Budget Wedding Food Ideas:
Wedding Reception Menu Planning & DIY Wedding Buffet Tips

Small budget, but you would still like to throw a good party? These wedding food ideas will help you find a way to serve a nice meal without the big budget of a fully catered event.

A Partially catered wedding reception
Have a caterer provide the main dishes and you supplement the reception meal with appetizers and sides. Be aware that some caterers won’t do this, so you may have the best luck with caterers who specialize in a specific type of food and have narrow choices (like BBQ or steamed seafood). A friend of mine had a lovely wedding where the caterer allowed his Italian family to prepare antipasti dishes and plates of different Italian cookies and place them on the tables. The caterer provided the main dish for the sit down dinner and the wedding cake. It’s always worth asking.

Learn how bride Lisa Spooner saved over $20,000 on her dream wedding

Cold cuts well-presented are one of many budget wedding food ideas

Takeout + DIY
This approach is best for at home weddings:

  • Rent tables, chairs, linens, dishes, utensils, serving platters, chafing dishes, and glasses.
  • Hire a few servers to help with the buffet and general service.
  • Prepare yourself, or have family and friends make, appetizers, salads and other sides, pick up bread at your favorite bakery, and...
  • Order a cake.
  • Arrange with one or more of your favorite restaurants to prepare the main dishes. (Tip: Never mention the word “wedding” if you don’t want a premium tacked on!) Pick-up or take advantage of a delivery service, if they have one.

If one restaurant can’t handle the amount you’ve requested, then order from additional restaurants. Have the servers put a portion of the food in the chafing dishes and keep the rest covered in a warm oven. Be sure to order foods that can take the heat for a long time, and ask what temperature it’s safe to keep the food at.

Wedding food on a buffet
DIY wedding reception food

If you must DIY the wedding food, keep the menu very simple! Do not try to make complicated food items. It’s best not to attempt a sit down dinner. Stick to a DIY wedding buffet where you can pre-make trays of food. If you really want to keep it simple, choose a wedding menu that is mostly or all cold food -- that way you don’t have to worry about who is doing the heating up during the wedding ceremony. If doing it yourself, stick to well under 100 wedding guests. The amount of food needed really depends on the type of wedding menu. Is it heavy appetizers only? Full meals? Don’t wing-it when wedding menu planning for a large number of people.

Reference cookbooks with recipes for 50-100 people for menus, ingredient amounts and recipes.

See Cooking for Crowds for Dummies for simple fare and Cooking for a Crowd for more gourmet wedding reception food ideas on Amazon.

budget wedding food ideas for an appetizer buffet

Don’t forget:

  • Plan where the food ingredients will be stored, how much refrigeration and freezer space you will need, what cooking equipment you need, and how long will it take to prepare – size and number of ovens will make a big difference.
  • Have a plan for how you’ll serve the wedding food, how much of it will need to stay hot, how many bowls and platters will you need and the necessary reception table space. Remember you won’t be putting all the food out at once, but replenishing the buffet as you go.
  • If you’re borrowing serving pieces, try to keep the look uniform, like all white dishes, all silver, or a blue and white palette. Mark each piece with the person’s name on a piece of tape stuck to the bottom and back that up with a checklist of each item borrowed and a detailed description of the item in case the tape falls off.

Keep in mind that whoever volunteers to set up, heat and put the food out will not get to enjoy the ceremony, and very little of the wedding reception. Even for a DIY wedding buffet, I strongly recommend you hire people with professional kitchen experience to oversee hires and volunteers. Have this person managing prep, heating, set-up, and maintaining the wedding reception buffet.

Also consider paying this person to help you brainstorm budget wedding food ideas and make a shopping list in the reception planning stage. Reach out to a culinary school for recent graduates (get a few students to help out too), call a temp service, or a hotel catering manager or local caterer for hires or recommendations. Whatever you decide to do, remember, simple wedding foods with beautiful presentation will always be a hit.

More Articles:
Cheap Wedding Reception Menu Tips & Ideas
Planning Your Wedding Reception Menu: Beyond Cheese Cubes & Chicken Fingers
Book the Wedding Caterer for Your Reception: How to Find and Hire a Wedding Catering Service
Average Wedding Cake Prices: Your Wedding Cake Cost Will Depend on Location and Style
Tips for Making a Wedding Cake
Tips for Wedding reception Planning & A Checklist of Wedding Reception Activities

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