Cater Your Own Wedding… With A Cocktail Party

Photo of woman at a cocktail party wedding with a bucket of sodas

If you want to cater your own wedding with a cocktail party, learn from me. I didn’t envision self-catering our cocktail party wedding from the start. It was more of a last-minute impulse, actually. When we visited the place that ended up being our venue (an ice cider orchard), they told us they were set up to serve alcohol, but not food. They were fine with us bringing in a caterer and even suggested a few, but they wanted us to let them know it wouldn’t be an easy job: there was no equipment on the premises, so everything would need to be brought in (including serving tables and trays, burners, possibly ovens), and very little space for them to work.

Cater your own wedding... with adorable blue and yellow to go boxes

Realistically, that meant a full sit-down meal was out of the window. We were fine with and even charmed by the idea of a cocktail party, and it seemed well suited for the place, which during the reception would offer a tasting of all their products. They were really passionate and enthusiastic about their cider, and had already come with a number of perfect food pairings and recipe ideas. So the next logical step was to serve different platters or finger foods and hors d’oeuvres that went along with our tasting, both to complement the cider and to keep things simple logistically, given their limitations.

During the ride back home, I called my mom: “Do you think we could handle this ourselves?” She hesitated for a second, probably thinking “you and your crazy ideas”… All through our planning process, I could sense that my doing-things-differently was always taking her aback for a second, but then she always accepted it and started thinking that it made sense. This was no different. “Of course we can. We’ve done it before!”

My mom is an amazing cook, and a great entertainer. We only had 40 guests, or just a few more than the ones she brilliantly fed for our baby shower two years prior. Of course self-catering a wedding seems daunting and big, but depending on the context it need not be. That’s what it is, an event, a party! It’s amazing all the possibilities opening up to you with just a little of can-do attitude from a (skilled) loved one.

I believe the preparation steps were key. Weeks before, whenever my office was ordering in from a caterer, I salvaged the trays, platters and plastic covers afterward and brought them home. I looked at a few catering websites, just to get inspired on what was usually served during traditional cocktail parties, and how they presented it. I also thought about things that could be prepared in advance, didn’t need heating, and traveled easily. Two days before the wedding, my mom, fiance and I sat down and drafted a menu based on the food pairings, then made a list of what we needed and where we needed to go (the Asian grocery store -porcelain spoons were 2 for a $1, and now I have tons so you can all come have soup at my house!-, the farmer’s market, our corner supermarket, even Costco, since we had a $175 rebate we had saved for the occasion). I also hired a teenage girl to come set things up, pass the food around and clean up, which might have been the greatest idea of all.

The day before my mom and I spent the whole day preparing everything. This was a big part of the experience for me, this bonding together in the kitchen, chatting, feeling the buildup of excitement. If anything, it reduced my stress, and gave me a great feeling of accomplishment. As a family of people who love food and try to make it really special for every occasion shared together, it did not seem like such a great stretch to greet our guests with what we had made ourselves.

In the end, we served the following:

  • Sushi (which we picked already made the morning of)
  • Modern crudites (purple carrots, black heirloom cherry tomatoes, orange cauliflower, etc.) with curry dip
  • Fine cheeses with grapes, fresh figs, miniature pears and various nuts
  • Pastas with capicollo and salami, along with ciabatta and baguette.
  • Foie gras with onion confit
  • Duck confit and herbed soft cheese on garlic croutons
  • Quail eggs and caviar
  • Shrimp on puff pastry
  • Tuna tartare in Asian porcelain spoons
  • Greek salad in small Chinese takeout boxes
  • Fresh mozzarella/tomato/melon skewers
  • Smoked salmon with dill cream cheese
  • Black Forest ham and pesto wrap bites
  • Prosciutto, lettuce, blue cheese, dates and toasted pecans roll-ups
  • Smoked salmon mousse in fried mini tortilla cups.

And for dessert, we had really cute and delicious mini-cupcakes from a local bakery:

We didn’t make everything from scratch, come to think of it a big part of it was assembling, more than it was elaborate cooking. But we did try to put an emphasis on presentation, to make it more festive, to offer a good variety so everyone would be pleased, and to provide foods that were a little out of the ordinary.

The total cost for food was about $550, including sushi and cupcakes, which seemed like an incredible value to us. So even though our primary goal was to have as little vendors to rely on as possible, it was also quite a money-saver compared to the same food prepared professionally. Our only mistake is that we didn’t really assess the quantities well, ended up with way too much food and should have probably purchased less.

Intro photo by Jesse Holland Photography.

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  • Well put together! This makes it seem not so insurmountable. I thought about catering our wedding in the very beginning stages of planning, great information.

  • If we weren’t having a barbecue feast, this would have most definitely been our route!

