BBQ Party Planning 101.
December 6, 2010 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Backyard BBQ Planning 101. My fiance and I are set on having a backyard BBQ for our reception. We want it to have that good old fashioned family BBQ feel (everyone serves themselves, cooks when they want, horseshoes, croquet, and no stuffy formality). Plus we met at a BBQ so it makes sense. I need to know everything we need to think of before pulling the trigger and sending out our invites. Deets and budget inside...

This will be held in Richmond, VA. We are guesstimating a guest list of 50 ppl MAX, but more like 30-40 people (only a couple of friends- mostly family). We have a small, but not tiny back yard. We are planning a mid-May wedding for weather purposes.

Our budget for the BBQ is $1300.
Total wedding budget is $2000.

We plan on getting all the food from Costco. The BBQ will have the staples: burgers, hot dogs, pastas & salads, cheese plates, chips, beer and wine. Other food suggestions that I am missing are welcome.

Decorations will be minimal. I know we will have to rent tables, chairs and a tent. We have no place to go if it rains because our house is too small to accommodate that many people inside. Everyone, with the exception of one couple, will be coming in from out of town.

We thought of renting a pavilion in a local park, but all of the ones I have found say that alcohol is not permitted. Not that we will be a bunch of drunken fools, but we would like to have alcohol.

Would we be better off hiring a full service catering company to provide everything or stick with the full DYI that we have in mind?

So, have you done this? Forget that this is a wedding and think of it as BBQ planning. Can we do this on our budget? What happens if it rains?

All advice, words of wisdom, cautionary tales and the like are welcomed!
posted by MayNicholas to Home & Garden (44 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't understand what your plan with the actual grill is, but you might consider asking a good friend or two to man it. You might also consider renting or getting a largish commercial quality grill where you can cook more than ~20ish burgers at a time. Grilling for that many people can take a lot of time, and as the host I've come to HATE managing the grill for 2-3 hours and not getting to visit.

Otherswise it sounds like a great time!
posted by Big_B at 10:13 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are there any amazing BBQ joints in town? If so, I'd just buy everything from them and call it a day. Most of them have a "catering" department that'll deliver too.

I had a super small wedding and a smallish reception and we ended up getting food from our favorite restaurant. It was WAY cheaper than fancy pants catering plus I didn't have to cook for days.

I think most of your expense will be in renting the tent and tables. I was shocked at how much renting plates/glasses/etc ended up costing. Fortunately, the Indian restaurant who provided food brought plates for a nominal fee.

The best word of advice I have is not to mention the word "wedding" at all. Lie if you must. When we were calling around for pricing we would say we were having a retirement part or something like that and found prices much lower.

Good luck!!
posted by ACN09 at 10:18 AM on December 6, 2010

We had this exact wedding! It was really fun, but the ONE thing mr. beagle and I always say, every time we talk about it: "We should have had it catered, my God."

Having to manage open flame (or getting family or friends to do it) while you're supposed to be also talking to the many, many people who want to talk to you and congratulate you, or who you need to be introducing to each other so they have people to chat with while waiting for food - it's hard to pull off.

Also, we're pretty sure it would have been cheaper to have it catered. The caterer has all the giant bowls he or she needs already on hand. You may have to go buy them at a restaurant supply place - stuff like that really adds up.

Congratulations, and enjoy your bbq/wedding!
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:18 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I didn't know you could rent commercial grills! We have a four burner gas grill. The plan with the grill was that people would cook as they wanted. We have a few men coming who liken themselves grill masters so I figured people would take turns cooking. But if that is not a good idea maybe we will ask around to see if we have any grill master volunteers.
posted by MayNicholas at 10:19 AM on December 6, 2010

This sounds like a super fun wedding, but (as a guest) the thing that would really annoy me is cooking things myself. Get some hired guns to man the grill and refill the serving platters so that you and your guests can enjoy yourselves.
posted by Kololo at 10:21 AM on December 6, 2010

As far as plates and utensils- we were going to get all of that from Costco as well. All paper and plastic stuff. Maybe we should have it half catered and do the grill thing just as extra. I thought the grill thing would be fun so that the guests would feel involved and not like outsiders- but I see your point.
posted by MayNicholas at 10:23 AM on December 6, 2010

We will also NEVER mention the 'W' word when getting pricing. I know companies love to take advantage of that one!
posted by MayNicholas at 10:24 AM on December 6, 2010

Sounds fun!

