Think about the last wedding you attended. How was the food? Chances are, you remember it. It may not have been very good, or it may have been great. Either way, you’re able to give an honest assessment, kind or unkind as it may be. And the saying is true, it’s better to be remembered for the right reasons. Wouldn’t you want the same for your own wedding?
Planning a wedding is unlike planning any other event. When you’re planning your own wedding, there’s so much to take into account. There are relatives, seating charts, a venue to select, a dress to find, bridesmaids and groomsmen to wrangle, and a budget to deal with. It’s a highly emotionally charged time, and not always for the best reason. It can feel like you’re being pulled in multiple directions, on the whims of multiple family members. But it’s important to remember one thing: this is your day. You and your partner are embarking on a life together, and are inviting the people you most care about to celebrate it with you. Ideally, every detail of the wedding itself should reflect that.
Both you and your partner probably had a vision in mind when this process began. At the very least, you both have preferences! Feeding your guests is expected, of course, but feeding them in your own style and with your own personality will make your wedding your own, and help build happy memories that you can look back on fondly.
Surely, it would be one thing to be able to snap your fingers and have your dream menu materialize. The realities of a budget, party size, event length, and dietary restrictions and preferences can get in the way. However, with some clever planning, and with the help of a good caterer (link to wedding page), those realities simply become the foundation on which your wedding dreams are built. From small to large, casual to mighty fancy, we have ideas to get your wedding wheels spinning.
Getting Started With Wedding Catering
Cocktail Hour: Snacks & Drinks
Weddings are massive social events. And a drink is quite literally social lubricant. Making sure your guests are well-lubricated is part of being a good host, and both you and your partner are playing host to every single one of your invited guests. A cocktail hour is the perfect way to get the ball rolling for the rest of the evening. It also gives guests who might be running late time to join the party!
One question couples often deal with is whether to have an open bar, a cash bar, or some combination of the two. Both have their upsides: a cash bar might be a good choice if the aim is to control alcohol consumption, or if most guests will not be consuming alcohol (more on non-alcoholic options later). It’s also good if you will be going out-of-pocket for all alcohol expenses, and are hoping to recoup some of the money spent. An open bar is a good choice if most guests will be consuming alcohol, or the cost was included with the venue, or you want to debut a signature cocktail. Cash bar or not, be sure to tip your bartender! Some ideas for signature cocktails include
1. Blueberry Lemonade
An all-season cocktail that uses 3 parts lemonade to 1 parts gin. Garnished or muddled with fresh blueberries.
2. Watermelon, Tequila and Lime Slush
If your wedding is happening at the height of summer, a watermelon slush is fun, fresh and tropical. Watermelon juice is blended with ice, lime, and tequila, with optional slices of jalapeno.
3. Mulled Wine
A cold-weather wedding is a great candidate for mulled wine. It’s heated red wine with spices like cinnamon, clove, and orange peel. It makes for a gorgeous presentation in a large, cut-glass bowl with small dangling glasses.
If you, your partner, or some guests don’t drink alcohol, consider offering a non-alcoholic signature mocktail. The watermelon slush is excellent without tequila, and who doesn’t like blueberry or strawberry lemonade? Select some of your favorite fruit and herb flavors, and see if you can’t come up with a new one of your own.
Passed, Plated, or Both
Regardless of the size of your party, snacks with drinks are a must. And opposites attract: If your cocktail is sweet, pick something salty. If you go for a salt-rimmed margarita, maybe a sweet bite would be best. Aim to have several options for guests, with a variety of flavors and textures. As with many wedding elements, there are options within options; you can have passed hors d’oeuvres, plated boards of cheeses and meats, or even a full-on raw bar. Take some notes from us and mix and match to your heart’s content.
If your venue is a large one, or your guest count hovers near the triple digits, passed apps may be the way to go. They’ll circulate the room, allowing guests to mingle at will and not hover around a table of food. You can go low- or high-end with your apps, like
1. Tiny Tacos
Chicken, pork, beef, whatever you like. Just know your guests will be eating them by the handful.
2. Deviled Eggs and Caviar
A more highfalutin’ option, a properly deviled egg with a smidgen of caviar to set it off is like a loosened tie on a suit. Still put together, but slightly relaxed. And if caviar isn’t your thing, leave it off.
3. Smoked Duck Skewers
Slices of smoked duck breast bent double and skewered, served with scallions and hoisin. It reminds one of Chinese takeout, but it’s much more elegant, while remaining essentially simple.
Passing around appetizers necessitates the use of trained staff, and that may not always be in your budget. If that’s the case, setting up a beautiful spread of charcuterie or cheeses is one way to hit all your flavor marks while giving the drinks something to stick to.
