Natural disasters and over-sharing or over-inebriated relatives aside, few things can derail an otherwise fantastic wedding faster than a poorly executed wedding menu.
It's not that necessarily everything hinges on the quality of the food, but if you serve a good meal, people are more inclined to linger longer, dance a little happier and in general say for weeks after, "Now that was a good wedding!"
First, start with the practical considerations, and from there it's time to make the magic happen! From unique wedding menu ideas to budget-friendly ways to make each course extraordinary, we've compiled a usable and inspiring list to get you moving in the right direction towards happily-ever-after.
Most wedding menus start with one of these two factors taking center stage: budgets or sky-high dreams. Its' not always easy to mingle these two concepts together, particularly if the bride and groom have an actual budget they can't budge from. To keep things moving in a positive direction no matter what the budget or Pinterest vision entails, there are a few basic things to consider:
- Budget. This first factor cannot be avoided. Need to feed 150 guests on a budget of $1500? Lobster is likely off the menu. In fact knowing what the budget is will determine if the guest list needs to be trimmed or if there is wiggle room to invite more people to the shindig. Always begin with a good idea of what the maximum budget it before proceeding with any further planning.
- Number of guests. If there are only 50 guests, a five-course meal might be feasible. However, if there are 250 guests, this kind of meal may not be within the limits of the couple's budget and the caterer’s abilities.
- Date and time. Usually, the date and time of the reception dictate the kinds of food that will be served. Will you be catering brunch or dinner? Lunch or a late-night cocktail party? Will you need to provide warm winter foods or refreshing summery ones? Seasonal and holiday weddings are becoming more and more fashionable, so you may want to keep these factors in mind as you develop your menu options.
- Preferred menu items. Most brides and grooms like the idea of serving their favorite dishes or family recipes at their wedding reception. Try to work the couple’s favorite dishes into the menu while still keeping the overall concept for the reception cohesive.
- Chef’s expertise. Stay true to your strengths and practice new recipes until they are perfect before offering something new on the menu. If you specialize in a regional or specialty style of cuisine, let your menu options reflect this. Only offer what you can guarantee on the big day, not what you "hope" to deliver.
- Service style. Some foods are best when served a la carte, while others work well in a buffet-style service. Still others, like fondue, are meant for “build-it-yourself” experiences. The type of food on the wedding menu needs to work well with the bride and groom’s preferred service style.
- Available supplies. Procure the appropriate catering equipment and supplies that can safely and properly serve your menu items. This includes storage and transport equipment, food and beverage carriers, portable catering equipment, serving dishes, display stands and any other supplies that will make your menu a success.
- Guests’ special requirements. A wedding reception is a celebration of the guests as well as a celebration of marriage. Make sure the guests have something they can enjoy eating. Get an idea of what kind of guests will attend, and cater to their tastes and food limitations as you determine your menu. The bride and groom may want to put a check box for special food requirements on their invitation, particularly for food allergies. It's also a good rule of thumb to have at least one vegetarian option available to assure every guest is served a dish they will eat.
Once you have taken all of the above into consideration, you are ready to start thinking of actual menu items and service options. For an unforgettable wedding, it is important that you come up with creative ways to make the menu stand out for all the right reasons.
Unique Wedding Menu Ideas
Every wedding reception is different, and every couple has a unique vision of what their wedding reception menu and service should consist of. Sometimes, the traditional buffet or a la carte sit-down dinner just isn’t distinctive enough for a bride and groom’s tastes. If that is the case, here are some unique wedding menu ideas that can help create a truly unforgettable occasion:
Extraordinary Budget-Friendly Menus
If the reception has to be pulled off on a limited budget, you may not to be able to serve all of the wedding guests a professionally catered multi-course meal. At many weddings the solution is to cut the guest list to a very small number to make the reception affordable. Here are some alternative and unusual concepts for a budget-friendly wedding reception:
- Brunch party. A weekend brunch or breakfast reception is typically cheaper than a full dinner feast. Delicious brunch items like French toast, pancakes, bacon and sausage, Belgian waffles, omelets, frittatas and eggs benedict are widely loved and low in cost. For drinks, you can serve juice, smoothies, mimosas and Bloody Marys.
- Appetizers and cocktail party. Everyone has attended a reception with a traditional gourmet multi-course meal. A late-night or mid-day reception can actually be more memorable if only snacks and drinks are served. Limiting the menu to creative hors d’oeuvres and cocktails will lower the costs of catering and allow you to serve a wider variety of drinks and appetizers. The wedding cake can still be served.
- Dessert reception. An after-dinner dessert reception is becoming more and more popular with brides and grooms across the country. If a full meal is not in the desired price range, then take a cue from Marie Antoinette and “let them eat cake.” By serving only desserts and drinks, the married couple can save a bundle of money and still make an impact by offering what many people consider the best part of the meal: sweet, rich, mouth-watering desserts.
Multiple Buffet Stations
Some of the most unique wedding receptions feature multiple buffet stations where guests can wander and mingle as they pick out their desired food items. Examples of unique buffet stations include the following:
- Slushy station
- Fondue station
- Pyrotechnic station with flambé
- Ice cream stations
- Wine and cheese station
- Ethnic food stations
- Color station, where all the foods are of one color
- Shape station, where all the foods are of one shape
- Hot and spicy, medium and mild stations
- Bride and groom stations, where each of their favorite foods and family recipes are served
You may want to match the menu to the theme of the wedding, Even if the wedding ceremony is not themed, the newlyweds may want to throw a themed wedding reception just for the fun of it. The theme can be as broad as “organic, seasonal foods,” or as narrow as “Hawaiian luau feast.” Here are some popular ideas for a themed wedding menu:
- Eco-friendly or seasonal menu
- Tropical foods
- Seafood or beach-friendly foods
- Southern comfort foods
- Western wedding with barbecue menu
- Floral theme with flower-shaped garnishes and food origami
- Holiday foods for a holiday wedding
- Fairytale foods, like gingerbread houses, stuffed pumpkin in the shape of a coach, castle-shaped wedding cake, etc.
If there is a lavish budget for the reception, you may want to offer entertainment and a feast all rolled into one. One restaurant trend that is gaining in popularity is exhibition cooking, where diners can watch the food being made. A wedding reception with the right budget can easily incorporate this style of service into the plan. Exhibition menus can include any of your favorite recipes, but some of the most common items are the following:
- Mongolian barbecue
- Fruit flambé
- Hand-rolled sushi
- Stir fry
- Pasta made on-the-spot
- Hand-tossed pizzas or flatbreads
- Cocktails produced by a flair bartender
Wedding receptions are becoming more interactive. Casual receptions where guests can feel free to wander and chat with different groups should feature mingle-friendly foods. These include hors d’oeuvres, miniature entrees, tiny desserts and pastries, fresh fruit and dips. You can use disposable sample dishes to display foods at different buffet stations around the reception, so guests can simply grab a dish and eat as they mingle. For example, here are some popular mingle-friendly menu items for a wedding reception:
- Stuffed cherry tomatoes
- Mini quiches
- Sushi pieces
- Soup shots served in sample glasses
- Fried mac and cheese bites
- Goat cheese quesadilla triangles
- Shrimp cocktail served in mini martini glasses
- Bite-sized tacos
- Miniature burgers
- Bite-sized eggs benedict
- Fried wontons
- Mousse served in mini goblets
- Mini crab cakes
- Fresh fruit served by a chocolate fountain with skewers
- Hot chocolate shots in miniature mugs or sample glasses
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