Written by Martin Neeves
There are various options that you can have for your wedding menu. Not only is there a wide variation in price, there is a wide variation in quantity and quality. Much will also depend upon the number of people attending, the time of day and the style of reception you want to have.
My aim in this blog is to help your with some of factors that will help make the menu planning process smooth and the reception successful.
Things to consider
I have tried to list the various considerations in some form of timeline order to help you through the planning process, and will cover:
- Number attending
- Time of year
- Dietary Restrictions
- Time of day
The number of guests affects the budget, the venue, and the type of menu you are going to have. It is fair to say that the first issues to be decided should be number of guests and budget, because they may dictate the art of the possible in terms of menu type.
Obviously, if you are looking to impress, but have a fixed budget then you will have to limit the number attending. If you are under pressure to invite a wide range of family members and your friends, then it is likely that this may dictate a slightly less lavish menu (or even venue). One factor that often swells numbers is guests’ partners and children if not properly accounted for during planning. Unless you are quite clear on invitations that the invite is only for the “named” invitees, you could find a few hangers on appearing because “we assumed that you would not mind” or “we assumed it included Auntie Alice”.
Different types of menu and venue will bring varying costs. When multiplied by the number of guests attending the cost can quickly ramp up.
A good wedding caterer/wedding planner will help you understand those factors that affect the costs of your wedding menu. It is easy to forget that catering for a wedding involves much more than just the cost of food. The planner will need to budget, on your behalf, for staff, linen, glassware, cutlery, drinks, decorations etc.
Time of Year
You need to consider that at different times of the year different ingredients are more plentiful or have to be purchased at premium prices if they have to be imported.For instance, you can get strawberries all year round they are cheaper in the height of summer. Additionally, people want to eat less heavy dishes in the summer, but expect more filling meals in the winter.
These might be vegetarian, vegan, coeliac, non-dairy and religious. It is not possible to say that there will be no dietary issues as it is becoming more of an issue these days. This means that you should cater for these different needs. This can be done in a number of ways, but you need to have a plan on how this will be dealt with. Will you just accommodate specific dietary requests for those guests who request them, or will the restrictions affect the entire guest list, if the dietary restrictions are of a religious nature?
Time of Day
The time of day not only gives some clues about the style of menu, but it also means that you have to manage expectations about what will be served. An evening menu, say after 7.30 pm, will mean that many people will have a bite to eat before coming out. They will obviously want a lighter snack-type food. Whilst a late morning up until about 5 pm reception, may mean that they expect a fuller meal - unless you tell them otherwise. Remember people will make assumptions or be confused unless you give them clear guidance.
Settle on a Style
So you have thought through all the planning constraints, what next? Well you have a series of menu options that all have particular pros and cons. You will have to think do you want a formal dinner that will be the focus of the night? How many courses will it involve and will it be a formal sit-down affair? If you intend music and dancing to be the main event of the day or evening, then you will need to choose a less formal style of menu. So what are the main options:
- Sit down plated meal - waiter/waitress served meal
- Family style Meal
- Silver service
- Finger Buffet/ Cocktail Style
Sit Down Plated Meal. This is the traditional and formal option where each guest is served a plated meal. This usually involves 3 courses: a starter, the main course and a dessert. Guests may have a choice of 2 or 3 starters, which would be selected beforehand.
- For: This is an easy option because each table gets its meals served at the same time. It also allows the caterer to keep costs down because they can plan and budget more effectively. It also allows you to manage the pace of the meal.
- Against:Staff costs are likely to be higher because it will require servers. This option also usually means that the choice of meals is restricted. It can also be a problem for those who have distinct food likes and dislikes or who are finicky eaters.
Family Style Meal. This is a variation on the sit down plated meal. Servers bring the base meal (meat course) to the table. There are then tureens of vegetables on the table for the guests to self-serve those items. The empty plates are then removed at the end of a course. It can be further refined that the plates are empty and the whole of the meal is served from tureens.
- For: This allows guests to control their own portions and works well with children and old people. It also allows those who eat a larger portion to be satisfied. It is a more efficient way of managing a meal and means that people can eat at a similar time without the need to wait as tables go for a buffet etc.
- Against:It requires a larger table space to allow the tureens to be positioned on the table. It can require more food to have to be prepared to ensure that food does not run out.
Buffet. A buffet is a more relaxed method of menu that allows more choice in the food offered. It can be cold or hot and uses food stations that are set up on long tables. This might include cold meats and food. It may also include a carvery, with serval options and a full plated meal. The guests start at one end by picking up plates. They then move along the tables and serve themselves. There is an additional option to this, with servers positioned behind the serving area and placing food options onto the guests’ plates. A well planned buffet will have more than one “queue” and more than one food station to allow a greater throughput of guests. A more refined version may have a cook to order version. More expensive but vey personalised.
- For: It permits greater choice, and the ability to cater more easily for dietary restrictions. It uses less staff, allowing lower staffing costs. It can also allow easier mingling, but it is imperative that there is one chair per guest to avoid the awkward situation of trying to eat standing up and having to juggle drinks, food and napkins. This is great for children, especially because they tend to be pickier than adults.
- Against: It can be chaoticif everyone charges up to eat all at once. Also, it requires careful planning to ensure that those who eat later have the same choice of food as those who ate first. Buffets usually need larger quantities of food because people tend to eat more when they self-serve. With a large number of guests, it will be important to manage the flow of tables who move to get served it chaos will reign. Some people are funny about serving themselves and see this as “bad form”. You will need greater space in the room to accommodate the food stations.
Finger Buffet/ Cocktail Style. This is also called Canapé, hors d’oeuvres, bite sized food. The food can be a combination of hot or cold food – it often works well to have that combination. This works well but does require very very careful planning. It is also not as cheap as people think, because you need to keep moving round serving and each service is basically - ONE mouthful. If you can imagine cutting up a plate of food into mouth sized portions and serving them one or 2 at a time, you can see that it requires quite a few circuits of the room for the servers to satisfy people. It can be ideal for an evening reception when people may have had something to eat before they come out or between usual meal times. Finger foods can be useful for both casual and formal receptions.
- For: It does allow a wider choice and for dietary restrictions to be managed more easily. It is great for mingling. It is also helpful if you have many tables and chairs scattered round to allow sitting down during the rounds of servers. It also allows an effective way of serving food in a room that has little room for tables or serving stations. It allows people to circulate and mingle easily.
- Against: It requires meticulous planning to get the timings of the food preparation and storage right. You will need staff to server the “morsels”. The other planning factor that is often forgotten is the number of canapés that need to be prepared to serve a realistic amount of food. The rough formula is number of guests x 5 or 6 servings per hour. So 100 guests x 5 or 6 servings equals 500 or 600 portions. This usually surprises people. It can confuse people attending the wedding fi they are not used to the concept – especially if they are expecting a full meal.
Once you have planned your reception, the food and all other aspects of the wedding, do not forget to remember to choose your photographer well in advance.
If you want to use a wedding photographer who is going to charge realistic prices and deliver some great images for you, then contact me at Martin Neeves Photography or call me on 01455 271 849 or on 07973 638 591.