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Potluck Wedding

I have been invited to a wedding in July. I asked the bride where she is registered and she said that she isn't. She said that there will be a box for money at the event, but that if people want to bring food, she'd love that. I happen to bake, and offered to make her some fairytale cupcakes to match her theme. The only thing I realize now is - how many do I have to make?? I was expecting to make 3 dozen but she said she is expecting approximately 60 guests. Do I need to make 70 cupcakes? 60? What's the etiquette here? I will be providing a display stand for them so I have to decide now how big to make it to hold all the cupcakes. Also, I have to order the wafer paper butterflies for them and need to know how many to buy.


Oh - more details about the wedding - there will be food catered but it is not at a hall. it is at a lodge by a lake, and the invitation said that you can swim if you like and there are hiking trails near by. So it's probably outdoorsy. Dress code is "nice party," not upscale wedding. The wedding cake will be shaped like a fairytale castle and be made by her mother and another guest.


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  1. you don't need to make 70 cupcakes, after all there will already be a wedding cake, and presumably other desserts brought to the potuck as well. folks won't have 1 of each type of dessert, and some folks will probably split a cupcake with their date or a friend.

    i'd just go with your original plan of a few dozen cupcakes, make the presentation as pretty as possible and get a few good photos of your generous and tasty gift to the happy couple. and have a good time at the party. the only other thing i'd say is to make sure that your dessert contribution is *not* bigger/prettier/more elaborate than the cake made by the bride's mother-- same as you would never dress in a way that outshines the bride herself ;-)

    1. This is just me personally; I would feel upset if I did not bring enough for all (she might have heard I'll make cupcakes and you may have said I'll make "some" cupcakes). I would also have included in that feeling, how well I all ready knew her, a family member I'll see at every holiday if not more, or someone on lesser known level.

      You say Potluck, I heard, loosely organized. Lodge at lake = destination wedding or gathering at family camp? Box for money at the wedding or , a basket holder for envelopes, to me sounds toss cash, vs. elegant gifting. But then I wouldn't hike in "nice party" clothes either.
      Too many variables, coin toss. I'd still live easier with making enough for all than seeing it be not enough. YMMV.

      1. Thanks so much for all your comments. I am torn in the same ways - if I decide to give these cupcakes in complete lieu of another gift, then I need to make more. If I make too few and they disappear really quickly it'll seem lame. If I make them and no one eats them because of the wedding cake or other stuff, it'll be a waste of cupcakes.

        I don't know how to avoid the "outdoing the cake" thing. I have no way of knowing how good they will be at making the cake, whether they are doing some cheesy molded cake or what. I am making simple lemon cupcakes with butterflies and dragées in soft silver liners. The stand is made from foam cake dummies and is 3-4 tiered (depending on how many cupcakes!!). it will be covered in white lace or some similar elegant fabric where the cupcakes sit and silver ribbon on the smaller parts and edges. It will be simple and elegant. They will look exactly as these (http://tinyurl.com/tygresscupcake) do but with matte silver wrappers. A few extra butterflies may be "glued" to the cake stand on the edges if I have a few extras and it looks cool.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Tygress

          make mini-cupcakes. that way your couple dozen goes farther. And they're easier to give away afterwards.
          try not to visually outshine the mum's cake. ask if necessary, and tone down presentation.

          1. re: Chowrin

            That is a GREAT idea. Mini cupcakes might work pretty well. I would feel like I contributed, and that they wouldn't outshine the cake or fill up the guests bellies with more cake!

            1. re: Tygress

              another thing: exotic is good. lavender flavored, rose flavored, rosemary flavored, pepper flavored -- something that more says "that's different." The less like the other cake you look -- without being as clearly "desserty" the better.

              in other words... cherries, chocolate, not so good. *looks up* oh, maybe a more lemony lemon? less sweet?

              1. re: Chowrin

                For someone else's wedding, I'd completely agree with you. I just last month made a friend some rose flavored macarons for art gallery opening on women and gender roles and they were super well-received. But for this wedding, the bride requested lemon or coconut. So that's what I'm going with. I think along with the fairy tale thing, delicate lemon with a hint of vanilla (I use real beans in my baking, and juice and zest I've made myself) will go over just fine. I may experiment with meyer lemons, never played with them before and I just saw them at Whole Foods.

                1. re: Tygress

                  my mouth is watering - I love lemon desserts!! mind sharing the recipe?

