Potlucks are a classic loaves-and-fishes trick to feeding lots of people on a budget, though buffet-style meals are, for sad reasons, quickly going out of fashion in the 2020s. Cue the food trucks! Food trucks can be a great alternative to a buffet because they're mobile, they can serve personally customized meals on-demand, and they come at a variety of price points. "Healthy" food doesn't just mean fiber and vegetables or avoiding fat and sugar. (What fun is that at a wedding anyway?) "Healthy" can also refer to safety from contamination. Plagues and food poisoning can really poop on a party, so I'd err on the side of hot, made-fresh, even fried foods. It's a special occasion, after all!
Heavily spiced foods also lend safety in feeding large numbers of people due to the antimicrobial properties of many herbs and spices. Complex, bold dishes can offer a balance of special-night flair, comfort, safety, nutrition, and price. Check out your local Latin American, Asian, and African family-owned, small restaurants for exciting meal choices at a great value. My finest moments in arranging catering for events have involved two new, small businesses run by immigrants from Mexico and Lebanon.
Skip the elaborate fruit sculptures and pretentious plating. You don't want your guests to spend more time taking photos of their dinner than shoveling it down their gullets. Post-pandemic, it's all about sharing real-life experiences with real-life companions in real time. Whatever you choose, make it a spread that invites your guests to...
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
Treat yourself and your guests to a decadent feast at your reception. You can be a gracious hostess and still save money for your honeymoon.
First, prioritize the elements of your food and drink service that are most important to you. Do you have your heart set on a catered meal, or would you be happy with a buffet that your guests can browse themselves? Do you have great cooks in your family or social circle who could contribute to an excellent potluck spread? Are you dreaming of a fanciful cake, or will you take a whimsical, less traditional approach to dessert? Is it important to serve alcohol at your reception?
Nobody really cares about your place settings or centerpieces; it's the edibles on the table that matter. I get tummy aches when I have to go too long without eating (and people with conditions such as diabetes can be put at serious risk by going without food and water), so I wanted to make sure a variety of refreshments were available at all times. Before the ceremony even began, we had a simple snack table set out with pitchers of water, nuts, and fresh fruit. This kept the wedding party and organizers, as well as the guests, comfortable and cared for before dinner.
My handsome groom and I opted for a multi-faith/secular ceremony, but we were both raised Catholic. We could not conceive of a wedding reception that was not well lubricated with drink! Cash bars are tacky. So we saved money by browsing wine and beer sales for the entire year before the wedding. Each time we went grocery shopping, we perused the sale racks and gleaned a few of our favorite reasonably-priced wines and beers and stacked them in crates in a closet until the wedding day. Good wines and beers aren't always expensive. Go for taste, not waste!
The menfolks at our wedding loved the beer selection. If you bring a variety of beverages, there will be something for everyone to enjoy! We even rented a keg of PBR, which was a smash hit while remaining totally avoidable for people who found it offensive. By giving the less selective crowd what they wanted, we saved enough money to splurge on a few nice champagnes for the bridal party's table.
Our wide variety of wines had another wonderful effect: Guests were encouraged to wander through the tables in the manner of a wine tasting party to sample different selections. Everyone, young and old, mingled and sipped and got very comfortable. Even my wine connoisseur uncle loved it! He did express that one of our wines tasted like "llama piss," but he had a great time hopping from table to table popping corks. Our magical ratio amounted to about one half liter of alcohol per adult guest. This was excellent because we had very little left over, everyone who wanted to drink got toasty and jovial, and nobody got too trashed until after the party ended and they could barf in the parking lot or at home. Perfection!
We had about 100 guests, not many of them into fancy cooking, so we decided to purchase familiar foods from a local caterer. We found a very good deal on a buffet service of roast beef, vegetarian spring primavera pasta, broccoli, and rosemary potatoes. Guests could take as much or as little of each dish as they wished, and they could go back for seconds or thirds. It's easy to overbuy food for a large crowd, so go conservative on the amount and opt for a wider variety of dishes instead. You'll have less waste and more satisfaction.
Along the same lines of more variety, less bulk, we rented a cupcake stand instead of a traditional full layer cake. We were able to afford the glory of fine bakery cake and buttercream frosting, as well as a beautiful presentation, by ordering cupcakes. Also, we did not have to bother with cutting and serving slices. Guests could come and select their pleasure--each frosting flower color signifying a different cake flavor--with less fuss and more fun.
Cinzano! Opa! Bon apetit!