Planning a Green Frugal Wedding – Food

Wedding Food | Source: avlxyz on FlickrLast week, I wrote the first instalment of my green, frugal wedding series by talking about how I was foregoing traditional paper invitations in favour of electronic invites and wedding websites. Today, I’m going to talk about food and drink, another issue where you can either stick to traditions, be green, be frugal or better yet, be both.

As I said last week, being either frugal or environmentally responsible when it comes to weddings often requires you to challenge the status quo or the established wedding traditions, and food is no exception when it comes to this. In our case, we are challenging the established traditions about as much as possible, but I’ll get to that in a second.

What Is the Tradition?

In most cases, a traditional wedding (in modern Western culture) would involve hiring a caterer to provide an elaborate, multi-course meal to your guests, at a fixed cost per guest. Depending on your venue wedding, you may be required to use the venue’s associated caterer, or choose from a narrow list of caterers. The bigger the wedding, the more expensive this can get. With regards to drinks, some couples opt for an open bar at their own expense, while other couples opt for a cash bar. Depending on how much your family and friends drink, this can also add a significant chunk to the final wedding budget. From an environmental standpoint, you often have no say in how green or impactful your food and drink choices are.

Can I Stick to the Traditions and Still be Green or Frugal?

For those of you who still want the fancy, catered, open bar wedding, the answer is yes, depending on your venue. If your venue forces you into a specific caterer, then there isn’t a lot you can do other than switch venues. If you want to be green or frugal, try to find a venue that allows you to pick your own caterer. More and more people are looking for ways to make their wedding and events environmentally responsible, and as a result, there has been a growth in caterers who are tuned into the needs of this demographic. You can find caterers nowadays that specialize in organic foods, local foods, vegetarian foods, etc. You name it, there is a caterer who can do it, especially if you live in a larger city. Have a favourite restaurant that fits your values? Ask them if they cater, most do. When you choose the caterer, you hold the power to choose what your guests eat and what the impact of that food is.

That said, this is frequently a case where being environmentally responsible conflicts with being frugal. Speciality caterers that cater to the environmentally responsible crowd (no pun intended) know that their in a still fairly vacant niche, and therefore you are likely looking at paying a premium for these services. In the end, be sure to shop around and try to find the best balance between cost and environmental impact.

KFC Now Catering | Source: macrofarm on Flickr
Whatever You Do, Don’t Settle For This…

What About the Bar?

Once again, how much flexibility you have will depend on your venue. Try to find a venue that will allow you to provide your own non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks. For alcohol, you will frequently need to get a special occasion or event permit from the local authorities, but this is usually just a formality and a small fee. Drinks of all shapes and sizes are now available in environmentally responsible alternatives. For example, buy fair-trade coffee and teas for your guests. People love pop, and who can blame them. But you don’t have to serve Coke, Pepsi or any other chemical brews. I LOVE the soft drinks produced by Natural Brew, which makes Cola, Root Beer, Cream Soda and Ginger Ale using natural ingredients. Local is always good, and there are microbreweries everywhere that can provide beer that hasn’t travelled far. If you can find a local, organic beer, even better! Same goes for wine if you are lucky enough to live near a wine producing region.

So How Are We Challenging the Traditions to Go Green and Frugal?

We’re going even farther than choosing an environmentally responsible caterer. In lieu of asking for gifts, we’re having the guests cater the wedding.

That’s right…we’re having a potluck wedding. And no, a potluck wedding is not tacky – at least, not in our opinion. In fact, potluck weddings can be a great success. Frankly, to us, it just makes perfect sense. We went even further and put restrictions on our potluck:

  • All dishes must be vegetarian (because meat is proven to require more resources to produce than non-meat food items).
  • All dishes must be nut-free (as we have several guests coming with nut allergies).
  • We are strongly encouraging our guests to use local and organic ingredients in their dishes.
  • We are strongly encouraging our guests to make something homemade that represents who they are (perhaps a favorite or cultural dish).

Seem extreme? Maybe a little, but we’re hoping it will be great. The response so far has been quite positive, though there have been a few holdouts to the idea, particularly among the older guests. Some people were worried about having to cook lots of food but we have been concious to remind guests that they only need to bring enough food to feed themselves – if everyone does that, there will be enough food for everyone. And for out of town guests, we’re giving an opt-out where they can contribute financially to the potluck (since cooking a home cooked meal in a hotel can be challenging).

And what is a wedding supposed to be, beyond the marriage of two souls in love – a reunion of friends and family, a bringing together of community. At the end of the day, what screams community more than a potluck? Away with you, drab catered buffet – bring on the endless table of home-cooked dishes!

We’re going green at the bar too. We’re lucky enough to live within an hour’s drive of Ontario’s wine region in Niagara, where we visited Frogpond Farm, a small organic winery. We bought all our wine straight from the source and drove it home to wait for the wedding. We’re also getting our beer from a local brewery (still undecided…maybe Steam Whistle, Amsterdam or Mill St.). Because it doesn’t have to travel very far, the beer and wine is not any more expensive than what we could get at the liquor store (in fact, likely cheaper) and we are supporting local businesses.

Readers, how do you feel about a potluck wedding? Do you think its tacky, or a great way to instil a sense of community in a wedding while promoting green values and being frugal?

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15 thoughts on “Planning a Green Frugal Wedding – Food

  1. We have decided that we will do a bbq/potluck reception. We went this route as he really wants a honeymoon to somwhere with a beach and I really want a wedding cake. To comporomise, we decided not to do a traditional reception as we couldn’t do that and a honeymoon. Instead, we’ll have people show up to our house and we’ll do a bbq, where we will most likely provide the meat and ask for side dishes. I’ll also be providing the cake (well, the bakery will be).

    • A BBQ is a great idea for a wedding! It sounds like you guys have your priorities right, its important to keep some money for yourselves and not spend all of it on what is essentially a really big party.

  2. I think it is a great idea. Pot lucks are a great way to spread the work and expense and try new things. My sister in law did a bbq which worked out really well. Everyone loved the food as much as if it was catered. Plus everyone got to huddle around the buffet table and visit which was great.

    • Getting to try all kinds of new dishes that you might not be otherwise exposed to is one of the things I love about potlucks! That, and there is always so much choice, that everyone is bound to find something they like. Worst case, you know you will always like the dish that you brought 😀

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  4. We are getting married in September, and were “gifted” with a free wedding and honeymoon in Jamaica! I can’t say how green that adventure will be, but we will do our our best. Since it’s just “Mr. Thriftability” and I going to Jamaica, we’re hosting our own send-off party, which will be at our mountain home, outdoors – and will be a pot-luck . Great tips for going green!

  5. Oh hey, are you planning a wedding too?! Yay!

    I definitely plan to skip all the stationery and set up a wedding website. Paper invites = too much work, too much money.

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  7. Also planning a wedding this year! It looks like we’ll be self-catering (with the help of our wedding party), which was definitely a departure from the original plan, but we have only about 30 people to feed, so hopefully it won’t be a huge production. Afternoon tea, buffet-style, no chafing dishes required. 🙂

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