Forget about your standard prosciutto. Well, maybe not entirely. But put it to the side while you explore all the other amazing cured meats you can have on your plate. Like nduja! Literally spreadable salami, nduja is amazing on bread, crackers, other veg, you name it. Or finocchiona, a spicy, hard sausage. Some salty olives and oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes work well. Speaking of oil-packed, why not place a tin or two of higher-end tuna or mussels for the pescatarians in your crowd?
2. Cheeses, Updated
Yes, the cheese plate is a classic, but there are so many ways to update it. For starters, choose a variety of textures: a soft, melty cheese like a triple-creme Brie, a semisoft cheese like a Taleggio, a hard cheese like a Parmigiano-Reggiano and a funky cheese like a Bleu. After that, you can go wild. Trade grapes for kumquats, or standard plain crackers for raisin and rye crisps. Instead of honey, use spicy honey. As long as you have something to match each cheese, you’re golden.
3. Grand Aioli
An excellent vegetarian (or even vegan) option, this is a glorious celebration of nature’s bounty. Imagine a super-colorful spread of crunchy vegetables, crumbly boiled potatoes, golden-yolked boiled eggs, and even steamed shrimp. All centered around a bowl of creamy, tangy, luscious aioli (basically fancy mayonnaise, for the uninitiated). It’s a really lovely spin on your usual limp crudite, and appeals to all dietary restrictions. To make it vegan, use vegan mayonnaise, or a green goddess dip.
Catering: In-House or Hired Out
Before getting into the dinner itself, consider your catering needs. Does it make more sense to rent out a venue for a sit-down dinner, or is a buffet more your speed? If you’ve found the perfect spot but still need food, having a restaurant cater could be a fine option. Keep in mind that they will serve larger-format buffet-style dishes, which is great if you have your heart or mind set on a theme. Speaking of theme, it’s sometimes easier to come up with a menu when you’ve got one in mind. For example, if it’s Southern BBQ, sides like cornbread and coleslaw easily come to mind. Whatever you decide, smart options exist, and so do smart caterers (another link).
A smart principle to abide by is letting the flow of the evening dictate the food, and not the other way around. It’s a bit of a buzzkill to head out to the dance floor, only to be repeatedly called back for a long, coursed-out dinner and a seated dessert. If you already know you want your guests up and dancing, don’t chain them to the table! A buffet that’s either staffed or self-serve might be your best bet. That way, guests can take a little or a lot and eat at their own pace. Depending on the caterer or venue, buffets can range from pretty casual to lavish affairs – so if you do go this route, keep your budget in mind. But if you’re not so into music and dancing, and prefer elegant, hushed conversation, a lengthy dinner with multiple courses could suit you. Keep in mind, though, for larger weddings (100+), serving multiple courses at the same time to that many guests is not a quick affair. Plan on leaving at least a couple of hours for dinner and dessert to come to and be whisked from the table.
Buffets: Small or Large?
When planning a buffet, it’s easy to start small, and go way big. Before dinner scenes from “Beauty and the Beast” start dancing through your head, take a hard look at the amount of dishes you actually want to serve. It is as simple as a main, two sides and a salad? Or do you want a carving station, raw bar, salad station, and five different kinds of pasta? Your caterer will know how much to serve, but it’s up to you to determine the quantity of dishes themselves. If food is the main event, go all out – but if it’s more an afterthought, the basics will do.
But Should We Do a Themed Dinner?
Already have a theme in mind? Great. Wish you did? Also great. Having a theme is a unifier; it streamlines the types of food served, the colors chosen for the decor, and influences the ambiance of the entire event. Just like writing an essay, the theme is your guideline for building the evening of your dreams. And also like essays, certain themes crop up year after year. Rather than rehashing the been-done “Vintage” or “Great Gatsby” themes, choose a less trendy theme for your food and watch your guests take note.
1. Southern BBQ
You can say a lot with food. So tell your guests they can let their hair down and eat with their hands at a southern-styled barbeque. Ribs, smoked chicken, brisket are all on the menu – as are cornbread, baked beans, and tangy coleslaw. If you’re vegetarian (or some guests are), smoked tofu is crazy delicious. Feel free to add touches like red and white checked tablecloths and wrought-iron fixtures. When the food sets the tone, the rest is easy.
2. Moroccan Feast
You don’t have to have gone to Morocco to have a Moroccan feast. The hallmarks of this dinner are flavors like green olives, lemon, yogurt, saffron and currants, with notes of almond and olive oil. Expect menu items like tagine, (which is actually the name of a cooking implement that refers to a long-cooked stewed meat dish) over couscous with mint. Colors like purple, yellow, and orange would work wonderfully here.
If you’re concerned about the execution of such an exotic menu, consult local restaurants that deal with the same flavors and try their food. Perhaps they cater. Or, when consulting with a caterer, ask if the kitchen team is well-versed in global flavors. It’s perfectly appropriate to ask for samples during the tasting, if that’s the direction in which you want to go.
