For A Budget Wedding, Go Potluck

The question has been popped, and the marriage proposal has been accepted. Yet, once the planning process begins — exploring the offerings (and costs) of caterers, venues, and music — the inevitable question arises: "How can we ever afford this?!"

There are a number of ways to trim your wedding budget, be it by making your own cake instead of spending $1,000, or doing the wine list for your wedding yourself. But have you considered a potluck wedding?

Just as hosts on a budget might ask friends to bring a dish when hosting a dinner party, more and more brides are opting to add a potluck element to their reception to both save money and add a personal touch to the special day. Historically, this concept was actually the norm. For hundreds of years, families would put together the entire wedding day, and every aspect was homespun.  In traditional Quaker weddings, where simplicity is central, it is still common that the bride and groom ask their small group of invited guests to bring dishes to share.

Weddings today remain special occasions that allow family and friends to show their support in celebration of the special couple. Want to go potluck? First, make sure you're not biting off more than you can chew. "Make sure your event is not too large," says Anna Post, one of the editors of the new Emily Post's Etiquette, "Otherwise it's too much to manage." 

Adding a potluck element to the celebration is a good way to make guests feel good about contributing, yet she suggests that the couple supply at least one or two of the main dishes. Avoid overburdening your guests by requesting that whatever they bring is in lieu of throwing your bachelorette party or giving gifts. And as with any potluck, it's essential to keep track of the dishes being contributed. Perhaps instruct guests to document what they are bringing on their RSVP response cards. This will ensure you have control over creating a balanced menu and signal the proper serving pieces, trays, baskets, and warming dishes you will need to supply, well in advance.

Click here for tips on the proper potluck etiquette.


Here are six ways to add a potluck element to your wedding celebration:

1. Potluck Appetizers

Instead of paying for pricey passed appetizers, ask relatives to bring a dish made from favorite family recipes (you'll still provide the main meal). Suggesting family members contribute items that you have been enjoying together for years makes a statement about the great importance you and your future spouse attribute to family. It also represents what the day is about — the joining of two families, and an intertwining of traditions. Try serving grandma's famous dumplings or the family recipe for potato latkes. This is a brilliant way of sharing age-old customs with your newly acquired relatives.


2. Potluck Dessert

If you have friends and family who are always making cakes and cookies to tempt you in the office and at home, put them to good use. Instead of a traditional cake, enlist a couple of your baker friends or family members to make something for your dessert table. From an assortment of cakes, to a spread of bite-sized petit fours and small cookies, it can be as easy or as difficult as they wish.


3. Provide the Main, Potluck the Sides

Consider the recent revival of the pig or lamb roast as an alternative to your traditional wedding reception concept. One St. Louis couple decided to forgo the wedding cake entirely, and opted to share in a ceremonious "cutting of the pig," before feeding one another a bite of crispy pig ear to commence the meal.  You can request guests bring typical BBQ sides like salads, veggies, deviled eggs, and mac and cheese.


4. You Make the Main Dish, Have Guests Garnish

Don't underestimate your own ability to execute the main course. If you are having a winter wedding, maybe a chili and baked potato bar is the way to go.  You can arrange a buffet with a variety of chili choices held in Crock-Pots and set out enough baked potatoes for everyone. Just ask guests to bring their favorite garnishes to go alongside. One potluck-happy bride made lasagna (though any other casserole might work) for 200, and had each guest bring a side "representative of what makes them who they are." It was a great way to interweave friends and family into the fabric of this couple's very special milestone. 


5. A Menu of Family Favorites

Instead of planning a menu with a caterer, sit down with the cooks in the family and come up with a selection of favorites from both sides of the family that various guests can make and bring for the main meal. Assign a course to each guest, and then ask them to bring along a copy of the recipe that can be compiled into a wedding cookbook as a keepsake for the bride and groom to use in their future life together.


6. Potluck Everything... But the Food

If your strong suit isn't cooking for 100-plus people, and you and your friends and family have other talents, consider doing what one Maine couple, Danny and Gretchen, did for their August 2011 "Lovefest." Caterers supplied the food, but everything else was handled themselves or with the help of volunteers. Friends of the mother-of-the-bride decorated the wedding cake, baked by the bride, who also designed her own dress and enlisted a qualified friend do the sewing. A soon-to-be sister in-law did hair and make-up on the wedding day and the couple picked flowers from a friend's farm for the bouquets. In keeping with the DIY nature of the affair, friends also performed live acoustic music and held the critical job of photographer. Make your own wedding welcome bags, too!