                  1. re: joe777cool

                    You betcha. I will be testing various recipes in the next 2 months. I will let you know what the recipe is when it is done. Please note - it will be a heat-friendly July outdoors non-melting cupcake recipe. Which means that while ordinarily I am a purist with my frosting and believe that natural ingredients are best, there may be weird things in it like Coolwhip or Crisco to keep it stabilized.

              2. re: Tygress

                Any chance you could place them in a cellophane bag and tie with a ribbon? I love the idea of minicakes and if you present in the crystal bags, they will not look like a cake but rather a Wedding Favor. And I think the ribbons would really add to the fairytale theme.

                1. re: Quine

                  Have you ever tried to bag up and tie an iced cupcake? Smudge, smudge, shudder, shudder.

                  1. re: rabaja

                    I won't be turning them into party favors - it seems a little presumptuous of me. The cupcakes will be food to be eaten at the party not something to take home. If I were going to turn them into favors I'd have to get little cupcake boxes and that expense is too much, as well. They run about $0.50 to $1 a box if I only buy 30 and that's not the point of bringing food to the wedding.

          2. You should ask the bride! Nothing wrong with that, and she seems like a pretty relaxed person, given the wedding she's planning.

            1. Honestly, I do not think the bride will feel put off by the cupcakes being presented beautifully as pictured. She does not seem the type that would consider the cupcakes competition with the cake. The wedding seems fairly unconventional to begin with (money box, asking guests to provide food, hikes and swimming). Rather than OP stress about how to tone down the cupcakes, I would prepare and present them to my level of comfort. As far as the number of cupcakes to take do what you were originally planning on doing and make 3 dozens. You are not providing "the" wedding cake but rather one of a buffet of dessert items for the potluck.

              1. I went to a wedding reception at a Portuguese social hall and though the meal was catered and there was a cake, many people brought homemade desserts which were all laid out on a long table. It was wonderful and a custom that was traditional for their culture. But if you're concerned, I say the minis would be your best bet...and don't worry so much.:)

                1. I'd probably make one or two dozen. I hate ending up with a ton of food at the end of potlucks.

                  1. Will you have a challenge with the heat? Frosting meltdown? Do you have that covered? Is this wedding in the summer in a hot climate? Outdoors with sugar (insects) can sometimes happen. Tent? Indoor facility? Issue or no issue? Just thinking out loud.

                    The mini cupcake suggestion sounded really good to me...making more than enough minis would be my safety net.

                    Oh and Jenna, given that you're also a guest at the wedding it is really nice of you to provide these treats.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: HillJ

                      I will be experimenting with the heat issues - I think I will see what happens when I freeze them in advance and let them thaw. I have had melting issues in the past. I have asked the bride about the situation there - I would have no problem showing up in advance to store them in a fridge there if there is one while the actual wedding goes on. I will be seeing the bride in a week or two and we'll talk about it all then.

                      1. re: Tygress

                        the freezing & thawing method can sometimes lead to soggy cupcakes...but if you can't work something out to store them at the venue, maybe you could find a way to keep them in a cooler until it's time to set out the display - that would take care of potential temperature and insect issues.

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          Or bring the baked mini cupcakes san icing to the site then frost them with a prepared piping bag when you get there.

                          1. re: HillJ

                            Sans icing means I need 30 minutes or so to ice and decorate 36 cupcakes at the event. I think that might be more trouble than its worth. Since I will be using dragees on the cupcakes, generally they don't stick unless individually pressed into the fresh icing with a tweezer. (Oh, the things we do for beautiful food.) I don't know what kind of prep area there will be and I would rather be enjoying the wedding than fretting about when and where I'm going to ice my cupcakes.

                            It was a good idea, I had thought of it myself as a way to avoid these issues but I think it is not feasible. :(

                            1. re: Tygress

                              I forgot about the decorations you had planned. I just looked at the Etsy link now. I completely agree w/you....unless the heat is an issue...but you said you were doing a practice run. Sounds like you have it together for the cupcakes. Have fun!

                    2. how about making mini-cupcakes? that way every guest will be able to have one if they want to, and those who don't want to overdo it on the sweets won't necessarily have to feel like they need to choose *either* a cupcake or a piece of wedding cake...because while tradition dictates that you really should at least have a bite of the cake, your homemade treats are bound to be better :)

                      i think it's a lovely gesture on your part...and having grown up in a Jewish family i wasn't the least bit put off by your mention of the box for financial gifts - no wedding or bar/bat mitzvah would be complete without a place to stash all those bonds & checks!

