One of the thornier issues that comes up when planning a wedding is the menu. No matter what you do, someone is going to be unhappy with what you choose to serve. This only becomes more true if you are planning not to serve either or both of two popular items: alcohol and meat.
For some reason, there are a great many people who cannot wrap their heads around the concept that meat is not necessary in every meal or that it’s possible to have a good time without an alcoholic drink. The fact is it’s perfectly possible to have not only a delicious but a completely satisfying meal sans meat and it’s more than possible to have a blast without a glass of bubbly.
Chances are, though, that at least one or two people on your guest list would be skeptical of my claims in this regard.
Of course, there are a host of reasons for choosing to go meat and/or alcohol-free at your reception. Your (or the other family’s) religious beliefs may include abstinance from alcohol. You and your intended may practice vegetarianism or veganism for ethical or health reasons. You may find that cutting meat or alcohol allows you to afford to invite another twenty people to your wedding. Someone close to you may be an active or a newly recovering alcoholic whom you don’t wish to put in temptation’s way. Whatever your reasons, whether moral, budgetary, or simple preference, they aren’t the issue here. You are free to make the decision that works best for you. The issue is how to make your guests comfortable with your decision once it is made.
One way to go about it is to hold the sort of reception where few if any people would expect alcohol or meat. Even the most die-hard carnivore or the most enthusiastic drinker will fail to notice anything ‘missing’ if they go to a dessert and coffee reception at which only dessert and coffee are served. Put out a variety of cakes and pastries, a couple less sweet snacks like nuts or cheese and crackers, an urn of coffee, and a festive punch.
Of course, the standard cake and coffee reception isn’t expected to last very long. Guests arrive, wish the bride and groom well, have a slice of cake and a cup of Joe, and head off again. If you want a reception that lasts longer than an hour or so, this isn’t the tack to take.
If you’re going to serve a full meal, whether sit down or buffet, then you’ll need to consider how to keep to your guests who are unused to celebrating sans meat and/or alcohol satisfied while not compromising your position.
My first piece of advice is that you don’t pretend. Don’t serve a soy meat substitute and expect the meat eaters to be fooled because you call it chicken or beef. Don’t serve drinks with standard cocktail names and expect people not to notice the lack of kick. If you say you’re serving up mimosas, trust me, people will quickly recognize that you’ve used ginger ale instead of champagne. This just points huge neon signs at the ‘missing’ ingrediant and makes people cranky.
What to do instead?
For a meatless meal, you might consider serving foods that meat eaters often eat that they don’t necessarily think of as vegetarian. For instance, most of us have eaten a hearty lasagna that happens to be meatless without really thinking ‘I have just had a vegetarian meal.’ Vegetable pot pies or baked beans can also be satisfying even to someone who is expecting to eat meat. What scares a lot of meat-eaters most about vegetarian fare is that they can’t imagine it being hearty and filling. They get it in their heads that vegetarian food is all very light salads and tiny, raw things. Don’t ask me why this is so, but it’s an attitude I’ve run across over and over. So if you choose something filling enough, some of the carnivores will mentally assume there was meat because they got full. Others will be pleasantly surprised that they don’t feel the need to stop for a hamburger on the way home. And some of us already know that ‘vegetarian’ isn’t code for ‘desperately hungry all the time.’
Have something fun related to the drinks or food you do choose to serve. I’ve heard of people having coffee bars at receptions, where guests can order up the caffeinated fun of their choice. Or you might set up an ice cream sundae station for dessert where people can make their own banana splits and hot fudge sundaes. People playing with ice cream and gooey toppings don’t have time to feel deprived over a lack of champagne or steak.
Good entertainment goes a long way toward assuaging the feelings of those who didn’t think they could enjoy a party without meat or alcohol. So get a really great band or amazing DJ who will keep people on the dance floor all night long. Or have something really unexpected like a magic show, a photo booth, a performance by a belly dancing troupe or bagpipe band, or have someone come to give lessons in salsa dancing. Pick something that has meaning for you, of course, but give your guests something to remember.
Most of all, interact with your guests. Talk to them. Dance with them. Let them know how important they are to you. You have your whole honeymoon to be alone with your new spouse. Take the first few hours of your marriage to celebrate with your family, your friends, the people who make up your community.
If you give a really great party, most people won’t even notice that they didn’t have any alcohol or meat at it.