Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Behind the Scene at the Reception - what needs to be done and how many people do you need to get everything done?

Yes, you can do this.  You are getting organized and have started to put the pieces together. 

Have your friends offered to either help  prepare dishes prior to the event, or actually set up for the reception?  But, what is going to happen during the reception?  Do you want your friends and family to enjoy the festivities, rather than be occupied in the kitchen after the initial set-up is completed?  About now you might be asking yourself - is this really something we can accomplish - while keeping the budget intact? 

Here is an over-view of  what happens in the kitchen on the big day.
The food is going to be brought to the rental facility and dropped off in the
kitchen.  The food containers for those items that do not need to be refrigerated will be scattered on the counters, waiting for someone to decide when to open them and start putting the food in serving dishes, or the oven.  Food in the original purchase containers will be in grocery bags, scattered around the kitchen.  The serving bowls, platters, chafing dishes and serving pieces will be stacked on counters, or sitting in bags and boxes somewhere in the room.  There will be cases of soda, wine and beer that need to be iced down.  The dishes, glasses and flatware will need to have their wrappers removed and then be placed on guest tables or the buffet table.  The buffet, cake and beverage tables will need to be set up and covered with linens.  In one word, denying it......mayhem.   And I really am not trying to scare you, but this is the reality of the kitchen before the reception.

And you are going to be getting ready for a wedding ceremony....hopefully far away from this scene.

Yes, organizational tools can be utilized to make sense out of this scene.  But, you are going to need bodies to make it all happen.

Two questions arise. much help do you need?
#2...Are there additional resources for help, aside from friends and family?

So, let's look at what the helpers do on the day of the event. Bear in mind ...these are only tasks related to the food and beverages - not setting up the guests tables, arranging flowers, or decorating the venueAlso, the numbers used are based on using a rental facility which stipulates a specific time frame for your use.  There will be a specific time to begin and end the function.  If the event is being held in a venue where there are no time constraints the numbers can probably be reduced.

 In the kitchen:
  •  Organize all the food and sundry items as they are dropped off
  •  Heat hot foods, arrange food on platters, or place foods in serving pieces. Arrange back-up dishes to replenish empty dishes on the buffet as needed.

  In the guest area:
  •      Set up the buffet tables with elevations and arrange the linens.
  •      Place chafing dishes on the buffet, fill the reservoirs with water and light the Sterno.
  •      Arrange the drink station(s); setting out glasses, setting up containers with ice and chilling the white wine and cold drinks. If you are serving draft beer the keg will need to be put on ice and tapped.
  •      Set up the coffee table with a large coffee pot, cups, sugar, creamer and spoons. Make the coffee. 
  •      Set up and arrange the cake table with plates, forks and napkins. 
  •      Chill the champagne and set up the champagne glasses.
  •      Remove protective covering from dishes, glasses and flatware.
  •      Place dishes on buffet, glasses at the bar and flatware on the table (unless flatware has been secured in napkins to be placed in a large basket on the buffet table). 
  •      Set up appetizer table if you plan on having a separate appetizer area.
  •      Placed food on the buffet table, or in chafing dishes, right before  guests were due to arrive.
  •       If you are planning on having a bar set-up to serve mixed drinks, or a signature drink, I recommend having one or two people oversee just that function.  One of my clients (a large wedding of 300) had a no-host bar managed by a professional bar tender who was paid a minimal hourly rate and was allowed to accept tips.   No one thought any less of the couple, or this arrangement, because the whole purpose of the event was to include all the friends of the bride and groom and their respective families.  Both families had ancestors who had settled in the area generations before; consequently there were long lists of people who wanted to participate in the happy event. Although complimentary wine, soft drinks, and water were available  the bar was packed until closing and the bar tender had a profitable evening.

During the reception
 In the kitchen:
  • Continue to prepare back-up dishes for the buffet as needed.  The number of dishes needed will be determined by the number of guests you are serving.  
  • Start to put the kitchen back together, cleaning and packing pans, dishes and utensils as they are no longer needed.
  • Clean and pack serving dishes as they are removed from the buffet, if they are no longer needed.
  • If rental dishes, glasses or flatware are used they will need to be cleaned and laid out to be counted, prior to being placed in their tubs or trays.

  In the guest area:
  •      Replenish dishes on the buffet before any dish is completely empty.
  •      Monitor containers of cold drinks and replenish as necessary.
  •      Replenish cups or glasses for cold drinks as needed.
  •      Remove plates and flatware from guests tables as they are done eating.  The first guests through the buffet line will be the first ones done eating so all the plates won't need to be removed at the same time.
  •      Pour champagne on side table and serve to guests, or serve guests if the champagne glasses are already set on the tables.
  •      Cut and place the wedding cake on plates.  Either serve the guests or have them serve themselves from a separate table where the plated cake is placed.  If you are serving different flavors of cake it easier to let them choose their favorite flavor using the latter method. 
  •      Remove soda cans, empty glasses and dishes from the guest tables as  needed.
    You might be feeling overwhelmed right now....because you have never been through this experience before you had no idea how much goes on behind the scene.  But, keep really is manageable.

    You are going to be saving a substantial amount of money by not having the event catered, and if necessary might want to consider hiring extra help.  Where do you find someone?

  •          Do you have a favorite waitress at a local restaurant?  Ask if she and a few friends would be interested in making some extra money.  You might ask what they would charge to help you for a minimum of four hours.
  •          As friends if they know of anyone who might want to pick up some extra pocket money.  Of course, they should enjoy working with food.
  •          Call your local Technical Trade School or Junior College and speak with the head of the Culinary Arts Department.  The students in the culinary program are already familiar with handling food, and more importantly...they love it.
  •          Recruit from the local college Home Economics Department (this gives you a clue about my age) - it is probably called Food Sciences, or something similar now.
  •          Call the local college employment department and have them enter a temporary job that would be posted for the general student population.
  •           Check with local temporary employment agencies.  Some even specialize in restaurant related fields.
         To keep the budget in check you can have the hired staff focus solely on the prep work and have friends help with the bar and cake cutting.   Or, have friends help with the set-up and then have the hired staff oversee the service during the reception.  If you are using disposables it might not be absolutely necessary to have someone picking up plates, silver and glasses etc.,.  However, I have found that it adds a nice touch to have these items removed from the tables as guests finish their meals. 

My recommendation for the number of helpers is based on being in a rental venue, with meal and beverage service.   Contrary to popular belief, serving appetizers does not necessarily reduce food cost, and usually requires additional help for set up because the presentation is more labor intensive.

Number of Guests          Number of Helpers
    1  -  25                                              1
  26  -  50                                              2
  51  -  75                                              3
  76  -  100                                            4
 101 -  125                                            5
 126 -  150                                            6
 151 -  175                                            7
 176 -  200                                            8
 201 -  225                                            9
 226 -  250                                           10
 251 -  275                                           11
 276 -  300                                           12

I provide more thorough step-by-step planning for a DIY reception in my book Frugally Fabulous Wedding Receptions.  A variety of work-sheets are included to help you schedule all the necessary tasks that need to be done, keep track of who is doing what, and determine the quantities of the various items you will need. Also included are recipes modified for 24 servings  and other tools to help you keep everything organized.  Available at

 I also offer reasonably priced ($20.00 - $30.00) personalized packages in which I compute revised recipes based on your guest count, a shopping list organized by department in the grocery store, a schedule for preparing the various dishes and a detailed task list for the day of your event, based on your menu. These services can be completed following the completion of several steps in the book.  Both packages are available at




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