Budget Wedding Ideas Part 2 | DIY Appetizers & Desserts

Among my top budget wedding ideas is supplying your own appetizers & desserts.

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Budget Wedding Ideas Part 2 | DIY Appetizers & Desserts

It’s pretty evident why “do-it-yourself” wedding catering is a huge money saver. 

The markup on food and drink via a traditional caterer or venue bar is enormous. 

Last week we covered the bar – supplying your own cocktails, beer & wine.  Of course the strategies we covered work for non-alcoholic drinks as well. 

If you missed it, be sure to go back and have a listen for ways that you can rack up huge savings by doing a “BYO-style” bar!

Today we’re going to focus on the food – appetizers, the main meal, & dessert.

wedding desserts

With some careful thought and planning, you can easily choose one or more of these food categories to handle on your own.  You’ll also enjoy two huge benefits:

  • First, you’re guaranteed to save a ton of money vs. a traditional caterer,
  • Second, it’s really fun and rewarding to work together with your fiance, your family & friends to create a really unique appetizer spread and/or dessert bar!

You will never forget assembling 20 cheese & cracker trays with your mom, grandmas, & aunts. 

For each food category, I’ll share some very specific ways to set yourself up for success.  We cover everything from planning & budgeting, to shopping, preparing, and serving.

budget wedding ideas


Tip #1

You’re going to need help to pull this off, both before and during the wedding. 

  • Make a roster of family and friends who are willing to help with planning, shopping, and last minute prepping of wedding day food.
  • Have regular check in’s with your food crew, be sure everyone is fully aware of their role and involvement.
  • People may have very specific things they would like to contribute, and the rest you will want to clearly assign and delegate.
  • For example, say you’re set on creating a dessert bar for the wedding day.  Your cousin bakes cakes for a living, and she raises her hand in the very beginning to volunteer for that. 
  • You may then want to assign someone to coffee, 2-4 other people to making auxiliary sweets like cookies or brownies, and your 4 cousins to be in charge of a take-home candy bar for your guests to fill up a bag on the way out.

Tip #2

Consider your venue set up and what you have available by way of food storage and prep space. 

For example, you’re not going to be able to serve chilled cocktail shrimp on ice platters if you have no access to a large-sized freezer.

Tip #3

Run ALL of your food ideas through these checkpoints:

  • How much work will it take to assemble?
  • BONUS if it can be assembled 1-2 days ahead of time!
  • Can it be stored and served at room temperature?

Your best bets will typically be food that requires minimal preparation, has minimal temperature requirements, can be served room temperature, be left unrefrigerated for a time, and can be assembled and easily stored ahead of time. 

Tip #4

Now, let’s turn to quantity.  How much food do we need to buy for 50, 75, or 100 guests?

I have a simple formula for knowing how much food you’ll need to buy.

Get together with your fiancé and another couple or two, and do a test run of what you’re thinking of serving. 

For example, make an appetizer spread for 4-6 people.  This way, you can visually lay out the food, make note of how much everyone eats, and then scale up. 

Multiply the food consumed by 4-6 of you by how many guests you’re hosting.

How many carrots, mini tomatoes and cucumbers will 100 people eat?  Make a tray for 5 people, then multiply that by 20.

Same formula, same guidelines go for your main meal, and even your deserts!

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budget wedding ideas

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“Back to the show!”

Now that we’ve reviewed the basics, we need to decide what you want to serve.

  • Think about time of day, you & finance’s favorites, any unique family specialties. 
  • Choose from appetizers, the main meal, and / or desserts.

Let’s start with APPETIZERS.

It’s no accident that these are very standard cocktail hour items you’ll see at events.  The ideas below are all easy to assemble, can be done up ahead of time, require minimal refrigeration and can be served at room temperature:

  • Gourmet cheese and crackers – go crazy at your favorite warehouse store.  Costco specifically has an amazing selection of cheese from all over the world.  Putting together a cheese tray that is delicious and looks really professional is within your reach, and this is my favorite starting point for a do it yourself appetizer spread.
  • Vegetable & fruit trays – this is pretty self explanatory, choose your favorite fruits and or vegetables and put together beautiful, colorful trays
  • Dried meats, dried fruit, nuts – right in the category of room temperature, minimal refrigeration, can be prepped ahead of time.
  • Bonus category, rely on crockpot or hot plates to keep food warm – this opens up a bunch more possibilities from hot dips, meatballs, skewers, or any other of your appetizer favorites that are best heated.

If your family is big on entertaining, you can likely borrow a lot of the bigger things like crockpots, carafes, hot plates. 

Use disposable serving trays where possible so that you don’t need to worry about washing and returning 30 dishes to various friends & relatives after the wedding.

Bargain stores like your local dollar store, smart & final, warehouse stores will all have options for disposable serving platters.

Now let’s turn to the MAIN MEAL.

My biggest piece of advice here is to KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Trust me – what seems like the most simple idea in the world has a million nuances and complications when you get deep into the details! 

You can hear a very personal story of trying to do DIY-style catering for my own wedding in the second half of the show:

True Story – I Catered My Own Wedding:

budget wedding ideas
John & I catered our entire wedding, including top-shelf bar, for less than $2,000!

Would I recommend handling the MAIN MEAL on your own?  Honestly, no. 

Life would have been so much easier if we had focused only on the drinks and appetizers, and left the main meal to a casual caterer.  So much less stress, planning, prep, and clean up.

IF you’re feeling brave,

& you have a small guest list,

AND a casual wedding set up,

& a ton of help from your family and friends …

Then by all means I don’t want to discourage you from handling the main meal.  I just want you to go in with eyes wide open and be prepared for what’s in store.

And last, but certainly not least – DESSERT.

Many couples opt not to serve cake at the wedding.  The good news is that there are endless creative ways to make a really fun dessert bar spread!

In my opinion, doing your own wedding desserts is by far the easiest area to handle on your own, without the help of a professional caterer.

If a traditional wedding cake is important to you, then go ahead have a bakery make a small-sized wedding cake.   You can always supplement with either sheet cakes of the same flavor, OR your personal favorite desserts like cookies, bars, pies, doughnuts, candy, or anything else you love.

With that said, be sure to rely on your team of friends and family to each share a couple dozen of their favorite desserts. 

People love pitching in and helping, especially for a wedding!

Remember what we covered at the beginning of the show: DELEGATE and give each person involved a very specific assignment. 

And don’t forget our quantity formula on how many desserts you’ll need.  Think about how much 4-6 people will realistically eat, then multiply up to your guest count. 

For example, Uncle Joe might eat 5 desserts, grandma only 1, and some guests none.  By thinking in terms of 4-6 people you can capture a reliable average of all of your guests.

I hope you’ve been inspired by wedding day food that is affordable and easy to manage – minus the help of a traditional, much more expensive caterer!

I talk to so many couples who never even considered this to be an option, but end up doing one or more elements on their own and are so happy they did.

Questions about today’s show or stories about your own wedding plans that you’d like to share?  I would LOVE to hear them – you can always be in touch by visiting the “CONTACT” button.

Have a great day, and I’ll talk to you soon!

Other episodes I think you’ll love:

Budget Wedding Ideas Part 1 | DIY Wine, Beer & Cocktail Bar


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