How we threw a wedding for under $5,000: catering & cake

Figuring out food for our wedding was one of the more painful decisions. We had to consider a thousand options and a thousand factors—Did we want a catered meal for all the guests? A private luncheon beforehand? A buffet or individual place settings? Sweet or savory? And on and on.

CoffeeCatDogKid | How we threw a wedding for under $5,000: catering & cakeWe decided to keep reception refreshments simple, but to provide a little more for the wedding party (basically, any family member or close friend invited to the ceremony). Doing this kept costs low while ensuring that no one starved during the six busy hours of setting up, taking photos, getting married, partying, and deconstructing.

So let’s break this down:

Family luncheon

For $10 or less per person, we ordered box lunches from Zupas. I would do this again for sure. Every box was customizable and provided just the right amount of food. We only had to place the order days before the wedding. One downside was that they did not deliver, so someone had to go pick up the food. But we delegated to a family member.

We had the venue booked from 4 pm until 10 pm, including both set-up and take-down time, and our ceremony was set to begin shortly after 5 pm. We rushed to get initial prep done, then sat down for a quick box lunch before Alec and I finished getting dressed. I ate about two bites of my soup and sandwich combo. Everyone else, I think, thoroughly enjoyed theirs.

Reception refreshments

Alec and I decided on a hot chocolate bar for the reception. We provided cocoa, toppings, donuts, and other treats like candy canes and English sweets. We struggled to find the right equipment for keeping water hot. We had to rent it in the end, though we did get a good deal. We bought the cocoa from the LDS Welfare Square. It’s extremely cheap there, and the best cocoa I’ve ever had, no lie. For toppings, we simply bought things like sprinkles, cinnamon, and marshmallows from Target and Smith’s. My mom graciously offered to make chocolate-covered spoons (delicious in hot cocoa), so we had those as well.

A Wedding With The Downs: The Catering & The Cake

Our donuts came from The Provo Bakery, for just $11/dozen assorted donuts. We had no idea how many donuts to order and wound up with a lot of extras. (Better safe than sorry, I guess.) But they were absolutely delicious!

A Wedding With The Downs: The Catering & The Cake

To decorate the refreshment tables, we bought lots of decorative bowls, plates, and platters from the dollar store—they looked like expensive glass, except they were just plastic. The toppings went inside these for the most part. And we also found some galvanized trays for the donuts.

A Wedding With The Downs: The Catering & The Cake


The wedding cake turned out exactly how I imagined—maybe even better—and we paid just $100 for it! A steal, really, though we maybe kind of cheated. After talking to some family members and friends, we determined that most people don’t even like wedding cake. We thought since we would be serving donuts, that might be enough for our guests. We would cut the cake together, eat a slice each, and save the rest for ourselves and the small wedding party.

So we ordered a small two-tiered cake (also from The Provo Bakery). White cake, raspberry filling, plain white frosting. No fancy decorations by the baker. Instead, we decorated it ourselves—from the cake stand to the topper.

A Wedding With The Downs: The Catering & The Cake

Alec and I had constructed a stand using a wooden tray found in a boutique, and a box and some lace-covered burlap from Hobby Lobby. We set the tray on the box for stability and wrapped the burlap around the box to make it a little prettier.

Then we adorned the cake ourselves, mostly scattering sugared cranberries (courtesy of my sister) around each tier. To finish it off, we placed a pine cone and a spray of pine needles on the top.

But would I still DIY all the food and catering if I could go back in time?

Not sure. I LOVED the cake, and I would definitely do that again, no question. The Zupas lunch boxes turned out great, too. But as far as the hot cocoa bar and the donuts—I would consider finding an affordable catering company that offers that service, simply because the hassle of tracking down equipment was stressful, and almost a failure. Luckily, everything turned out well.

Just know what you’re signing up for!

Other posts in this series:

How we threw a wedding for under $5,000

How we threw a wedding for under $5,000: flowers

How we threw a wedding for under $5,000: cutting costs on clothes


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