Wedding Cocktail Reception on a Tight Budget

I am getting married next year in the summer and I don't want to have a sit down reception. I am planning on having a Cocktail Reception for 250 guests following the ceremony in a church dining hall which will start about 1:30-2:00 pm. My finance and I are on a very tight budget and we are looking for ways to cut cost while having a very nice and elegant cocktail reception serving only appetizers.

Our budget is $500 to $1000 dollars for different types of appetizers (veggie trays, fruit trays, meatballs, cookies, nuts, bacon wraps, punch, accessories to make the food look nice, etc.), you know the types of food served at cocktail receptions. Is this a good dollar amount to feed 250 people in the early afternoon? I welcome ideas of recent receptions held this year or what some brides are doing for next year. I am worried that it will not be enough food to feed 250 people.

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By Shelly36 from New York, NY

September 25, 20090 found this helpful

We did a reception for 350 guests and spent $800.00. We bought all the flowers, food, serving ware, napkins, and cake at Sams Club and it was delicious. We made some 'big bowl' items: salads, boiled tri-colored pasta and added julienned vegs and cubed ham and cheese. Chopped most of the fruit and vegs ourselves, borrowed fondu pots for dipping: chocolate, cheese, and caramel to avoid renting expensive fountains. Made mocha/ice cream punch, lemonade with the REAL-Lemon concentrate recipe, had ice water, and fresh coffee bar. If you have a winery nearby where you can do a custom labeled wine for the couple try that. It may cost another $200. Serve enough for the wedding toast. You can do it! We had about 12 volunteers to help pull off the decorations and food prep and serving. It was great!

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September 26, 20090 found this helpful

I have "catered" all 3 of my childrens receptions and the first thing to do is to borrow any decorations you can I took magnolia swags off of my walls and put them around candles Looked great! Next get some volunteers to help clean and serve food (barter by volunteering to help them) Make up your menu well in advance, be flexible if need be. Use food items in season.We used plain white foam plates and bought colored napkins. Do you really need your name and date on the napkins? they are very expensive.Start buying food in advance and freeze it if you can.You can do this just be practical and you may be surprised sometimes less is great not to mention it will teach you how to be "Thrifty and have fun"

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September 26, 20090 found this helpful

If it's truly a "cocktail" reception, another tricky cost is alcohol. A tip? If you have a Trader Joe's near you, ask their wine buyer to suggest several bottles in the $5 range. TJ's is very frugal and we were able to find a red, white and a sparkling wine/champagne we liked. We bought them by the case, but could return unopened bottles with no issue. To simplify things, you could consider serving ONLY champagne, It's elegant and guests tend to drink less of it.

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September 26, 20090 found this helpful

I helped a friend do a reception and no one ever knew it was not catered. A group of us got together and planned the food and when we would prepare it.

We prepared everything in the church kitchen so we had plenty of room to work. We made beautiful veggie baskets(, salads, cooked up hams and roast beef & made finger salad sandwiches (make the filling several days in advance so you just have to spread it on the night before & order pullman loaves from the bakery as they make a better looking finger sandwich). We also made an assortment of fancy cookies and petite cakes (You may be able to freeze some of this stuff after it is prepared). We had an absolute blast preparing everything and it goes really fast when you have help. As for napkins and plates, some dollar stores carry colored plates & napkins and you could use a rainbow of colors. Best wishes & good luck. PS watch for sales on things you can buy in advance. You have allowed plenty of time for planning.

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September 26, 20090 found this helpful

Your biggest expense is going to be the alcohol. There was a good suggestion by mymagicworld. Try to get the best bargain you can on the booze and you should be OK on the rest. There were a lot of good suggestions from everyone. Also check Oriental Trading Co. They have a lot of good buys too on things you may need. You have a lot of time to start stockpiling a lot of things and comparing prices. Good luck and best wishes!

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September 26, 20090 found this helpful

I also catered my own wedding reception from Sam's Club.

I recommend putting your hot food on the table last so that guests won't load up their plates with the more expensive food first. This strategy worked well for both my and my good friend's wedding.

My food included:

Hot: - cocktail meatballs (bought frozen, made our own sauce)

- mini crab cakes (frozen)

- mini bread bowls with a bacon/tomato cheese mixture (frozen)

Cold: - cubed cheese (bought in 3 lb. pkgs. already cubed, and froze the leftovers -- was great in casseroles for months after the wedding!)

- cracker assortment

- veggie trays

- spinach dip

Sweet: - Mixed frozen fruit, thawed (so much cheaper than a fruit tray, and we served it from a punch bowl to be more elegant with fruit dip on the side)

- Mini fruit tartlets (frozen)

- Cream puffs (frozen)

For beverages, we had golden punch made by my mother and cold sweet iced tea from a silver urn that we borrowed. We didn't serve alcohol, but I would certainly recommend a limited selection for your budget's sake.

