Click here to see the table of contents
Organize the Wedding Reception Food Menu in 8 steps
It’s the most time and energy you’ll ever put into a meal that you’ll barely taste. And unless you or your fiancé regularly organize soirees for one hundred or more guests, your wedding reception may be the first time you’ve ever been called upon to pull together food service for such an extensive gathering. With little experience in large-scale party planning, many couples make the mistake of simply ordering the most extravagant meal that their wedding budget will allow. But there are plenty of reasons why this approach could result in a reception that’s tough for your guests to stomach.
Several years ago, there was a very expensive charity fundraiser. After being plied with a positively decadent selection of hors d’oeuvres, the guests took their seats for the anticipated main course. So why then were many of these mouthwatering entrees left cold and untouched at the end of the evening? The organizers of that event had failed to anticipate that many attendees would object to being served veal, and offered no alternative entrée.
Keeping in mind the tastes of your friends and family, here are some tips to help you plan a reception menu that will keep your guests on the dance floor, not in line with the candy machine.
#1 Wedding Reception Food Menu – The Basics.
A traditional wedding reception generally includes hors d’oeuvres, an appetizer, the main course, wedding cake, and coffee. Within this framework, your options are constrained only by your imagination and your guests’ preferences. You may also opt to eliminate or replace any or all of these steps in favor of something more reflective of your wedding theme. If you plan to move away from a traditional reception menu, you may wish to communicate this in the wedding invitations.
Begin researching caterers early during your engagement — eight or nine months prior to the wedding, if possible. This will give you plenty of time to research choices before making the final selection, which should be done four to five months before the reception date.
#2 Wedding Reception Food Menu – Be creative.
Wedding reception means lunch or dinner, right? Not necessarily. Depending on the time of day, you have a variety of options available. Why not schedule a morning ceremony and serve a reception breakfast or brunch? This choice is particularly appealing for couples who would like to downplay the role of alcohol on their wedding day. As an added bonus, a breakfast reception is generally substantially less expensive than dinner service.
Incorporate a food station where guests have the opportunity to make their own waffles and you can be certain that your reception will be a dinner party topic for months. For a casual afternoon reception, consider a traditional English Tea. Your guests can have their fill of tasty scones and pastries, without feeling glued to their seats for a traditional meal. Or you may opt to eliminate meal service entirely and host a cocktail reception, with a variety of hors d’oeuvres to satisfy the rumblings in your guests’ bellies.
This last option eliminates the need for seating assignments and allows your guests to mingle freely throughout the reception. You may want to mention the nature of the reception on your invitation, lest your guests skip lunch, expecting a post-wedding feast!
#3 Wedding Reception Food Menu – Get the best from your caterer.
Ultimately, the choices are yours, but a good caterer will guide you towards a successful reception meal. Your caterer should assess your guest list and reception location and determine whether or not a particular dish is feasible under the circumstances.
If you’ve chosen a reception location with limited or non-existent kitchen facilities, your menu may need to consist of items that can be partially prepared in advance and brought to the reception for the final touches.
Additionally, every caterer knows which dishes he or she can do well. If you picked Jack’s Steakhouse for your reception because you fell in love with their Thursday night prime rib special, demanding spinach ravioli for 200 may be courting disaster. If your heart is set on a particular dish, it would be wise to seek out a caterer who counts that item among his specialties, rather than force your choice on one who has never attempted it before.
#4 Wedding Reception Food Menu – The taste test.
You will want to arrange a tasting with your caterer, even if you’ve chosen your favorite restaurant for the job. Catered meals are often prepared in a separate kitchen, and you should attempt to replicate the conditions of your reception as closely as possible. Taste two or three options for each course and don’t be afraid to consult with the caterer about substitutions for sauces and side dishes.
Pay attention to the appearance of the food as well as the taste. Make certain that the presentation at your reception will be identical to that of the tasting. While hors d’oeuvres are generally not available for tasting due to preparation costs, ask if your caterer can arrange a sampler tray in conjunction with another scheduled event.
#5 Wedding Reception Food Menu – Think about your guests.
Since you and your new spouse will likely be too busy on your big day to partake of the food yourselves, think for a moment about the people who will actually be eating at your reception. If your nearest and dearest are mainly meat and potatoes types, your attempts to wow them with cucumber soup and pheasant under glass could send them running for the nearest hamburger joint before your first dance is over.
By contrast, if you plan to present your guests with prime rib, keep in mind that many people have eliminated red meat from their diets over the past several years. Sound like an impossible situation? It isn’t.
Choose a meal you think most of your guests will enjoy. You may elect to provide an alternative entrée, or simply offer a wide variety of hors d’oeuvres. Another economical option would be to include extra vegetables with the main meal, to ensure none of your guests go hungry, regardless of their eating restrictions.
Remember, if you are going to provide alternatives, you will need to give your caterer an exact count well in advance of the reception. You should also provide the wait staff with a list of seating assignments, to ensure that your guests aren’t kept waiting for kosher or vegetarian meals.
#6 Wedding Reception Food Menu – Self Serve.
Although once a popular option that offered economic appeal as well as a wider selection for the guest, the buffet seems to have fallen out of favor in the past few years. Recently though, this style of dining has made a comeback in the form of food stations, spaced throughout the reception area.
These smaller serving areas offer choices without requiring your guests to wait in a single, long, slow-moving line. And the inclusion of carving stations and pasta bars make for a dining experience that’s fun as well as tasty. But be warned. Depending upon the food served and the number of stations, this form of service can easily become as expensive as a sit-down meal, or possibly even more so.
#7 Wedding Reception Food Menu – And one final tip for selecting your reception menu — Relax!
Your dinners with close friends aren’t stuffy and formal, so there’s no reason why your wedding reception should be. When planning their reception menu, one bride and groom took a good look around at their friends and family before deciding on the perfect meal — chicken pot pie and mashed potatoes.
Certainly, their choice raised a few eyebrows when first announced. But Ed and Kelly knew their guests and on the day of the wedding, very few plates were pushed away before every last bite had been enjoyed. And if you can manage that, you’ve thrown a successful reception, regardless of what type of food you decide to serve.