Brides and grooms always have dozens and dozens of questions around catering! I can't blame them, really, when there are a lot of choices and so many different ways you can go about planning a wedding reception menu. I think one of the most daunting tasks of wedding planning for brides and grooms is creating the perfect menu. Many of my couples aren't sure how to wrap their minds around catering and menu planning. So, where do you begin? How do you choose a caterer? What style of menu is right for your wedding? How in the world do I keep the food budget under control? There are so many questions to be answered! I've asked Catherine Luckadoo with Something Classic Catering & Cafes to give some expert advice on how to plan a wedding menu and to provide some insight into choosing the right caterer for your wedding.
Q: When first starting to plan for your wedding reception menu/food, what is the best piece of advice you can give to a bride and groom? What should they know going into this part of wedding planning so that they don't get overwhelmed and frustrated, or make too many costly mistakes? A: It's your day so make it a menu YOU like! Choose items that reflect your personalities, cultures, and relationship with each other. If you are from very different regions, select items that represent both areas. If you love to eat pizza together, choose a small mini pizza as one of your butlered hors d'oeuvres for cocktail hour. If you got engaged over cheesecake, incorporate cheesecake into your desserts. Use food tags to identify why you chose some of the selections. The more your menu reflects the two of you, the better. Have fun with picking your menu and trust your caterer to help guide you with quantities and balancing the menu selections.
Q: Are there any specific food items, food genres, and/or serving styles that you would recommend to couples looking to plan a menu on a budget? A: Steer clear of a plated dinner if you are on a tight budget. The food itself is not necessarily the most expensive option but the service required to execute a seated dinner - to get your guests served quickly and efficiently - is about 5% higher. A simple buffet is generally the most cost effective. And a pasta buffet is typically the most economical way to really fill up your guests and keep them happy.
Q: The big debate: station style menu vs. a plated meal. From a catering perspective, can you give one or two pro(s) and con(s) of each menu style? A: Variety is the spice of life as they say, so the more variety, the better chance you have of pleasing all of your guests with varying tastes. A stations menu allows you more selection. Keep in mind it is also a little less structured so there is a slightly less formal feel to how it is presented and served. A seated menu can be more time effective if you want to get your guests fed quickly and get on with the party! It is also a little more formal in the fact that your guests are being served directly to their tables. The major con, I would say, is that it is a lot more work for you. Unless you plan to serve all of your guests the same meal, you have to keep track and organize everyone's meal selections from their RSVP cards to turn in to your caterer.
Q: What are some of your favorite wedding menu/food trends that you’ve seen lately?
A: It’s all about “small plates” right now. Guests love the cute and clever presentation of their own petite dish full of fun and unique flavors. The small plates we are using at Something Classic these days are everything from an actual small plate, a mini cast iron skillet, a ceramic Asian spoon, a shot glass, a bamboo steamer pot, an espresso cup, and a petite mason jar, to name just a few. You can take what would ordinarily be a rather uninteresting raw vegetable display, for example, and turn it into something fun and enticing by placing those same vegetables and dips in a little personal mason jar.
Q: Let's break down a wedding menu. How do you recommend brides and grooms plan a wedding menu so that it's balanced and appealing to all their guests?
A: Let your caterer and wedding planner help guide you - and don't be afraid to ask for help. No one expects you to know how to plan a perfect wedding menu. Start by making a list of your dream selections and then your caterer can help ensure that it is balanced, well rounded, and cost effective.
Q: There are so many dietary restrictions these days, and all brides want their guests to be well-fed and comfortable. So, when planning a menu for your reception, how many options is enough and what suggestions do you have for accommodating guests dietary restrictions, while keeping costs in mind?
A: Don't get too bogged down in this one but it is, in fact, very considerate to try to accommodate the dietary restrictions of your guests as much as possible. It is probably the easiest to do when you are planning a seated dinner and guests have the option of notating their restrictions on the response cards. On the other hand, as I mentioned previously, the more variety you offer, the more chance you have of providing something for everyone. At Something Classic, we like to provide attractive menu cards to place by all of the food so that guests know what they are eating and can avoid anything that is not preferable (or not safe) for them to eat. Ask if your caterer will provide those and if not, you may want to consider printing your own.
Q: What are the top three things you should be on the look out for/consider when going into a menu tasting?
A: So in all honesty, this is a bit of a hot button topic for me and probably for many caterers. Every company does tastings differently and many do not offer them at all. Let me start by saying, I totally get it. I was a bride once too and I wanted a tasting to be sure we had made great selections. But I was told that they didn't offer tastings and that I could visit their restaurant instead. I was disappointed, but I had lunch there and was relieved to find the quality was excellent and I could rest assured my guests would be happy with anything we chose. And they were! There is a misconception out there that every couple should get a five course tasting just for considering a catering company. If we offered that to all interested couples, it is all would spend our days doing. Tastings are expensive and incredibly time consuming and labor intensive for chefs, and so we reserve them for our clients who have booked our services. For those who are not comfortable booking without a tasting, we offer three options: excellent references, several restaurants owned by our company to give our clients an idea of the quality of our food, and we do offer a tasting at a fee to clients who have not signed a contract (which is waived if they move forward with our team).
All of this being said, if you are having a tasting, these are the things you will want to keep in mind:
1.) Accept trying any food offered even if it is not what is specifically on your menu. It will at least give you a good feel for the quality coming out of the catering kitchen. 2.) Understand that unless you are working with a restaurant, tasting hours may be very limited. Catering chefs work very long hours and weekends so they typically have small windows during the work week to produce tastings on a smaller scale. You may need to take time off of work to attend. 3.) Keep in mind that caterers serve the masses. While our food quality is excellent no matter how many guests we are serving, I have found that what is being prepared for the two of you to try at your tasting may not translate exactly the same on your wedding day when it has been prepared for 150 guests. 4.) Have fun with it! The best part of your tasting is getting to experience the excitement and anticipation of your wedding day together. Don't take it too seriously and get bogged down too much in the details.
I leave you with this: Food is important and with it being a huge portion of the cost on your wedding day and a very big part of entertaining your guests, I completely understand why it can feel like a stressful decision. But it doesn't have to be and it shouldn't be! Find a caterer who loves what they do - it should be evident from the start. If your coordinator is excited about your wedding, that will go a long way in the service your receive from the whole catering team throughout the planning process and on your wedding day. Our head chef, David Clarke, tells us all the time upon receiving complements on his food, "We just put a little love in it". If you find a caterer who will do just that, you will be in great shape.
Eat, drink, and be MARRIED!
Huge thanks to Catherine at Something Classic for giving such great advice and insight into planning a great wedding menu that will please your guests - and your budget! I know wedding planning can seem overwhelming for couples - and planning a menu can feel nearly impossible. But, if you hire a professional and licensed caterer, you cannot go wrong! Trust them and their experience, and you'll have a delicious night your guests will enjoy. Happy planning, y'all!