Tag Archives: Wedding cake

Affording catering for small budget weddings: It’s a problem

Food is a problem for low budget weddings.

Let’s say you have $2500 to spend on your wedding. Let’s say you have 75 guests – not a modest amount, not a crowd. The first thing is, with this many people, your wedding will take quite a few hours. In order to host 75 people without snubbing any of them, you’re probably looking at at least 8 hours of wedding. And because there is no 8 hour stretch of wakefulness that doesn’t involve at least one meal, you’re going to have to give them, at a minimum, one meal’s worth of food. And because this is a celebration, odds are very high that you want to give them some booze too.

So there is no getting out of doing a lot of food, unless you have a really low number of guests. If you had say 35 guests or less, you could get away with just having them for a few hours, and if that’s not during a meal time, you can all just eat some cake and call it done.

But back to the 75 scenario, because I think it’s a good benchmark of wedding averageness. If you put $2500 into my favourite toy, the wedding budget calculator, and uncheck a bunch of stuff, because this is a budget wedding, and we don’t have room for a day-of coordinator, the result is a suggested breakdown that goes like this:

Celebrant: 52
Flowers: 330
Other decoration: 108
Drinks: 289
Food: 722
Bride’s dress: 309
Attendants gifts: 62
Groom’s outfit: 52
Photography: 505
Invitations: 72

This is assuming you somehow have a free venue to host 75 people (you probably don’t), you forgo cake or use it as the dessert for your meal, you don’t buy special shoes, etc etc. There is $722 for food here, and $289 for drinks. That’s $9.63 and $3.85 per person, for food and drinks and respectively. I don’t even need to write a punchline here.

Or let’s say you have 75 guests and $2500, and the couple wears clothes they already own, and they DIY decorations for free, and they email their invitations, and don’t have a photographer, and they get rid of all expenses except food and drink. $2500/75 = $33.33 per person, for a meal and drinks. Which maybe is just enough, if you self-cater, and are very shrewd about your drink offerings.

But this is a wedding. You want to make it meaningful, by having some of the common trappings of weddings, which is going to cost you at least a little bit of money.

The $2500 figure is based on being half of what the median income wedding-haver can afford by saving 10% of their post-tax income for a year. But it’s just not all that possible to have an average size wedding on that amount. Some variable is going to have to give.

Have a smaller wedding? People shouldn’t have to miss out on celebrating with a reasonable number of guests just because they have a small budget.
Save a greater portion of your income? But if your income is low, that’s hard to do.
Have a longer engagement, so you can save for a longer time? Maybe. But 12 months is already a long time to be saving for a consumable.

Maybe this post is just about grumbling a little about the cost of living in NZ. If we had higher wages or cheaper food, this wouldn’t be an issue!

The only solutions I can think of are: 1) Parents help fund the wedding, or 2) Make the wedding a bring-and-share event where guests each contribute ‘a plate of eats’, as they always used to be called in my childhood (do people still say that? A plate of eats? Sounds so old fashioned now).

I’m sure Miss Manners would be aghast at the idea of asking guests to contribute to the wedding like this. I mean, she’s already made herself very clear on the issue of cash bars. And I see her point: getting a wedding invitation would be more like a demand than getting invited to something. You can’t demand gifts. The only way a community chipping in could work, as far as I can see, is if the guests spontaneously self-organise a kind of surprise wedding reception. (And yet, we do see potluck weddings on blogs fairly often. How did these couples break that to the guests?)

So we’re left with parents contributing. I’m becoming more and more ok with that idea.

A philosophy of wedding cake

Wedding cake is nuts. Sure we all like eating it. Sure it’s pretty. And sure, it’s a ritualistic centrepiece of wedding decoration that helps your wedding feel more legitimately weddingy. So, when a lot of people find out its going to cost $5 or more a piece, or $500 for a 100-guest wedding, they get over their initial horror, and suck it up and pay the price, because that’s what it takes.

Now obviously, a good bit of this price is the infamous wedding mark-up. But even lopping off 30% (or whatever the wedding mark-up is), wedding cake and its price still retains a high level of ridiculousness. I don’t know what the hell it’s doing as an expected part of the The Standard Wedding – you know, the wedding that even non-rich folk are supposed to have. As always, I say if you’re rich and can afford it, go ahead. If you’re not rich, maybe it’s still important enough to you that you want to devote that much money to it. We all have our quirks. But first, consider what you think you’re getting for that money:

1. We all like eating it

At the last three weddings I’ve been to, we all ate a huge 3-course dinner, and often struggled to finish even that, before the cake was attended to. At some of these weddings, I was so over eating that I had no cake. Are you flabbergasted? No, you’re not. In fact lots of people ate no cake at these weddings.

2. It’s pretty.

My tastes don’t always run mainstream, but has anyone else noticed that the typical wedding cake doesn’t look that good? I mean, for starters, only a tiny portion of them are pretty. So, good luck with that. (For example, look at these uninspiring exemplars from an Auckland bakery. Prices are included for extra fun.)

Then there’s the fact that most, nay, practically all wedding cakes don’t even look edible (even if they’re very pretty). They don’t look like food. In my book, a good looking cake is one that makes me want to eat it. (Expect to drool if you follow that link).

3. It’s a ritualistic centrepiece that makes a party feel more weddingy.

It wouldn’t feel like a proper reception without a multiple-tiered, white fondant-covered cake on display? The thing is, most people just don’t care about it. They will wonder past it, and if they’re really interested, spend an entire 10 seconds looking at it. And maybe out of lack of things to do, take a photo, which they will then never look at again.

Wedding cake is such a emperor-has-no-clothes situation. Even blogs that are devoted to living a life on the cheap, will, as Rogue Bride says, foster a culture of incompetence, and go for the old “how to fake being rich” kind of advice. For instance, Living Richly On a Budget has 7 tips for us on how to have inexpensive wedding cake. Tip 3: Don’t go homemade.

Why not go homemade? So much can go wrong with baking. If you leave it too long in the oven, the cake will burn. Getting layers even can be tricky. Stuff can go wrong when you’re decorating. And what about keeping the cake cool so the frosting won’t melt? Plus, the person making the cake will have to deal with the pressure of delivering a “perfect” product, because after all, this is your wedding.

Wow. Do you have any idea how hard it isn’t to whip up a decent cake? I’ve been doing it since before I was a teenager, as have many others. The ingredients are cheap – milk, flour, sugar, eggs, butter, baking powder, vanilla. Maybe you’ll go all out and spend a whole extra $10 to put some cherries in there or something. They have this handy thing called oven-timers, or failing that, the ability to tell time and do basic arithmetic, to ensure you don’t leave it in there too long. And this new innovation, called waiting, that allows it to cool before you do the icing. Also, no one is judging your wedding based on the perfection, or lack thereof, of the cake.

But seriously, making your own cake is really sensible, and really cost effective. You can make it in advance, you can try out recipes for months beforehand to tweak the oven timings and temperature if you want. Really, anyone can do it.