                      ETA: doh! didn't read all the replies before making my suggestion - i see minis were already discussed...so i say +1 on that idea.

                      1. I know that people bring envelope with money. Never heard of a couple only accepting money.

                        Your are in a though situation. Bring too little and you appear cheep. Bring too many and you would have spent a great deal of time and effort only to wind up with a bunch of leftovers.

                        All that being said it sounds like a fun event. The couple wanting their friends to come out and relax and giving them a whole bunch of options to do so. One of the best wedding I attended was a casual affair with home made food. The tacky ones I'd like to forget have been the overly orchestrated catered events.

                        Good luck with the baking whatever you decide. Hope you have a good time at the event.

                        1. The idea of potluck is each person gets a bit of what the others bring, not that any one person eats one whole serving of anything. Make the mini cupcakes and you don't have to put a butterfly on top of each one, although the Etsy link shows they are sold as a pack of 60.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Cathy

                            I think I'm going to make the 3 dozen. I will still give them a small gift otherwise - money or something I know they can use. But you're right - not everyone needs to eat them!

                            The etsy poster will make special pack for me of the butterflies in a smaller group and in the colors I want. :)

                          2. Well, I've been to a potluck mountain wedding before and loved it. We are a casual bunch and we live in the dirt, mostly :) We all brought a savory dish and my guy and I also brought a dessert. The bride made three pies, there was a real wedding cake and the groom and his family provided lobster shipped in overnight from Maryland, for a hometown kind of feel--he is from MD. Wee had a great time, wore bibs, made a mess and it was really fun.

                            A note on outdoorsy weddings: They provided quite a few of those bug-off sprays and they were very well used!

                            Since it will be catered and since there will be a "fancy" cake, I think your cupcakes will be perfect either way, whether you make a ton or a smaller amount. Frankly, I'd just ask the bride. Then, you'll know and won't have to guess. No one at the potluck wedding we went to was expected to bring an amount of food to feed everyone, we all were just asked to bring a potluck dish. There was plenty of food!

                            This is going to sound dorky but...what about trimming the edge of one of the cupcake stands like a tiara? Maybe just a bit of glittery trim that goes most of the way around a tier and also goes up in the center. I mean, a fairy tale and a castle ought to have a little tiara!

                            Sounds interesting with the swimming and hiking! Sometimes, I think hosts like to make sure everyone knows about the area and possible activities in advance. That way, no one gets there and wishes they had brought their swim suits.

                            I'm not sure I'd swim but I might tromp off on a hike with a change of shoes, especially if the wedding party was going.

                            Sounds like, from the original post, that the box for money is optional and balances out if you bring food. I like that idea as it keeps those who can't afford to give money or large gifts from feeling like they haven't given. Plus, if the couple have counted their appliances and house hold items and found they don't really need anything else, money is so much easier and then it might help them cover the cost of the wedding and might give them a nest-egg starter.

                            Sounds like fun! I hope it turns out well.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                              I LOVE the tiara idea!!!! Love. I'm going to see if I can do it cheaply and still nicely. She'll flip. The top layer would make an excellent tiara.

                              1. re: Tygress

                                I'm glad you liked that idea! I almost didn't mention it but I figured, if she is having a fairy princess theme, then she likes tiaras so, why not? I'll bet you could do it really cheaply, like with that silver tinsel/wire that you can use to make headbands for princess costumes. I'll bet they have something like that at a craft store or party supply.

                                1. re: MinkeyMonkey

                                  I'm going to look for a tiara that is the same diameter as the top layer that is elegant and simple and see how that will work. It'd be super cool.

                                  1. re: Tygress

                                    I always buy my tiaras at Toys-R-Us or a party supply store.

                              2. re: MinkeyMonkey

                                My wedding reception (not the wedding; we eloped and had the reception several months later:-) was at a hotsprings resort. More than one person ended up soaking with bottles of champagne nearby....they had been told they could bring bathing suits if they wished to indulge that way. I wanted to join them; but hotsprings, champagne, and pregnancy don't mix:-)

                                But back to food/potluck weddings....I have been to two of them; both were young couples who just couldn't afford to go "all out" yet wanted to have their friends with them to celebrate (and in both cases they had many friends....I'd say both weddings had upward of a hundred people in attendance). In both cases there was a cake and drinks provided. The one couple had several kegs of a local brew and as a gift her mom had beer glasses made with the couples' names engraved...we still have that glass years later! Also, in both cases people brought food, and some deserts, but no one brought enough of one dish for everyone. Still, there was plenty of food and both occasions were memorable.