See if you can hire some people to manage the grill and replenish food and take away used plates. The bride and groom can't do this because they are too busy hosting and getting well-wished, and it's really not fair to ask friends to do it if they are your guests. (And besides, you want your friends to have fun!) Pay someone - it will be worth every cent. Friends can help with less time-consuming tasks like chair/table set up.

Will you have music? Do you have the equipment to play the music you want at the volume you want? It may be worthwhile to get a DJ to do this. S/he can also use the mic to do things for you, like annoucements. We enjoyed having our DJ play the "our song"s of our married friends and announcing, "This one's for Karen and Jim!"
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:27 AM on December 6, 2010

You're planning on having 40 people cooking for themselves on 4 burner grill? Even if everybody doubles up (say 20 people) fighting for grill space, opening the grill constantly, bumping elbows, mixing utensils (are vegetarians/vegans going to mind when their stuff touches meat stuff?). I've tried to to this with 10 people, and it was a bit of a logistics nightmare. 40 people sounds painful. I love, love, love the idea of a BBQ wedding, but I'd get someone else to handle the logistics for you. It's your wedding - you only get one, so might as well make it as stress-free for you as your budget allows.
posted by cgg at 10:31 AM on December 6, 2010

No DJ! If we do have music it will be from an ipod. We will not have to rent sound equipment because we can just borrow them from work. We live in a quiet neighborhood so we don't know that we will even play music (this will be a dance-free party since neither of us like to dance- nor do the majority of guests).
posted by MayNicholas at 10:33 AM on December 6, 2010

We definitely don't have to worry about the vegetarian/ vegan thing. Everyone coming is an omnivore! Good point though on vying for grill time.
posted by MayNicholas at 10:35 AM on December 6, 2010

"The plan with the grill was that people would cook as they wanted. We have a few men coming who liken themselves grill masters so I figured people would take turns cooking. But if that is not a good idea maybe we will ask around to see if we have any grill master volunteers."

This is not really a good idea, no. Either hire it "catered" (they'll bring the heated, covered rectangular dish things, and maybe tables, and lots and lots of dishes of barbecued tasties) or hire a designated barbecuer.

I would also hire a couple of teenagers to come and help clear empty plates, refill the chips, keep the soda and beer coolers stocked, help people find the bathrooms, etc. They're cheap and it's casual, but it really helps to have someone looking out for those little things and keeping the party flowing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:38 AM on December 6, 2010

We got meat and sides and toast by the pound/quart/etc from a great local BBQ place. They were all set up on a table as a serve-yourself buffet, with paper and plasticware. We asked people to bring blankets or towels and have a picnic. There were a few tables with chairs set up for people who weren't comfortable on the ground.

The thing we kind of overlooked was that guests wouldn't feel comfortable eating until we did, even though it was all serve-yourself buffet. We were having too much fun to go get food, and apparently no one else was willing to be first in line. Oops. Eventually someone came over and asked us to get things started, so we did. I'm not sure if we ever did get around to eating it, though.

We burned a CD to play on repeat, songs we particularly liked and were meaningful to us, and played it over a stereo system. Probably similar could be done with an MP3 player with good speakers.

Don't forget the watermelon.
posted by galadriel at 10:47 AM on December 6, 2010

Make sure to have good non-alcoholic drinks, including at least one non-sweet option (iced tea works well, though depending on how far "out of town" is you may want both sweet and unsweetened.) Given your budget, I'd consider asking a good friend or two to work the party (grill, trash management, keeping the ice buckets full) in exchange for a more intimate celebration later (cousins and siblings are ideal candidates.) You need several distinct grilling stations if you want folks to grill their own meat, and you should have enough not-grilled-meat foods that no one feels deprived if they don't get some. Have baked beans, pulled pork, shredded chicken, potato and pasta salad, macaroni & cheese, roasted corn on the cob, and veggies to snack on. If you do it 50/50 "catered" (by a restaurant) and homemade, you can avoid headaches and not spend $17 a plate.