  • Karen-Emmanuelle

    How do you get an accent grave over your ”e”? Go to programs/system tools/Character Map ;-)
    or Alt +0232. Thank your for your great blog, a daily ritual of mine.

    Keg (bride-to-be).

  • Rachel

    This is super helpful and inspiring! We’re planning on self-catering our wedding reception, and these tips are great! I am really looking forward to preparing everything with my family and friends before the party.

  • It looks beautiful, Marie-Ève! :)

  • we won’t be self-catering, but this was a wonderful post with inspiring images. :)

    Also- if you write in French often, you can go to control panel, regional and languages, advanced- French (Canada for me). Usually a little tab dealy option appears on the bottom screen (EN). You can click on it and alternate between French and English keyboard options, with all the French keys including é,è,ç,à… well you get the idea :)


  • The HTML special character code for accented Es in it’s é — ampersand eacute semicolon.

  • Melanie

    I’m floored by your costs–ie, you had sushi, foie gras, caviar, duck confit, proscuitto, etc etc and only spent $550? That’s amazing to me. I mean, AMAZING.

    I’m thinking about self catering and was budgeting $1500+ for food…. I’m delighted to think that number might come down some. Thanks.

  • When the self-catering posts started I didn’t really look into them. We’re doing a mid day cocktail party and people I know who have self-catered tell stories of hours spent in the kitchen and late nights with millions of batches of whatever plus renting refrigerated trucks, etc. I didn’t think it applied to me. I am glad I read this one. Right now just for appetizers for 100 all I’ve been able to find is roughly $4000. And Marie Eve did super fancy homemade appetizers for 40 for $550??? Hello! I will definitely be looking into this as an option. I especially like her comment about spending time in the kitchen with loved ones being relaxing. That is how I feel, and matches up with our community produced focus.

  • Olivia


    Do you have a mac? è is option+` then e.

  • Yum! Your list of food is inspiring me – I’m doing an afternoon picnic meal, self catered (well, mama-catered with me hovering) & some of these would work well. It’s all about grapes and figs and olives and bread and cheeses. Mmm.

  • The idea of self catering my wedding is so hilariously not in the realm of possibility for me that I am frozen with awe at anyone being able to pull off a self catered wedding BBQ, let alone one that involves tuna tartar. Kudos!

  • That menu looks AMAZING.

  • Ophelia

    We’re having a weekend retreat wedding with 50 people, and will do the food for Friday night (BBQ), Saturday and Sunday breakfast (self-serve) and lunch (self-serve picnic-y) with the help of all 50 people in attendance.
    We briefly considered self-catering the Saturday wedding meal, since my partner is quite the chef. But, we wanted to be able to really relax. So, then we moved on to the retreat caterer, and that felt too commercial. So, now we’re using a friend/caterer, putting us somewhere in between. And it feels right.
    I do believe that you can cook love right into food, and I’m sure Marie Eve’s guests could taste it!

  • Bonnie

    i so needed to read this! We are self-catering a high tea style reception for 100 people and sometimes i feel so overwhelmed by it. Thank you for making it seem possible :)

  • You drafted the menu two days before the wedding?! That’s confidence!

    Anyone who reads your blog would know this food must have been just as delicious as it sounds. You can come help cater my next party too, love.

  • YAY! we are planning to self cater and I’m a little terrified. You make it sound very manageable.

  • Ash

    I am going to self cater my picnic wedding! Yay for a can-do Attitude!!!!

  • Hélène

    Alt + 200 → È = (e majuscule accent grave)
    (number pad for the numbers)

  • spacecadetsally


    Totally unrelated to the posting, but if you have a Mac, to place an accent over the e, hit the option key and E… é. To get an umlaut, option + U: ü. An enye, option + N: ñ. Tah-dah!

  • 5 Dollar Bride

    I have always thought it would be great to save on food and do it ourselves. This gives me confidence! Beautiful menu. Thanks!

  • Thank you ladies (and Meg)! As always, your comments warm my heart.

    Yes, I also think $550 was an incredible price for what we had! But bear in mind, the small number of guests helped! We did have caviar -but only had to buy one tiny jar. One foie gras, five small wheels of local artisan cheses, a simple platter of sushi, etc. But. A lot of this can still be applied to a larger scale, I think. In any case, a great way to stretch your budget, that’s for sure!

    (And that’s OK, I don’t mind my name without the accent… Believe me, you’re not alone in finding it a bit puzzling (and people tend not to know how to pronounce it as well (it’s “Eyve”, not “Eve” like New Year’s Eve)). I’m surprised by all these French-writing-savvy chicks though!)

  • Wow. Brave-bold-inspiring all at once. Proves a great wedding isn’t about spending big bucks.

  • Thank you for a job well done. Everything was so exquisite!
    No one provides better, more beautiful food and service than you. You come in quietly and efficiently to my kitchen and produce the best offerings

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