Stick to your budget by preparing your own food for your wedding reception. Enlist the help of family and friends to help you cook and serve food before and during the reception. Check with the reception facility first to determine what kind of kitchen and storage facilities are available, so you don't plan to cook a large menu when the facility doesn't have a stove.
Barbecue menus work especially well for outdoor receptions. Start smoking the pork, beef or chicken the night before, then cut it up the morning of the reception. Create a buffet line that includes the meat, buns, barbecue sauce, sliced onions and condiments for the sandwiches. Make simple sides such as potato salad, coleslaw, pasta salad and potato chips. Add a couple of lettuce choices along with some salad dressings as well. Offer simple drink choices, such as tea and water.
If your wedding is near a major holiday, incorporate it into the menu. Cook turkeys (about 1/2 lb. per guest), cranberry sauce (fresh or canned), sweet potatoes, green beans (or green-bean casserole) and dressing for Thanksgiving. For Christmas, consider a ham station with bread choices and condiments along with mashed potatoes, gelatin salad, fruit salad and fudge. Keep your New Year's reception festive and lucky by incorporating collard greens with bacon, black-eyed peas and cornbread into your menu.
Instead of taking the time to make food for your guests, create a sandwich buffet and let them help themselves. Include several bread and meat choices, then add a couple of cheeses to pick from, along with standard sandwich condiments. Create a fruit and vegetable platter, and offer chips and dip. Include cookies or brownies as a sweet treat while guests wait for the wedding cake. Offer soft drinks and water.
Cook two or three types of pasta, such as spiral and spaghetti -- assume about 1 lb. of pasta per 12 guests. Present them in separate bowls. Cook the same number of sauces, such as a marinara, traditional spaghetti sauce with meat and an Alfredo sauce. Add toasted garlic bread and a bowl of salad. For more interesting fare, include separate add-ons such as sliced black olives, sauteed mushrooms or artichoke hearts.