Don't forget lighting. Tents can be darker than you think. Also, you may want fans and misters; I don't know how hot mid-May will be for you.
posted by SMPA at 10:49 AM on December 6, 2010

We did our rehearsal dinner as a backyard barbecue. I don't remember exactly how many people we had, but it was around 40.

Cooking for that many is a lot of work, and a small grill means that there's a lot of waiting for food. If there are vegetarians/vegans at your party, some of them (but not all) may prefer that their items be cooked before any meat items go on. We have found, in our multiple backyard cookouts, that omnivores will often eat lots of the veggie items, and the vegetarians/vegans might get shortchanged, so we now cook lots of veggies, because everyone will eat those.

So, yeah, it's a lot of work. I was happy to be at the grill for most of our party, because that's a role I'm comfortable in, but there were a couple of people who stepped in from time to time. Having everyone cook their own items is too chaotic, IMO, once you get more than about 10 people.

You will discover a shortage of horizontal surfaces on which to put cold dishes, desserts, cooked food off the grill, plates, napkins, cups, drinks, etc. Rent or borrow a couple of extra tables.

Also, what will you do if it rains? This is something we didn't have to worry about, since it doesn't rain in Northern California from June to October. But you should have a backup plan.
posted by rtha at 10:52 AM on December 6, 2010

Good idea on the some chairs & tables and provide picnic blankets. I was thinking of finding a wholesaler and getting picnic blankets as favors, so that could save money and kill 2 birds with one stone!

I will look into having it catered and compare costs so see what the difference would be. I would hate to have the guests annoyed by cooking :) That is how we always used to do it at our family gatherings so I assumed it was ok. But I guess if they are traveling half way across the country we should make their visit a little less involved.
posted by MayNicholas at 10:53 AM on December 6, 2010

Agreed that that doesn't sound like enough grill space, and I'd hire some teenagers like Eyebrows McGee said. You might grab a bunch of entree BBQ stuff from a local BBQ place and then also have some additional food that guests can grill for themselves - I'd consider a teenager to monitor that area too. I like the disposables option for cutlery/plates.

I think a plan in case of rain is essential - you won't have flexibility on time and date, so if the people can't fit in your house you need a fallback. I can't think of what that would be though.

This list has some good ideas in it.

I really like this idea - but throwing a party at your home for 40 people is a major task of its own, even if it's family and it's casual. Hiring the teenagers helps out, but you're still stuck with a lot of responsibility.
posted by mrs. taters at 11:02 AM on December 6, 2010

You could consider having pulled pork sandwiches and bbq chicken, that way all the food is prepped and cooked before the event, no one is left working the grill. You could have a bbq company make the meat only and supply the side dishes your selves. My friends did a bbq/picnic theme reception, it was really fun and easy. A variety of side dishes are nice, potato and pasta salads, green salads, coleslaw, watermelon, beans, corn on the cob with a variety of toppings is fun.

The above iced tea suggestion is great, you can buy 5 gallon drink servers at Costco, they are not expensive. Also, check with local churches to see if they might rent you tables and chairs or even dishes and serving pieces. For a donation our church lets us use their wares.

You might consider having one adult take charge of the planning and day, I cater many parties and use students to serve and clean up, if the local high school has a culinary program, ask if students are available to work your reception~the teacher can give a name or two of the more responsible students. College culinary programs have help too, but typically charge more.

