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Wedding Catering 101: Planning Your Wedding Menu


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Photography: via The George in Rye

Before you start planning your wedding catering, you need to know your wedding theme and venue. After you've decided on those two, discuss your wedding reception style with your fiancée. No matter which one you choose, make sure you understand all the catering options available before making a decision.

Which reception style is best for you?

These days, you don't need to be stuck with only one choice of wedding reception style. Whether you're planning an elegant and traditional wedding or a small, intimate gathering with your friends, there's a suitable catering arrangement for you. Take a look at some wedding reception styles below to decide on one that suits the wedding of your dreams.

Sit-down dinner

The most traditional style, a sit-down dinner usually has groups of 10 guests seated at a round table, with each guest being served three courses or more.

Who should do this : Couples who want an elegant, neat, and traditional wedding reception.

Number of guests : Varies, as this can be adapted for an intimate or a grand wedding.

Things to consider : The size of your venue and your budget, as a plated dinner requires more staff to prepare, plate, and serve each dish.

Pros: A seated dinner gives more time for guests to mingle and get acquainted with each other. Even if your party starts late, your guests won't really notice. As you know the exact number of guests, you can easily determine your budget and the quantity of food you need to prepare, so you'll have less food waste. This type of arrangement also gives an elegant and fancy vibe not offered by other dining styles.

Cons: You need to pay close attention to the table setting, including centerpieces and all the stationery you might need. Not to be forgotten is a seating chart that ensures everyone will enjoy each other's company. This style is especially suitable for an adults-only wedding party, but if you choose to invite children, you should provide a child-friendly menu as well. Keep in mind that the service charge can be more expensive as every dish has to be plated and served carefully.


A variety of dishes served on long-sided tables, sometimes at the center, with seats available for guests.

Who should do this : For couples who want to provide a better variety of food and beverages.

Number of guest : Suitable for large parties with 100 guests and above.

Things to consider : Floor planning, wait staff, buffet shelf life, and quantity of food.

Pros: As you'll serve more varieties of food, your guests won't feel forced to eat something they don't like. Thus, it's easier to fulfill the needs of vegetarians, pescatarians, and picky eaters while also giving more options for gourmands. The service cost can be lower, as unlike in seated arrangements, you'll only need a few wait staff to serve hundreds of guests.

Cons: It can be a messy sight with guests swarming the food stalls and disturbing the flow. The food can get cold quickly, and it might be hard to balance the quantity of food with the amount of dinnerware. As there's no limitation on how many times a guest can have the same food, popular dishes can run out, disappointing many guests, while less popular food can be left mostly untouched.

Standing party

Food served on long tables, similar to buffet-style catering, but there are no seats available.

Who should do this : Couples with a big wedding party filled with a lot of friends and relatives.

Number of guests : Usually for 500 guests and above.

Things to consider : Wait staff, buffet shelf life, and the flow of people when lining up and eating.

Pros: Aside from having the same benefits of a buffet-style dinner, you can also have more room for a larger number guests and more food stalls in the same venue. The party will also feel livelier, as guests will go around looking for different dishes or simply mingle with some friends while eating.

Cons: The problems you'll face are more or less the same as a buffet. However, as people will be standing around even when eating, you need to make sure there's enough space between food stalls. This arrangement is also less comfortable than seated arrangements, especially for older guests and children.

Casual dining

A non-formal wedding reception where people can enjoy and mingle casually without needing to follow any particular arrangement.

Who should do this : Couples who prefer an intimate wedding with a close-knit group of friends, held at informal venues such as a backyard, garden, or barn.

Number of guests : Maximum of 50 guests.

Things to consider : Food preparation, event schedule to keep the wedding enjoyable, and a comfortable space.

Pros: There is no wedding more enjoyable than this one, as its informal nature gives an intimate feel that no other setting can offer. Other than being budget-friendly, the best part is having the food catered exactly to your own and your guests' tastes. Also, since only close friends and relatives who mostly know each other are invited, it's easier to ensure a fun and relaxing time for everyone.

Cons: Though this reception style is very enjoyable, it might not be for everyone. It's certainly not recommended for more than 50 people, as things will get too messy and many guests can get bored. If you opt to throw your wedding at your own house, you might have to consider whether you have enough space and you also need to decide on the areas which should be restricted for guests.

