Selecting your Wedding Menu
There are a few pillars of an amazing wedding day, and food service is definitely one of them. I can literally talk food all day long. Here are some tips on selecting your wedding menu and making sure it’s not only personal but a truly awesome experience for you and your guests.
Considering we are still fighting the pandemic, some perspectives may change on how food is served to your guests in the future. BUT, in the hopes that the vaccines will help us get back to normal, I’m going to pretend like it’s not a thing for the purposes of this article. (Manifesting those goals over here!)
CHOOSING SERVICE STYLES
As with everything else we do, we start with the foundation first before making any decisions. When you determine your goals for the overall event first, it will make these choices a lot easier. You’re going to need to answer these questions:
- What time of day your wedding is going to be (morning, early afternoon, etc.)?
- What service style are you interested in and how do you want the event to feel (casual vs. traditional vs. something unexpected and different)?
- How much time do you have? (4 hours including cocktails?, 5 hours? more?)
The answers to these questions will help you determine a consistent event menu. For instance, if you are for sure having a morning wedding, then a brunch menu would be a better choice. Also, if you want an elegant black tie event atmosphere, you should consider Plated Dinner Service over a Stationed Cocktail-style dinner service. And lastly, If you are limited to a 3-4 hour reception with no afterparty, you may need to consider stations or a 3-course plated dinner instead of 4 courses to makeup time for dancing.
To get our clients going, we start with a basic outline and structure of the menu to include each segment of the event: Cocktail Hour, Dinner, Party & Afterparty. This acts as our guide through selection and requests.
Above are a couple of examples with Plated verses a Cocktail Style Dinner service. Now there are other menu outline options, these are just the most popular that we see. Some of this will change based on the time of day, location, and service options.
Cocktail Hours are the first step in food service, and often, it’s our clients’ favorite part! Service styles vary greatly depending on where you’re from. For instance, Northeastern weddings tend to have large food displays and tons of options for cocktail hour, where Southeastern weddings typically focus in on offering several types of Passed Hors D’oeuvres. Either way, you want to have at least a minimum of 3-5 hors d’oeuvres per person.
After you determine the outline of your cocktail hour, pause on this one and circle back to it AFTER you’ve decided on your dinner selections. The reason for this is because you want to make sure you have a well rounded menu with variety. For instance, if you decide on a beef tenderloin dinner station, you’ll want to avoid the beef tenderloin on crostini as an hors d’oeuvres choice and maybe go with a mini crab cake instead. Circling back to these selections after you decide on entrees will make the process a little smoother for you. When you do start selecting, I usually recommend at least having a seafood, a protein, and a vegetarian or gluten free option and then add variations from there.
Lastly, as you are selecting, walk in your guests shoes. Are the hors d’oeuvres easy to eat while standing with a wine glass in your hand? Do you need a fork and plate to eat it? Are there any light, gluten free or vegetarian options? Take a second to envision yourself with that food and a drink in your hand at the cocktail hour, and determine if you need to make any adjustments.
Dinner Service for weddings is most frequently served as a Plated Dinner, a Buffet, or a Cocktail Style Stationed dinner. There are also some other great options starting to bud up in popularity as well such as Family Style service (a cross between plated and stations that brings large platters tableside). Again, geography and culture play a bit of a role into what services your catering team may offer.
Choosing your service style is ultimately going to be reflective of your wedding atmosphere. For instance, Plated Dinners typically set the tone for a traditional and elegant atmosphere, where Stationed Dinners offer a more casual and relaxed atmosphere. That being said, you’ll notice that I don’t go into Buffet service much. Buffets are exiting in popularity, and I think most of us agree that it’s a good thing. Stations are a great alternative to a buffet that offers variety and limits guests standing in lines.
If you choose plated, consider the number of courses, keeping in mind that each course takes time to serve and, during dinner service, your guests will be seated. A two-hour dinner service for a four or five course meal during a four hour reception leaves little time for dancing by the end of the night.
If your guests will have a choice of entrée, There are a few things you need to know:
- Try to limit it to two-three options plus special meals for dietary restrictions (gluten free, pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, etc.). Your caterer will have policies on the number of options you can give your guests.
- Guests will need to select their entrée choice on the RSVP card. Most caterers need these counts well in advance of the wedding day (14-30 days prior) for proper ordering and planning. Tip: mark the back of each of the RSVP cards with a number that corresponds with the guest on your guest list. This way if they forget to write in their name, you know who the card is from.
- You will need to assign tables and seats. I recommend doing this regardless.
- Place cards with entrée indicators are required. Whether its color-coded, a small icon, or the written out word “chicken” on the place card, the service team needs to have these cards to ensure they are serving the proper entrée to the right guest without “auctioning” off the food. (“who had the chicken?”)
Plated dinners do have a little more need for organization on the front end, but it makes for a beautiful presentation.
Now, I love a good stationed dinner, I’ve always called them the “mingle enhancers”. They keep guests up and moving around and talking, like a great extension to cocktail hour. Stations are typically served tapas style on small salad size plates. I usually suggest 3-4 dinner stations plus a salad station for a good variety of offerings. A couple of things to note:
- I still suggest collecting dietary restrictions and allergy information from your guests on the RSVP card so your planner and caterer can be prepared.
- With Stations you have the opportunity to offer limited seating and make it one massive cocktail reception. To do this, you usually only need seating for 40-60% of your guests, but this is a topic we will expand on in another post.
PARTY & AFTER PARTY
If you are having a full bar for the duration of your wedding (please say yes, this is another one of those foundational items), then you should consider having a “late night snack” during dancing or at the afterparty. Most people get hungry after dancing and drinking for a couple of hours, so providing your guests with a little treat is a great way to keep them full and safe.
Here are a few more tips to help you out:
- Try to take care of your guests, but you don’t have to select the entire menu based on one person’s dietary restrictions either.
- Make it personal! Ask the chef if he can recreate a family recipe or the meal you had on your first date.
- Bring in a favorite pizza or fast food restaurant for the After Party. I love bringing Chick-fil-a or Papa John’s for a fan favorite dancing food.
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