Good luck!
posted by jennstra at 11:04 AM on December 6, 2010

Yeah, the 'what if it rains' is the biggest nagging problem we are having. Where would we go? Would a large enough tent take care of that? I just don't know!
posted by MayNicholas at 11:06 AM on December 6, 2010

If you don't want to go all out and hire a caterer, call a local culinary school and get some students to work for cheap.
posted by fixedgear at 11:07 AM on December 6, 2010

There's definitely a step between "full service catered" and "cook it yourself." We just ordered in advance--because it was a big order--then somebody went and picked it up at mealtime. Various people helped set it up on the tables, and then it was done (until cleanup time, anyway). Nobody at the wedding did any cooking, but we didn't have full service catering, either.

Oh, IIRC we had a lot of coolers with ice for chilling drinks, too.
posted by galadriel at 11:07 AM on December 6, 2010

n-thing the idea that 40 people is too many to self-grill for. We've found that 20 is quite do-able if you're happy with casual, which it sounds like you are.

A proper tent space will probably be expensive, but you can probably buy or hire cheaper non-fancy ones.

I'm not sure what the weather is likely to be like, do you need to think about heaters? (You would in mid-summer in the UK.)

Are there any alcohol liability issues? Particularly if anyone is underage. Have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks in any case.

Sounds like it's going to be a lot of fun.
posted by plonkee at 11:09 AM on December 6, 2010

take a look at this couple's backyard wedding:
posted by sabh at 11:17 AM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the 'what if it rains' is the biggest nagging problem we are having.

One of our guests, who'd never been to the house where we had ours, insisted that we had to have a tent in case of rain. It wasn't necessary, but eventually rather than argue with her any more, I told her that if it was that important to her, she should arrange it. So it was there. We went ahead and set the buffet table up under it, since it was there anyway.

It was definitely not large enough for the whole crowd, had it rained. It a pretty large tent, too. I think there were two 6' folding tables set up along the short side and well under the top, so maybe 15' or 20' wide, and then 2 or 3 times that in length. If it had rained and we'd been relying on that tent, we'd all have been elbow-to-elbow, deafened by rain on the canvas, and miserable. I think we may have had 50 or 60 people--yeah, I still don't know how many or who were at my wedding ;) People were very lax with RSVP's and the guest book, people dropped by and left throughout, and it was a loooong day; my memory is kind of hazy.

So if you decide to use a tent as backup, get much, much more tent space than you think you need. Can you check out public parks with multiple pavilions where you don't have to have a reservation, and move there in case of rain?
posted by galadriel at 11:20 AM on December 6, 2010

Yeaaaa, sounds fun but you're definitely going to have to hire out the food prep and clearence of finished plates and trash. I understand you're going for low key, but this is your wedding so splurge on that so you don't have to work your own wedding (nor will the guests, which a a borderline bridezilla idea no matter how low key the setting).

My uncle had his reception in his backyard and had a barbeque company bring equipment to roast a whole pig. It was delish.

You should definitely play music, lest you hear crickets in the background. Yopu don't have to play dance music or even have it load, but some atmospheric music will put things into celebration mode. you can make your playlist ahead of time to suit your tastes (I think a motown theme would be cool). I would also recommend having a mic set up so that the groomsmen and bridesmaids can do silly toasts and such. and parents can cry and wish you well, and all that stuff that makes it your wedding as opposed to 4th of July.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:21 AM on December 6, 2010

Yopu don't have to play dance music or even have it load,

ugh. You don't have to play dance music or even have it loud.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:22 AM on December 6, 2010

I would also recommend having a mic set up so that the groomsmen and bridesmaids can do silly toasts and such. and parents can cry and wish you well, and all that stuff that makes it your wedding as opposed to 4th of July.

No groomsmen and no bridesmaids. I would rather it have that 4th of July feel :)

We were toying with the hired whole roast pig idea...
posted by MayNicholas at 11:30 AM on December 6, 2010

I'd look for 1 or 2 people to hire to help set up, grill food, refresh condiments, salads, ice, beer, and clean up. Or deputize reliable family members; Jane, can you be GrillMistress from 1 - 2? Hank, 2 - 3, etc. Phil, would you be willing to make sure the beer cooler is stocked? Visit a party shop that rents stuff - chafing dishes, trays, etc. You may not need it, but looking at what they have will prompt planning ideas. Do something wedding-cake-ish. Have good music.