                                I'd say bring what you can afford and don't worry about it. The bride and groom would rather have you there empty-handed than not there at all. Trust me.

                              3. Folks, we're removed some posts from this discussion, as we're really not the best place to discuss wedding etiquette and propriety.

                                Please keep the discussions focused on suggestions on what and how much to prepare for a potluck wedding. If you don't agree with the concept of a potluck wedding at all, we're going to ask you to give this discussion a pass. Thanks!

                                1. If I were in your shoes, I'd first ask the bride if she has a sense of what other desserts are in the works...if it sounds like there will be lots of other options (and really, if a only a few people bake, that's enough for 60 people), you can make only a few dozen cupcakes because there will be plenty of other sweets. If she's not sure/or if no one else will be bringing dessert, I would make enough for everyone as my gift to the happy couple.

                                  As far as packaging, you can buy those small chinese food containers (they are like $12 for 100) at smart and final which can perfectly transport individual leftover cupcakes in case there are too many. I also hate wasting food, so often i over-bake for events and provide wax paper (for cookies/bars) or boxes for leftovers.

                                  1. y'know in this day and age of free websites via blogspot and wordpress and the such, a potluck registry wouldn't be a bad idea for a bridesmaid or groomsman to set up and administer to reduce duplication.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: hill food

                                      Great idea! Evite already makes it easy, and I'm pretty sure some of the wedding website services could handle it also.

                                    2. Just to update - the bride had a completely different idea than me or everyone else. When I asked her how many cupcakes she wanted, she said 150 - 2 for everyone. Now, I am not a professional baker, I have a 30" oven and a standard refrigerator. I can't bake, store, and transport 12.5 dozen cupcakes. So I told her I will make 72 or thereabouts. It just goes to show that what one person thinks is not necessarily what another person thinks.

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: Tygress

                                        Holy cupcake, Jenna! That's a horse of a different color, now isn't it. You're back to your original ? and cupcake count!

                                        Even 72 cakes given the cost, your cupcake decoration order, transport and storage challenges is asking alot of one guest. You need a baking buddy. Is there anyone else attending the wedding who also enjoys baking that you call on?

                                        eta: Given the confirmation on qty, how about making mini cupcakes?

                                        1. re: HillJ

                                          Wow... 150 cupcakes? That is gutsy. If I may ask, what is the bride's relation to you? I'd do that for my sister, but that's about it. Anyone else would get a "Sorry, I can't handle such a request." and a gift card dropped in their money box.
                                          In this case 72 is still a lot, but much more reasonable to bake and transport. Instead of the paper butterflies (which seem a little pricey) how about cutting small butterflies or flowers out of colored fondant or gum paste?

                                          1. re: HillJ

                                            Responding to all the messages - yes, I'm back to my original 72. This is a gift, so if I were only making a few she'd be getting a real gift, too. This being what it is will be the only gift she's getting from me. Although she can keep the custom cupcake stand I make for her. I was going to recycle one I had made for myself which fit the 36 cupcakes, but now I have to make it bigger and it'll be easier to just let her have it.

                                            I've decided not to go mini. I don't have the pans, I think the butterflies look nicer big, etc.

                                            Who is she? A friend of mine from school. She's not my best friend, she's not even a super awesome friend, but I love baking and I'm partly doing this because I want to see if I can do it. My boyfriend has been putting it in my ear that I should make cupcakes for people semi-professionally. I know I'm better than the other person who does that locally... but not better than the shop around the corner that does. But they don't do custom really well. If I can pull this off, I'm hoping someone at the wedding may decide to hire me for their wedding. Or I will learn that I don't want to make 72 cupcakes for a wedding ever again.

                                            I will be borrowing a second mixer to make two batches of buttercream at once. I'll make them all the day before. The wedding is a Sunday, so I'll spend all of Saturday to do it. For the decorating, I will have a friend help with the putting of all the little dragees on. That's the biggest and most time consuming part of the whole thing.

                                            Thanks to everyone for their help. :) I will report back on the final recipe, the problems that occur between now and then, and how many get eaten at the wedding!