3. Mexican Fiesta
The bright, bold colors and sugar skulls of Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations have caught the eye of designers and menu planners all over the world. There’s something fantastically bold about near-neon pinks and greens on a white or black background. You can adapt these colors, along with local flavor, into your own wedding day feast. The decor almost arranges itself – the food is another matter. Tacos are an obvious choice, and perfectly fine, but Mexico has as many flavors to offer as there are colors on its skulls. Party-friendly dishes like cemitas and tamales with please a crowd, but larger-format menu items like pozole (a green or red soup with hunks of hominy), or cochinita pibil (a slow-roasted pork dish) with arroz amarillo (yellow rice) will raise some eyebrows for all the right reasons.
Large-Format Wedding Feasts
These are big, bold, all-out feasts in the grandest sense of the word. Best presented outdoors, they’re built for a crowd that really loves to eat. Traditionally, these have been used for family, community, and religious gatherings for ages. There’s no reason why they can’t be adapted to suit a wedding.
1. Pig Roast
Pig, lamb, you name it – if it can be turned on a spit, it can serve a crowd. Now, if you’re averse to having a full-size animal lazily spinning in full view of your guests, you can opt to have the animal prepared away from the premises and brought, cut up and ready to eat. Sides that best go with something like this are also wood-fired, like lemon potatoes, roasted vegetables, and charred pita bread. It’s a rustic display fit for a king and queen, a queen and queen, or a king and king!
2. Crawfish Boil
Maybe you’re already familiar with a crawfish boil. If you are, lucky you – messy delicious celebrations that they are. Crawfish, potatoes and corn all spread out and ready for the eating. It’s not exactly elegant, but therein lies its charm. If putting on a bib during your wedding day appeals to you, consider this. Certainly, it can be adapted to a “cleaner” environment, but then it wouldn’t be a crawfish boil, would it?
The Sweet Stuff
Once the main meal is over, that’s usually when most guests mix and mingle or head to the dance floor. Why weigh them down with a coursed-out dessert service? Keep the party going with a dessert bar that reflects your own personality and is full of your favorites. Of course, that’s separate from the wedding cake, which can come with its own ceremony and set of preferences. When you have a stationary dessert bar, it makes socializing easier and allows the evening to progress on its own.
1. Candy Bar
If you’re looking for something that will appeal to every guest at your wedding, no matter their age, go for a candy bar. It’s so simple, you can put it together yourself. To actually DIY, assemble several platters, trays, and jars of varying heights and widths to fill your selected table. Fill them with your candy-store favorites, like big bright lollipops, m&ms, reese’s cups, and even mini candy bars. You can even coordinate the colors of the candies and wrappers to be more visually appealing (silver and green, or yellow and black).
2. Cookie Jar
For kids or kids at heart, this spread features home-baked treats from childhood like oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate chip cookies, Oreos, and milk for the kids (and white Russians for the adults). Set up a charming Alice In Wonderland-style display with custom-written tags. If you have the means at the venue, an ice cream sandwich making station might not be a bad idea. It’s less messy than cones, and fun for little hands. Your favorite local bakery may be able to supply the cookies, and there’s nothing wrong with choosing your favorite pints of ice cream.
3. French Patisserie
A little more refined than candy or cookies, a spread featuring petit fours, macarons, tuiles, and cream puffs is a beautiful option for an adults-only wedding, or one with a more romantic, feminine theme or color palette.
Party favors are a sometimes an overlooked way to send off your guests with something sweet and memorable. They needn’t be expensive or complicated, but they should be a thoughtful little memento. Rather than the standard candy-coated almonds, try a pair of heart-shaped sandwich cookies or a tasty little bag of trail mix. It all depends on your personality, and the vibe of the wedding itself. For that matter, it doesn’t have to be edible at all; one clever idea is to send a small bag of seeds home with your guests, so they can grow flowers, plants, or herbs of their own. It’s a thoughtful way to share an experience that will last a long time.
Final Thoughts On Catering Your Wedding
Whatever the season, whatever your style, and whatever your budget, it’s totally possible to have a swoon-worthy wedding. Don’t be afraid to use your wedding to really showcase what you and your partner love about each other – it should be a celebration that brings the most loved ones together as possible, while sharing food and drink that is hopefully as memorable as the day itself.
All you really need is a little confidence and a dash of creativity. The rest is up to the people you partner with. So why not go the extra mile to find someone trusted and confident, with loads of experience, who will treat your wedding the same way you view it? Our team of experts can provide the guidance, organization, and finishing touches that will bring your wedding to life, and live on forever. Contact us and ask how we can help you make your wedding dreams come true.