Nothing ruins a party like lack of food safety. Get several containers of hand sanitizer - 1 at the grill, 1 at or near the food table. Get a box of disposable food service gloves. You'll need a squirt jug of cleaning stuff, and more paper towels than you think. You may not have enough bathrooms. If you are on a septic tank, this will be a big potential problem, less so on city services.

I wanted to do potluck/barbecue when I got married years ago, and my family was aghast. Really wish I'd done it; you sound well-prepared to have a great time.
posted by theora55 at 12:11 PM on December 6, 2010

Both of our families fortunately LOVE the idea!!!!

We are on city sewer, so hopefully it can hold! I was wondering if we needed to rent a port a potty since we only have one bathroom, but I found somewhere on line that we should plan on one bathroom for 35 people. We will see how many invitees actually plan on coming. We may end up with only 24 guests (which is based on who I know will come and who I am guessing will not).
posted by MayNicholas at 12:17 PM on December 6, 2010

Also, fyi: in ontario, you aren't allowed to have liquor in parks unless you get a license. If this is the case where you live, you have plenty of time to get a license, and it would give you enough space to rent a tent large enough to fit everyone if it rained.
posted by Kololo at 12:21 PM on December 6, 2010

Most of the parks I have found state that alcohol is not permitted which is why we are trying to do the backyard thing.
posted by MayNicholas at 12:25 PM on December 6, 2010

Be careful about letting everybody randomly put things on/off of a single grill, in particular if you're doing chicken (and really in particular if it's marinated/drippy). The problem is that somebody may have something on the grill that is about ready to come off, and somebody else puts their drippy raw chicken on. The chicken drips on the other food, which promptly gets taken off (maybe using the same tongs...) and eaten. I'm about 99% sure that my emergency-room worthy case of food poisoning happened this way.

So cook in batches rather than just random on-and-off, and maybe have a single person managing the grill at any given time so that they can keep an eye on things.
posted by madmethods at 12:57 PM on December 6, 2010

Good point! I definitely had not thought about the food safety issues that a couple of you had brought up!
posted by MayNicholas at 1:00 PM on December 6, 2010

N-thing the "get a designated grill-person". Our neighborhood has a couple of blow-out parties a year and our experience has been that grill-it-yourself never works. Someone's going to take someone else's meat off early, drip goo over it, put cheese on it, whatever. One person either taking orders or cooking to a standard set of done-ness works way better. If you're uncomfortable with having one of your friends to this then hire someone. We did the casual-party-in-a-house thing for our reception and hired caterers. Just not worrying about it was worth every dime, we and our friends could just have fun without having to think about if the sterno was running out, did we have enough ice, etc.
And that whole food safety thing is very important. You don't want your guests remembering your wedding as the one where they all got food poisoning...
posted by Runes at 2:07 PM on December 6, 2010

A quick google search revealed this
posted by bravowhiskey at 2:25 PM on December 6, 2010

I was also going to mention food safety. If you're having salad with dressing, like potato salad or egg salad for example, then you can't have it sitting around at room temperature for hours. Hot sun will make this even worse, and it's a really common cause of food poisoning apparently. Cross contamination between raw and cooked meat is another issue, so make sure you have plenty of room in your fridge plus some kind of system. No meat sitting above the pavlova, that sort of thing. An extra fridge might be useful in generally actually, somewhere to put the drinks and desserts you won't be needing until later. Really, having some kind of system in mind is the key here. Things should be fine and safe on the day as long as you've given it some thought before hand.

I also really support the idea of hiring someone to do the cooking. This sounds like a fun, low key party but people will still expect something a little nicer for a wedding and having your guests do the cooking sounds too much like making them work. My company's Christmas party last year hired a bunch of people from a local primary school. The kids sang for us then the adults (parents and teachers I assume) manned the grills, and it was awesome.
posted by shelleycat at 2:27 PM on December 6, 2010

I just recently had my wedding reception in San Diego, CA. We had ours catered, including two staff people, food, plates, utensils, delivery, setup and cleanup, and it cost just under $1200 for over 60 people. No alcohol.

