For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of wedding planning was deciding on food. I love to eat, I love to cook, I love to feed people. Mr. Twistie and I were bound and determined that nobody but nobody was going home hungry from our reception.
On the other hand, when one of my cousins got married, my aunt was convinced one single, solitary salmon was going to feed all two hundred people coming to the wedding. If my grandmother and great aunt hadn’t stepped in bringing a brigade of church ladies with them, goodness alone knows how many would have starved that fateful day.
I feel very sure nobody here wants to host a reception that peters out due to famished guests making a run for the nearest fast food option. I feel equally sure nobody here wants to offer up something that half their guest list can’t eat. And of course due consideration must be paid to budget concerns, family or ethnic traditions, your own food morals, and availability of ingredients.
Sound complex? Don’t panic. This is mostly a matter of common sense intersecting with taste and a touch of consideration for your guests. You do this every time you invite someone over for dinner. This is just putting the same principles to work on a larger scale.
1) Think about the overall feel and level of formality of the event. Whether your wedding reception is a formal sit-down dinner, a chic cocktail party, a down-home hoedown, a Victorian picnic, or a 50′s sock hop, there’s a kind of food that’s already appropriate. Ignore any sort of food that doesn’t fit. After all, you probably wouldn’t have cheeseburger sliders at a formal sit-down meal and there’s no point in serving filet mignon and asparagus at a sock hop. But those cheeseburgers would be great at the sock hop or even a cocktail party.
2) Consider how much money you have to spend, and everything you have to spend it on. Remember that your catering budget needs to cover not only the food, but the plates, cutlery, linens, and service as well. Divide your total budget by the number of people you’re feeding (don’t forget yourself and the rest of the wedding party!) and you’ll know how much you have to spend per person…and don’t forget that includes all those things I was talking about earlier.
If you’re working with a caterer, don’t forget to ask if the price per head rate includes those plates and forks and tablecloths, or if they’re separate charges. Also, be sure to discuss gratuities before you sign on the dotted line.
If you’re self catering, don’t forget to budget for these items before you set your menu in stone.
3) Consider the needs of your guests. I knew going in that my MOH had a potentially lethal peanut allergy, there were half a dozen vegetarians and several guests who occasionally flirted with vegetarianism, several guests who kept at least moderately kosher, one who was allergic to chocolate, a couple (including myself and a newly recovering alcoholic) who were teetotal…there were a number of issues to keep in mind. Chances are you’ll have a few, too. Make sure there are options for those who need them.
4) Be aware of what food facilities you have available. If you’re holding your reception in a banquet hall, chances are they have everything you could ever want or need in terms of food preparation and serving options. You can relax on this point. On the other hand, there are people like me who get married out in the woods where all that’s provided is tables. You may be holding your reception at home or in a park or at a clubhouse. Wherever you’re going to be, make sure you know what’s available to work with before you set your menu.
If you’ve got no oven, don’t pick foods that will require one on site. If you have nothing but a small barbeque pit to work with, plan your menu around that. In my case, since there were no prep facilities or cooking options on site of any kind, I went with picnic foods that didn’t need on site cooking and could be kept plenty cool with liberal use of bags of ice from the grocery store.
Don’t fight your facilities. Use them wisely.
5) Don’t make it difficult on your guests. If you’re having a cocktail reception or a cocktail hour in your reception, don’t pass appetizers that take two hands to eat. If you’re serving something your guests are going to be unfamiliar with, make sure there’s an explanation handy, whether it’s a printed card or a person to tell them what it is.
6) Don’t forget what you like and believe in. If you’re a vegetarian and it’s important to you not to serve meat, then don’t. If you keep kosher, your guests can do the same for one meal. If you don’t drink, whether for religious reasons, because of alcoholism, or simply because you’re concerned about legal liabilities if someone insists on driving home after one too many glasses of champagne, you don’t have to serve it. Don’t make a big deal out of it, but don’t apologize, either. This is your wedding. It should reflect both your tastes and your beliefs.
Anyone who needs red meat, pork, shellfish, or a drink can have one later. Nobody will die from lack of steak or lack of booze in one meal.
7) If you can’t afford enough of something for everyone to have some, don’t serve it. I will never forget the wedding I attended where there was a tiny dish of artichoke hearts on the buffet. I love artichoke hearts, so I took some, as in more than one. After all, there were probably about fifteen in the bowl and about sixty people eating, so I assumed someone would top it up as they were eaten. Imagine my mortification when I realized that bowl of fifteen artichoke heats was supposed to last all sixty of us the whole afternoon! Nobody should be embarrassed to eat a treat at a party. Nobody should be forced to watch others eat their favorite treat while being unable to get even a bite.
8) You eat what your guests eat. I’ve seen a few caterers and brides on television suggest that the bridal party – or even just the bride and groom – get a more expensive meal that is not available to anyone else. Do not take a leaf from this book. How rude would it be to eat surf and turf while your guests are chowing down on rubber chicken? If you don’t want to eat it, chances are a lot of your guests don’t want to eat it, either.
9) Everything tastes better in a happy atmosphere. So you’re not serving the gourmet meal of your dreams for your wedding because you can’t afford it. That’s a bummer, but if you can find a way to be content with what you have, and concentrate on the joy of the occasion and the good company of your guests, you and they will enjoy the meal more than if you allow yourself to fixate on the meal you’d dreamed of.
10) Relax. Have fun with this. Picking a wedding meal requires some consideration, but as long as you’re thoughtful of your guests needs, and keep your budget in mind, you’ll do just fine.