Clear forks, plates, and punch cups were also purchased from Sam's Club. Borrow as many "accessories" as you can: platters, small glass bowls for dip, table clothes, greenery, etc.

I also would have ordered fewer printed napkins and instead alternated them with color-coordinating, same-size napkins from Dollar Tree.

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September 26, 20090 found this helpful

Thank you all so much for your feedback! They are extremely helpful for me. I am so appreciative and do welcome more ideas! (smile) One thing I must say is there will be no alcohol there. Only Punch, sweet tea, coffe, tea etc. My fiance and I don't drink. (smile) So that expense wouldn't be neccessary in the budget. :-) For the toasting we will do Sparkling Cider. Anymore ideas I am open to saving a buck!

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September 26, 20090 found this helpful

You really have to be realistic about the budget. Unless you want to be serving your 250 guests food from a potluck, try to do things simply but elegantly. My fiance' and I will be having our wedding next spring for approx. 50 guests. We have estimated a budget of $1000 for the tent, tables and food. Start "Googling" for recipes for homemade slice-and-bake crackers (Parmesan and rosemary, cheddar and chipolte, etc.). Not only can your make them in advance, but they are inexpensive.

Fresh fruit, cheeses and crackers are very inexpensive from places like Sam's and Costco. Olives roasted in wine (use the bag-in-box!) and fresh herbs can be reasonable if you have friends with fresh herbs in their gardens.

Watch for sales on ground beef to make different types of cocktail meatballs that can be served in chafing dish set-ups that are very inexpensive at places like Ocean State Job Lot or local dollar stores. (Don't forget that they can also be made weeks in advance, frozen and warmed in a microwave shortly before serving). Bargains on cheese are always available and some cheeses can be frozen. We are planning a summer wedding and realized that a few nicely done sangrias would be lovely light beverages instead of utilizing an expensive and varied bar.

A family favorite: Orzo Salad with salad-sized shrimp, herbs, seasonal chopped veggies and homemade vinaigrette. One pound of orzo cooks up to a massive amount of pasta that can be flavored many ways! Best of luck!

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September 27, 20090 found this helpful

$200 should do it. You can make all items in advance (or "volunteers" if you are doing other bride things) and put them in the church refrigerator. Just have some church ladies make the punch and keep it coming, and be responsible for refilling the buffet. You can set up the table as you like it. Boxes under table clothes serve to vary the elevation of appetizers offered and flowers and candles add to the display.

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September 27, 20090 found this helpful

No matter what you serve, get prices now, and think in terms of what the cost per person is. Ask yourself how much you would eat and see how much it would cost to serve yourself. Don't forget to include paper products, flowers, etc. Lots of hors d'oiuevres can be made ahead and frozen, or purchased ahead from the frozen aisle. It's a good way to spread out the cost. If you are doing this entirely on your own, remember that meat is the most expensive food, so be creative with those ideas.

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September 27, 20090 found this helpful

A good thing to do is enlist the help of high school or college age kids who are in training or even adults. Just like when people go to the cosmetology colleges to get beauty services, look for someone who needs the training and get them to help you out. Many people who are good with food will have ideas about streaching a few ingredients into several dishes.

You can also get servers and photographers this way. A professional does not always fit into the budget, so start asking everyone around you. A cousin may have a friend who is a genius and making cheao canapes. And someone always knows a creative genius that can do the decorating for cheap, or even free as a favor, that could be their wedding gift to you. Just don't be afraid to ask.

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September 28, 20090 found this helpful

I did a reception just like this. This past summer we did a simple salmon salad, tuna salad, and pasta salad to go with these other items. The one thing you do not want to do is put full size plates use the smaller plates then people are encouraged to get a little of each and come back after everyone has been through the line once. I have worked as a part time assistant over the years for catering events and this can be done if you are polite and respectful, never stop smiling,and never show you are flustered.

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October 13, 20090 found this helpful

My sister saved and planned for three years to afford her dream wedding. when it was my turn. I got my hands on one of those international trading magazines that sell in bulk for proms, parties and the like. I got all kinds of party favors, table cloths, and decorations for a song. Fill a bunt pan with water and sprinkle with raspberries, then freeze. It makes a lovely decoration for the punch, it'll keep the beverage cool, and won't melt as fast as ice cubes will.

Cream cheese can be frozen in advance and then thawed in the fridge for cheese balls. These make cheep, elegant little dishes. Especially when garnished with little sprigs of cilantro and ribbon-ed carrots. Bow tie pasta salad is always a must. Also, Pampered chef has this line of seasonings you add to salad oil, I like the garlic Parmesan best. Put a bowl on each table with a heaping pile of cubed bread to encourage dipping. Bread is filling, so they'd be less likely to pig out on everything else if this is offered first.

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