DIY Catering! — Save THOUSANDS on DIY Catering

I was thinking last night about a current client I have that was asking about DIY catering.  I highly recommend getting a licensed caterer BUT when the budget does allow for this.. there are still some things that you can do it yourself that will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars.  I had some numbers written down in one of my older books that I used to use to give clients as recommendations on how much food to buy an what to buy to create a good looking finger food menu.. so now I’ll share with you!

Also I am basing this catering suggestions off of a 200 Guest Count list.. if you have less you should be able to figure out.. but if you cant.. just email me and I will help you figure out how much you need.

Alright first all the plasticware! – You can get these things at a SAMS club or Costco

  • When your doing finger food, get smaller dessert plates 250 – tip: with a smaller plate the guests will choose to get less food.. but if you have a large dinner plate they will fill it up and you will need more food.
  • Get the box of 400 clear forks.. or if you want to go for something fancier they now have a plastic silver fork that looks like the real thing.. but its throw away.. they should now carry these at sams also. The name is called Reflections Silverware.

  • Dinner Napkins – just get the huge package — i think there are like 600-800
  • Cups-600 – 8 oz cup – these are smaller but again.. the guests will drink less.. and a lot of times the guests will drink a little bit and set it down and then go back up and get another one.. so make sure you have 3-4 cups per guest

Next the Food – Based on a 200 Guest Count – From Sams Club or Costco

I’ve seperated the foods into sections.. the vegetable plate.. normally the carrots and broccoli was enough.. the tomatoes get smashed and juicy.. but you can get the little tomatoes too.

Also with the veggies.. if you wanted to get carrot sticks and celery sticks and cut into little strips and place inside a plastic shot glass with a little bit of ranch already in there – this is also a big hit with guests.. just takes a lot of time.. on site..

  • 3 Large Bags of Broccoli

  • 3 Large Bags of Carrots
  • 2 Large Bags of Celery
  • 2 Giant Bottles of Ranch Dressing (they normally come in a package of 2) — Make sure to refrigerate the day before

  • Scoop Chips (see picture above) – 8 Large Bags – At Sams you have to make sure to put them in the clear bags.. its buy 1 get 1 free type thing
  • 6 containers of Fresh Salsa — this is in the refrigerated section.. this salsa is impressive.. PACE and other typical salasas.. not so much.. but this one looks like you cut it all up fresh
  • Also renting a chip and dip silver bowl.. makes this look really cute also

  • Toasteds Party Pack Mixed Crackers – 3 Large Boxes
  • 2 Bags of Cobly Cheese Cubes
  • 2 Bags of Pepper Cheese Cubes
  • 2 Bags of Swiss Cheese Cubes

OR if you want to kick it up a knotch Do the cheeseball and crackers — The guests would rave over this cheese ball and its one of the easiest to make.. Heres how you do it.

2 (8 ounce) packages of cream cheese.. softened

1 (1 ounce) package of ranch dressing mix

2 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

1 1/2 cups of chopped pecans

In a bowl combine the cream cheese, dressing mix and cheddar cheese.. smash all together.. (I found the easiest way to mix is with my hands) .. shape into a ball and roll in the pecans.. refrigerate until ready to eat.

For a wedding– I would take the recipe and double it —( a log style would be even better.. so everyone gets a little of the pecans.. if its a ball shape they get all the pecans first and then its just the cream cheese mixture.. which is still good.. but the log will let everyone get the pecans.. 🙂 )that would feed 25 people.. so for 200 guests you need 8 balls. — same amount of crackers

Another great finger food favorite was the Strawberries and Fruit Dip – Serve the dip in a hollowed out pineapple .. easy and pretty!

For 200 Guests 18 (2lb containers) of Strawberries.. wash all of them with water and leave the heads on

the Fruit Dip is this recipe

1 package of cream cheese plus 1 regular sized container of marshmallow creme

hollowed out pineapple for the “bowl”

I would head the marshmellow cream (get the kind in the plastic containers — I think walmart is where I got these).. heat in the microwave just till it muffin tops. then pour in the softened cream cheese… put a little of milk in it.. this will keep if from getting super thick.. Then after I got through making all I needed I would pour the dip into the 5.2 cups Square GLAD plastic containers..

