount of food you are buying than under estimate. Foods that can be made ahead of time, frozen, and then reheated without a loss in flavor or texture are also the easiest self-catered menu options. These foods will save your helpers time and headaches on the big day. Great food options that can be frozen than reheated are mac and cheese, pasta sauces (cook pasta day of), lasagna (bake and serve day of), pulled pork, and veggies like carrots, corn and green beans. Also, grilling on large roasters the day of is a great laid back approach for or backyard or outdoor wedding. Consider grilled barbeque chicken, stuffed homemade beef patties, or a pig roast. Purchase the meat a couple days in advance and simply prepare your side dishes as mentioned above and in keep in the freezer until the big day.

Chicken barbequed on open bbq pit for self catered wedding reception

How much you should buy

When it comes time to purchase the food for your menu plans, remember it is best to over estimate than under estimate the amount to buy. For a general guide on how much of each item your guests will eat, use our list below.

Appetizers - 8 pieces of veggies with dip, 4 ounces of cheese, 1½ pounds of crackers per 20 guests, 1 pint of dip per 10 guests. Take into consideration how long guests will be waiting before dinner. Most guests will eat 6 to 8 appetizers per hour. The smaller size the appetizer the higher this number goes. If you have a long intermission between the ceremony and reception, offer more appetizers. If you are asking people to leave and come back later, offer less. Keep in mind that appetizers will typically help keep your buffet cost down since guests will eat about 10% less at dinner when appetizers are served.

Main entree (meats) - 6 to 8 ounces serving per person. If you are serving multiple main dishes, plan on 4 to 6 ounces per dish per person. Keep in mind that one dish may be more popular than the other. Remember to take your vegetarian and vegan guests into consideration. Decrease your meat count and increase your veggie count as needed.

Side Dishes - 4 to 6 ounces per person for 3 side dishes. Potatoes - 1 per person with some overage. Adjust the quantities as needed for additional sides.

Fruit - 3/4 to 1 cup per person. When serving fresh fruit, stay away from bananas and fruits that will not keep well overnight. Melons can be cut and balled the night before and almost all berries can be rinsed and served the day of. White fruits when rinsed in a highly acidic fruit juice like orange juice, pineapple, or lemonade will reduce browning when stored overnight. Store fruits separately and mix together the day of for a fresh fruit salad or arrange on a platter. Keep in mind that trays will keep better than fruit salads.

Salad - 1 cup per person. One head of lettuce will feed approximately 5 people.

Rolls and Breads - 1 to 2 per guest

Dessert - One piece of wedding cake per guest (do not include top tier in your count). You can decrease this number if you are having other desserts like pies and cupcakes. To pull off a dessert buffet, have a few trusted family bakers make some pies and other desserts to bring to your wedding. A dessert buffet will significantly help reduce the cost spent on your wedding cake.

To convert your ounces of food to pounds, multiply the number of ounces you need times your number of guests then divide by 16 for total pounds of food needed. For non-alcoholic beverages like iced tea and lemonade, plan on 16 ounces per person. Take into consideration that many people will be drinking alcohol and adjust as needed. To determine gallons, divide your ounces by 128. For tips on how to calculate alcohol, read

Lastly, make adjustments for special guests! - Children will only eat half what an adult will eat. Don't forget to serve your vendors. Vendors such as your DJ and photographer will be there working for you all day. Be kind and include them when calculating the amount of food for your wedding reception.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.