                                            1. re: Tygress

                                              I admire your follow through and thank you for adding your interest in taking the baking to a professional level because saying so adds an additional element to your post. Turning this experience and all of its surprises so far into an educational opportunity is a great perspective. If you do have serious aspirations to be a pro baker have you considered interning/apprenticing for a shop you admire most. I'm sure you realize having the baking skills is just the beginning!

                                              Jenna, good luck, have fun and I look forward to hearing how the entire potlock wedding comes together.

                                              1. re: Tygress

                                                hey! i know it's exciting right now, but i have just a few tips for folks dipping their toes into the catering pool-- you don't have to take any advice from me but::: don't forget to 1) accurately keep track of the time you and any helpers spend on this project, including shopping, ordering, transporting, pre-and-post cleaning, and storage of leftover decorations and ingredients (even if your mom or your friend says they don't mind and it's "fun"-- it's still someone's time, and that person may not always be around, unless you're paying them) 2) accurately keep track of the cost of ingredients and add-ons such as those dragees and butterflies, the components of the tiara cake stand, as well as cupcake liners and main ingredients. if you use 1/2 a pound of butter or 1/2 a #5 sack of flour, figure the cost at 1/2 of the whole item, don't rationalize that the cost of that ingredient "doesn't count" because you'll use the rest for something else. when in doubt (did i start with two bottles of silver dragees, or three?) round up rather than down. 3) take lots of pretty pictures! get others to take pretty pictures! get pics w the smiling bride w cupcakes, and pics of you with the cupcakes, and pics of the decorated table w the cupcakes on their tiara stand. . . you get the picture. collect feedback, including the effusive comments on the thank you card the bride will doubtless send you, praising your work.

                                                #3 will help you market your product. #1 & #2 will help you establish how you should be pricing your product and plan future events. no matter how much you honestly enjoy this work, as you get further into it there will be obligations and setbacks and bad days, and it's important that you don't start off selling yourself short. good luck, bon voyage :)

                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                  Total ALL costs. that includes gas (you'll be able to amortize it better later, but better to know it now), electricity, the accountant (if you're doing anything at home, that means small business, which means PITA).

                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                    Thank you all for all the ideas. I think it's a great idea, I tend to forget things like "oh, I need a glue gun now," as being part of the cost of a project. I will keep a total of all the costs because I'm curious - how much do my cupcakes cost? How much time do they really take? And yes, lotsa pictures! :)

                                                  2. re: Tygress

                                                    I think you're direction is a good one. Ridiculous that the bride wanted twice the number of cupcakes than people attending. It's a big job and you should be proud of yourself.

                                                    I've catered 4 weddings for friends who wanted to save money and do it with me organizing and planning the food with friends and the bride helping. It was a HUGE job - but went well every time. We did all the savory stuff - they each had a cake and that was enough. After each one I said to myself that I would never do it again. Ha!

                                                2. re: Tygress

                                                  Yikes!! What is she planning to do with these cupcakes? Are they favors? Does she realize that no one at a wedding would even eat two cupcakes.... well, I guess some would! I'd say I'm sorry, I'm not a caterer and keep my original offer of a few dozen.

                                                  Edit: For kicks, is one person assigned to bring enough BBQ for 150?

                                                  1. re: Tygress

                                                    It certainly is not what one- or anyone- thought, especially regarding the definition of "potluck".


                                                    1. re: Tygress

                                                      I hope you make the tiny ones a couple of people recommended! And, maybe the butterflies could be on a few, near the edges of the tiers rather than on all cupcakes, that might make it easier to manage. Oh, and some of the cupcakes, near the edges, can have the fancier silvery paper bottoms and some can just be the plain pastel papers, that might make it less pricey.

                                                      Still, should be fun!

                                                      I doubt anyone would eat two if they are already having cake but, ahem, I probably could easily eat two full-sized cupcakes...yep, easily. I'd save up room for the occasion!

                                                    2. 2 for each wedding attendee and 2 for each person that posts on this thread? Id start Friday afternoon if I were you!

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: joe777cool

                                                        You mean this Friday? I agree. :)

                                                      2. Though remember, as a gift, you decide what togive. Make what you want and just let her know that's what you will be bringing. You are not a caterer and she did not ask you to be one...it sounds to me like you offered. Then again, I could have gotten it all wrong.