For 200 Guests you need 12 cream cheese and 12 marshmallow creams..

And last but not least.. The spiral finger sandwiches – for 200 guests you need 9 boxes

For the Drink I recommend the Fruit Punch and Water – 20 Gallons of each should do the trick — There are a lot of great punch recipes.. but that was something I didnt have a lot of time to make.. and the fruit punch was so good from sams.. it was a great one! Add 7-up and some sherbert ice cream.. to take it up a notch… but practice if first.. make sure you like it..

Also dont forget the ice – you’ll need 2 lb of ice for every 10 guests — per EACH type of drink.. – so for 200 Guests you need 40lb of ice  (I always got extra.. just in case)

Now the Setup

So now you want to make it pretty… this is where hiring the decorator..or having the wedding planner set up something simple comes in handy.. BUT if you cant do those things.. I will try to walk you through a good setup!  There are some training videos also about wall draping and  table draping you may want to watch to really make this a focal point.. and boy with all the money you just saved doing it yourself… you can afford the decor! Now remember the decor wholesalers are on our wholesale list.. (well worth the money) First I’m going to show you several pictures of different catering setups.. then explain how they are done..  And even if you dont have backdrops.. Its about The linens, the different levels and lighting.

So a couple things we always did.. had milk crates on hand, lots of extra cloth to cover the “levels” and had 2-4 buffet lamps — the lighting always made it to where everyone could see the food but still romantic feel.

This was the carrot shooters and the shrimp shooters.. (cocktail sauce in the bottom) I had a single orchid. almost in every cup.. it made it pretty.. but how I did the setup.. I went to LOWES and had them cut me some plexiglass I think they were 5″ wide by 6 feet long (This way they would fit on a 6 foot or 8 foot table).. I had double cut.. beacause I took fresh petals and sandwiched them between the glass.. I used the clear glass blocks (again I bought them at Lowes) to raise them up different levels.. I think I had 4 blocks per each level.. then I took normal string lighting and strung all up underneath the glass … this made the whole setup glow… probably one of my favorites! but thats how I did it.

Here are some more pictures of different ideas for catering setup.. if you have a question about a particular setup.. just email me at

Hopefully this blog has been helpful! And remember you can pin any pictures you see here! Thanks for stopping by!



Wendy Binns: In demand world-wide for her remarkable skill at consistently producing over-the-top fabulous events, Wendy Binns is one of the world's leading Wedding designers. She is not only passionate about designing and creating fairy tale worthy weddings for her elite clients, but also about equipping and empowering event professionals with the knowledge and education to make their dreams come true too.
  • Paulette Wise

    Wendy, can you setup the food for them if they purchase it, or can you purchase just veggies, fruits and such and set it up without being a licensed caterer?

    • wendybinns777

      We always carried insurance and had a licensed caterer do all of our food handling. I would not handle any of the food if they are doing it themselves.. you might can make it pretty.. by doing the linens, backdrop and having the food containers but not touching the food. Either a licensed caterer or the client themselves take on that risk. You might also have a lawyer look at your contract and if you are wanting to set up the food for them maybe write that in your contract. At one point we heard if you are only arranging the food and not cooking any food that it was ok… but I would still check… Food is one of those things you can never be too careful with.. You certainly dont want to be sued over it.. so best to just be extra extra extra careful! Good luck!

      Also you could always get a catering license.. heres a link

      these were the instructions on how to obtain a catering license in TN:
      Obtain construction approval. Have a set of building plans prepared in accordance with the guidelines of the Tennessee Food Drugs and Cosmetics Act. This is applicable to new facility construction as well as remodeling of an existing location into a food-processing unit. Make sure your architect provides you with all relevant drawings, specifications and blueprints. Include details of the layout, fixed equipment, material of construction of equipment and buildings. Provide details of the food items you’re planning to produce on the premises. Submit this to the Commissioner of the Tennessee Division of General Environmental Health at least 15 days before you begin construction work on the facility.