We had a non-traditional shower (co-ed, not just bridal shower), a few months prior where we just had a BBQ in a park for about 20 people and served burgers, hot dogs, and tofu dogs. I borrowed my best man's gas grill, which wasn't very large, and over the couple hours that the shower lasted, I never, ever was able to leave the grill, and was taking orders the whole time.
posted by LionIndex at 2:41 PM on December 6, 2010

This is not in Richmond, but only an hour away... On the Bear Creek Lake state park website, it says "State law permits alcohol use only in private areas (inside a cabin or camping unit) or in areas designated on permits issued by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control."

Virginia ABC offers a "banquet license" for situations exactly like yours, for $55.

At the state park, they have shelters for up to 40 people for $53 and you wouldn't need to rent chairs, tables, and a tent.
posted by Houstonian at 3:10 PM on December 6, 2010

We did a similar thing in Canada and the tent was the most expensive part. Tent plus tables and chairs and dishes were just over $1,000 and the food was around $1,000 for 50 people (including a tower of cupcakes instead of a cake). We actually roasted a whole lamb (my husband is muslim so no pigs here) and had roasted chickens as well. Then we added prepared salads and baked beans. People raved about the food even though it wasn't crazy fancy and the day was lovely. Music was via an ipod hooked into outdoor speakers.

The tent (30'X30') turned out to be a worthwhile investment - it poured rain and there was lots of room under it for everyone.
posted by scrute at 5:59 PM on December 6, 2010

Just chiming in with the 'get someone to do it for you' crowd. It's your wedding, your reception. Leaving things up to whoever might want to do it seems like fun, but on the off chance that no one wants to, who will step in? I love grilling and having people over for parties, but it's usually me cooking for several hours while everyone else stands around and drinks (which I don't mind, but I'm not doing it on my wedding day). For your budget, you might check with caterers that bring their own grill/grill wagon, or have food delivered from a BBQ place. Having a couple of professionals dedicated to cooking and serving will free everyone up to relax and have more fun. As a bonus, them being professionals means you'll also have some more reassurance with the food safety issue that was raised upthread.

I'd get a caterer, make sure it's just for the food, then load a couple coolers with ice and your favorite beverages. Picnic blankets, parasols, and you're set. Just, you know, don't mix lawn darts and alcohol. Nothing good ever comes from that.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:06 PM on December 6, 2010

Ok. So on the thought of going with the hiring someone to man the grill and refill various foods as needed- where do we hire such a person? We would not want to 'hire' any friend we know since we are only inviting family and it would just be weird.

Do catering companies hire out just people? Where do we look?
posted by MayNicholas at 6:35 PM on December 6, 2010

Are there any local colleges nearby? I bet you could find a willing student there. You could pin up flyers or even contact the office and see if they will send out an email.

Otherwise, I'd see if a family member could ask one of THEIR friends, someone you do not know. Then you avoid the awkward "only friend at the wedding, but being a servant" feeling, and yet you know the person will be trustworthy and probably friendly and well-wishing.

I definitely agree with your plan to grill on-site rather than buy elsewhere. It will save you tons of money and I really don't think it will be that stressful as long as you delegate tasks beforehand.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 4:05 PM on December 7, 2010

"We would not want to 'hire' any friend we know since we are only inviting family and it would just be weird. "

Just so you know, I would not find this weird at all if I was your friend. I'd be delighted to help out but not feel weird because it was family at the party and me working; I'd be flattered you thought of me and probably decline payment as long as I got to eat at the party. :) Mileage with your friends may vary.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:18 PM on December 7, 2010

All of our family is coming in from out of town, so their friends aren't an option... but my BFF's brother is an awesome cook, so maybe we can rope him in!

You all have given us plenty to keep in mind and have helped immensely with starting the layout for our party! THANK YOU :)
posted by MayNicholas at 5:38 PM on December 7, 2010

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