Can I Have a Potluck Wedding?

Dear Steff

We’ve set our date for Feb next year and we’ve excited to be planning our wedding. We like to do things differently and always knew we’d be having a bit of an alternative event. I want it to feel more like a music festival or picnic then the usual stuffy, formal wedding.

We don’t have a lot of money, and our parents haven’t offered up any additional funds (don’t think I’m saying this because I’m entitled – I’m just pointing it out so you know the situation – we don’t expect them to contribute). We don’t want our wedding to cost a fortune, but feeding the 150+ guests we want to invite will cost us thousands of dollars.

My fiance thought of an ingenius solution – have a potluck wedding and ask guests to bring along food to share? My question is, can we do this? Is a potluck wedding OK? Does it break standards of etiquette? And do you have any tips for making a potluck wedding successful?

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potluck wedding gothic wedding planner

Thanks for writing! I think a potluck wedding is a great idea, and a fantastic way to have a big event on a small budget. BUT … (and you knew there was a but, otherwise you wouldn’t have written) …

… Some of your guests may consider a potluck wedding offensive and a HUGE breach of etiquette. I don’t know your family and friends, so I can’t say how they would react – each family is different. But I could guarantee at least SOMEONE on your guestlist – if not your parents or his parents (if you haven’t told them about this idea yet) are going to have an issue with this.

Why? Well, the general consensus is that if you can’t afford to throw a big wedding, you either a) throw a small wedding you CAN afford, b) scale down your wedding options to a solution you can afford or c) postpone your wedding till you CAN afford it. The idea of essentially asking your guests to pay for your celebration via donations of food is considered tacky by some, and when you look at it that way, you can see how you might think that.

Another option – and this is the option I advise you to take – is to cater the wedding yourself and delegate as many dishes as possible to willing volunteers. Offer to pay for all ingredients (you’ll find many people will refuse this offer and consider their food donation your wedding gift). Approach specific people and ask them about helping – that way, you can avoid advertising the “potluck” nature of your wedding to those who might be offended.

Catering your wedding yourself might mean you spend $500 on groceries, but that’s nothing compared to what you’d pay for a caterer for 150 people. It might mean that you’re up the night before icing cupcakes or cutting up sausage rolls, but that’s part of the nature of the beast. Any DIY wedding solution is going to take more time than paying someone to do it, but you get the satisfaction of having done it yourself (plus you can choose ALL your favourite dishes).

Hunt Out the Chefs

Once you’ve created a guestlist, tick off all the people you’re close to who would love to help out and who you know are amazing cooks. Approach those people and ask them if they’d be willing to provide a signature dish for the wedding. Tell them how many people they would have to feed, and ask them to choose something they’d like to cook. Offer to pay for ingredients (they will likely turn down your offer and cook as a wedding gift – that’s certainly what I would do if I were asked) and note down what they’re going to bring along. Get a good selection of dishes – some finger foods, some mains and sides, and some desserts.

If you can get 6-8 of these wonderful chefs on board, each cooking enough food to provide a portion to every guest, then you have the bare bones of a fantastic feast.

Suss the Drinks

Once you know how your menu is shaping up, contact all those folk who said “we’d love to help in any way we can,” and tell them you’re catering the wedding yourself and ask if they might be able to help with the drinks. Anything from bringing along a few bottles of fizzy drink to creating signature cocktails or even brewing a special wedding mead (this is my personal specialty). Supplying drinks will shave oodles off your budget and is a great way for the not-so-kitchen-friendly folk to help out.

Keep a “misc” list

If people are getting into the spirit of the potluck, they will probably start asking you what you need them to bring. So keep a list of food you have been offered and dishes you might need to accompany them. For example, if you’ve got several people providing main dishes, ask for salads or enough bread to feed the troops. Perhaps you’ll need more savory finger food or some kind of vegan dessert option.

Sometimes people just need a little direction, and keeping a list enables those people who aren’t good in the kitchen to choose an item that they don’t have to cook – eg. bringing 100 hamburger buns.

Be Patient and Kind with Naysayers

When people talk (behind your back or to your face) about how tacky or inappropriate they find your “potluck”, self-catered wedding, respect their opinions and treat them with kindness. They are usually only trying to think of you and how your actions might look to others in your community. Tell them you respect their opinions, but you are not forcing anyone to participate, and you understand completely if their views are so strong they don’t want to come to your wedding.

Are you having a potluck wedding? Can you offer some advice to this lovely bride?