      Arrange a pre-operational inspection. After approval of the plans by the Commissioner, begin the work on your premises. Once you have your food processing unit set up, fill out the Food Service Establishment Permit application form available at the office of the Commissioner. Depending on the type of food on your menu and the number of people your unit supplies, the permit fees can range from $100 to $360. Apply with the relevant fee to the Commissioner’s office.

      Procure the food permit. Keep your premises ready for the inspection. On the scheduled date, accompany officials as they inspect the premises, equipment and cleaning facilities. Answer any queries they raise and provide details if requested. Wait for the inspection report. If your facility is found to be complying with all regulatory requirements, you’ll receive the food permit. If you receive a report of non-compliance, correct critical violations within ten calendar days from the inspection report date and arrange for a re-inspection to procure your food permit.

      Maybe that helps… Thanks for reading the blog!

  • Stacey Hill

    I LOVE the individual veggie cups! I may try this for a personal event. Thanks so much for the inspiration and for sharing your experiences:-) I sent you a message through your website the other week. I hope you got it:-)

    • wendybinns777

      Thanks!!! Love hearing from you!!

  • Veronica

    Hey Wendy!
    I’m thinking about catering my own wedding and I have a question for you. Would it be okay to use this guideline you have for an evening wedding? I’ve heard that we should have an entree instead of just finger food because the guests are going to be hungry. If so, how could I cater an entree to 100 people myself? Thank you!

    • wendybinns777

      I sent you a long email on my suggestions! Thanks for contacting us!

      • Shaundra

        Hi Wendy,

        I just stumbled upon your site and I absolutely love it! I have the exact same question as Veronica–I too am planning an evening wedding and would love to hear your thoughts for self catering an entree for ~200 guests. Maybe you can just forward me the email you sent her! =)

        • Actually its a lot cheaper to find someone to caterer for evening meal instead of trying to do it yourself. (most times) I have a lady here that has no website, I found her catering at one of my weddings or I wouldnt have know about her. I can get 2 meats, 3 vegetables, rolls, tea and water with glass place settings and silveware for right at $13 a person.. which I thought was crazy cheap.. but the food was delicious and it was cheaper than if I could have done it myself..

          I’m not very qualified to talk about cooking dinner DIY because I can barely cook macaroni and cheese. My 12 year old cooks better than I do! LOL But in the past I had several weddings at night that wanted to do the DIY finger food catering also.. I would just say have more hearty options like chicken fingers from walmart.. or more meat and bread options.. you can always make sandwiches using the Hawaiian rolls.. (ooo soooo delicious) — Someone had posted that they were doing a pasta bar.. thats good.. also a mashed potato bar is great.. use the martini glasses have a server put the mashed potatoes in and then have lots of toppings.. real bacon bits, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, chives… etc.. that was my favorite night time “finger food” but not really food service! I hope that helps.. sorry its taking my so long to respond.. we are fixing to change our comment system so I can see them faster and better! thank you for reading our blog!!!

  • Amber

    I would love that email as well if possible Wendy! I am doing a buffet pasta bar for my own wedding at the end of October, and would LOVE some pointers. Thanks so much!!

    • I tried to reply to the other lady.. read that one and if you have any questions please feel free to comment back I would just say on pasta bars.. to make sure you have cold and hot pasta! Good luck.. would love to see pictures of what you did!

  • Aubrie

    Hi id like the answer to veronicas question as well. Thanks for this post it is very helpful :0)

    • I commented in the other comment.. see if that answers your questions.. if not you can comment back or email me!

  • aubrie

    Hi Wendy! I have the same question as Veronica! Thanks for all the great ideas!

    • I commented in the other comment.. see if that answers your questions.. if not you can comment back or email me!

  • Ronnie Roberts

    Love the summertime and garden parties, but I hate that part when I have to arrange everything about the food and the drinks.
    So I was looking for green food out of the house and luckily I found option to take some menu or a buffet for home – definitely get great success with it. Next time I will definitely prefer the opportunity to order food out of the house. You have all the options you want. They
    just make it easy for you –

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