How We: Coordinated The Rest Of Our Potluck Wedding Reception

The fanciest potluck you've ever attended!

Hayley, Student & Tim, Organist and Choirmaster

Planned Budget: $10,000

Actual Budget: $13,850

Number of Guests: 225

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: The fanciest potluck you’ve ever attended!

Where we allocated the most funds

This was a tie between the photographer and the booze. Our photographer was the first vendor we hired; the pictures were that important to me. When I read Holly’s story on APW, I was really moved. When I saw her work, I was blown away. When we video chatted, the chemistry was just right. Holly “got” us. She was an absolutely delight to work with, and her art speaks for itself.

The second area that was our big layout was the bar. All together this was nearly $4,000. I include in this figure both the bar service and the alcohol itself. Since we knew we were stretching the boundaries of expectations a little bit with the potluck buffet, we made it a priority to have a great bar. We found Oliv’r Twist through a referral, and they were fantastic. They took our head count, our likes and dislikes, our timeline, and our layout… and they created magic. Oliv’r Twist is the sort of bar company where they bring the glasses, the ice, the mixers, the garnish, the napkins, and the manpower, and you provide the alcohol. At the end of the night, they broke down the bar, left us mixers for a self-pour bar for the after party, and left nary a trace they were ever there.

As far as what we served, we went for limited liquor with wine, beer, and champagne; the manager helped us select what to serve, and gave us a shopping list with the minimum amounts we would need. We purchased mostly from a local mega-store because they accept returns of unopened bottles after the wedding. This saved us a lot of money after the fact, and I definitely recommend checking with your local vendors to see if they offer this little deal. It also meant I could buy with confidence and be sure we wouldn’t run out, since whatever wasn’t consumed could be returned. The beer I got in cases from a local microbrewery. There were leftovers, but I did not take those back!

Where we allocated the least funds

If you were to make a list of where we spent the least for what we got, you would have to acknowledge the food and the music. The food has already been covered, so I’ll focus on the music here, for which we paid little or nothing. The musicians were all Tim’s friends and colleagues, including the five-part brass and his forty-voice choir. The choir is amazing; they’re so good that they’ve been invited to sing at St. Paul’s in London and Canterbury Cathedral. I don’t even know what it would cost to actually hire all these artists, but I can tell you… It would have been far beyond our financial means. The gift of their art was the best wedding present we could have ever received.

If you consider only those things we actually paid for, I spent the least on décor, with that line item coming in at $580. The church is already beautiful, and the evergreens were still up because it was still officially the Christmas season. The Flower Guild ladies arranged our altar flowers, and the flowers themselves were really affordable thanks to the church’s standing order with a local wholesaler. Since I didn’t have bridesmaids and carried my prayer book, there were no bouquets to worry about. For the reception hall, we strung borrowed Christmas twinkle lights and turned the lights down. The table centerpieces were punched tin lanterns from Ikea bought on sale, and we let guest take them home at the end of the night. I did spring for some nice table linens from a local rental company, and they were also ridiculously affordable.

What was totally worth it

Holly Gardner. Go look at her photos. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Are you back? Yeah… ’Nuf said.

What was totally not worth it

I sprung for a nearby B&B for the weekend for us and for our out-of-town guests to use. The idea was to keep logistics simple and have family nearby the night before and the night of the wedding. I had to commit to blocking out the whole B&B pretty early on, and I was very uncomfortable with what felt like a pretty high-pressure sale. But, the place was within walking distance of the church and I was worried that out-of-town guests wouldn’t be taken care of, so I talked myself into it.

Turns out my instincts were correct. Only a few people choose to use it, and the B&B wasn’t flexible about scaling down the reservation when it was obvious about a month beforehand that several rooms would go unused. The on-premises bar was on the “honor system,” and we had some after-party guests who were not staying at the B&B but came by for drinks long after we went to bed. In the morning, we had not only the empty rooms to pay for, but also a pretty epic bar bill from the non-resident after-partiers. That last part was especially ironic considering all the leftover alcohol we had in our vehicles just sitting in the parking lot.

A few things that helped us along the way

A big shout-out to the APW wedding invitation tutorial, the “Your Wedding Is Not an Imposition” post, and many, many other posts at APW that were reassuring and empowering.

My best practical advice for my planning self

Take your list of DIY projects and cross off all but maybe two of them.

Favorite thing about the wedding reception

This is just impossible… but probably sitting in a room full of (some) slightly buzzed and happy people eating good food.


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