The wedding, or formal official breakfast, is a stereotyped affair, cast in the moulds of the confectioner and restaurateur. It is little else than the fashionable ball supper, lighted up by day instead of gas light, and is composed, like it, of stewed oysters, galantines, mayonnaise of fowl, cold game, ices, pyramids, and all the knickknackeries of confectionery.
from: “The Bazar Book of Decorum.
The care of the Person, Manners, Etiquette, and Ceremonials.” 1873
These days I expect that few of us will be serving stewed oysters, mayonnaise of fowl or large amounts of cold game, but it’s still necessary to feed your wedding guests something. It may be as simple as cake and punch or it may be an entire roast pig. More likely, you’ll want to choose something in between these extremes.
You may have guests with particular dietary needs. Maybe your Uncle Frank is diabetic, and little cousin Sally is violently allergic to peanuts and citrus. Your college roommate may be vegan while the Best Man considers no meal complete without steak. Then there’s your brother’s hatred of all things seafood and your bridesmaid’s boyfriend who has taken a strong stance against any food that is orange in color. Don’t laugh. While the names and relations have been changed to protect my sanity, I’ve known people with every one of these problems or attitudes, and most of them were at my wedding.<>How to pick a meal that will please your guests without breaking the budget? Here are a few thoughts.
Be clear with your caterer about how much you have to spend. A good caterer is used to working with brides who have very little to spend as well as those who aren’t the least strapped for cash. In fact, your caterer may have some very creative ideas for feeding people on a budget. Good communication will help you come up with a workable plan.
Accept that someone won’t be happy. If you’ve got an extended family of extremely picky eaters, you won’t please them all. You can, however, provide food that will satisfy most of your guest list. That’s good enough.
Offer as much variety as you can. Buffets and multiple entree choices are helpful in navigating this particular minefield. Ideally, it’s great if you can offer one red meat choice, one poultry or seafood choice, and one vegetarian choice. Everyone ought to be able to find something to eat if you’ve got that much to choose from. If you can’t do that, then try to pick either a red meat or poultry/seafood choice and a vegetarian option. Oh, and if you’re vegetarian, well, it won’t kill anyone to not eat meat for one meal.
Don’t try to take special orders. Some caterers may have no problem with putting together a couple very special plates for guests with very special needs, but they have neither the time nor the resources to give every single person a completely custom meal. Don’t offer to change the meal to please one picky person. After all, while it’s your job to provide some refreshment, it’s also the guest’s job to be polite about those efforts.
Consider a buffet set up instead of set meals. If the guests can choose for themselves whether they want to try a particular vegetable or whether they want meat at all, chances are you’ll hear less complaints and more praise. After all, if they don’t like what ended up on their plates, they have nobody to blame but themselves for putting it there.
Consider self-catering. If your site allows it, and if you know some good cooks, this is one way of cutting costs that can really work. I’m not talking about making the wedding a potluck, but rather doing the cooking yourself, or setting up a small group to divide the cooking chores. You won’t be paying for the wages of the caterer, the waitstaff, etc. There is, however, a significant trade-off. You’ll have to decide the menu, ask for any help you need in cooking it, and get someone to set up the food, quite possibly missing the ceremony to do so. You’ll also need to remember all those things that caterers usually remember for you, such as plates, napkins, silverware, serving utensils, etc. This is definitely not a perfect solution for every bride, but it is a workable plan for some. It worked quite well for me, as well as for several other brides I’ve known.