Wedding menu ideas

After you've chosen a catering arrangement that suits your wedding style, here comes the fun part. It's time for you choose all the food you want to provide on your wedding day. Below, we've gathered some examples to give you a better picture of what you can serve on your wedding day.

Sit-down dinner

As it would be difficult to personally cater to every single guest's tastes and requirements, most wedding caterers or venues already have packaged menus that you can choose. They've perfectly paired each dish, from the hors d'oeuvre and appetizers to the entrée and dessert. If you want to serve wine, make sure to decide on the exact kind of wine you want to serve—acidic or sweet, red or white—and make sure it pairs well with your chosen menu. Don't forget to prepare special dishes for guests with food allergies and specific dietary requirements by asking them beforehand.

Buffet and standing party

To serve the large number of guests, you need a similarly large quantity of food. Try to mix and match different dishes, ensuring enough quantity and variety. You can also add small treats in the form of food stalls with wait staff on the corners or sides of your venue, with your entrée dishes set in the middle. As you won't be able to cater with each individual's preferences, for the best results, try to have different kinds of meat dishes such as chicken, beef, and seafood. Don't forget to prepare veggie dishes for vegetarians and people who don't like meat.

Casual dining

As it's an informal affair, there are no specific arrangements needed. If you decide to have a potluck gathering, try asking about the specific dishes your guests will bring or even assign entrées and desserts to ensure there is enough variety for everyone. Another fun thing to do is have a food truck serving your favorite snacks, or you can simply throw a barbeque wedding party. Even if it's a small event, you shouldn't forgo your wedding cake, as it makes a great dessert you can share with all your guests.

Here are some ideas we have prepared especially for you.

Wedding Catering 101: Planning Your Wedding Menu Image 1
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How to decide on a wedding menu

Deciding on a wedding menu that suits your theme, venue, and reception still can be confusing at first. But don't fret, just follow the simple steps below and your menu woes will be sorted out in no time.

1.Take note of the season

Certain types of food taste better in different seasons. A thick and cream soup, for example, isn't exactly the best match for a summer wedding held outdoors. You can learn more about what not to serve for your summertime wedding right here.

2.Consider your venue

If you have enough space to hold a sit-down reception, then feel free to have one. But don't go overboard if your venue just isn't big enough. Always ask your venue's person-in-charge beforehand to estimate the maximum number of guests for different reception styles to make sure everyone feels comfortable.

3.Find recommendations from celebrity chefs online

Thanks to technology, these days there's no need for you to meet professional chefs in person to get their recommendations. Simply find them online, but don't take their advice blindly without considering your own taste and situation.

4.Choose your favorite cuisine

Are you a fan of Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, or even Indian food? There are no rules for the type of cuisine you can serve, but you should always prepare a safe option for less adventurous eaters, like grilled chicken or pasta with bolognese sauce.

5.Don't be afraid to have a fusion dish

This is a great idea for those planning a multicultural wedding. Try to get your hands on a fusion menu, which will give your friends and relatives a glimpse of your spouse's culture. With a right balance, the combination of different flavors can be exciting.

6.Have a special diet menu

Having a menu for guests with specific diets is a thoughtful gesture. You can have a dedicated corner or stall for gluten-free desserts, vegetarian meals, also child-friendly meals. Don't forget to label the food accordingly and prepare some signage to make it more visible.

7.Be open to new things

When the usual choices leave you bored and uninspired, don't be afraid to explore and find new ideas from things around you. You can find fun alternatives to traditional wedding cakes here, for example. As for the seating arrangement, you can take some cues from this couple, who arranged a unique circled seating around a pit fire. Whatever you choose, make sure you're comfortable with it and you know how to pull it off.

Three things to consider when choosing a caterer

After you've rounded up a few potential wedding caterers, you need to carefully evaluate whether they will be able to suit your needs. Dealing with catering might be a bit complicated, but you can get started easily with these three points.

1.Pay attention to your vendor meal costs

You should always maintain a good relationship with your vendors, and this includes providing food for them during your reception. Remember that some vendors, like your wedding planner, band, and photographer along with their assistants will be working for hours, even all day. There's no need to add them to your guest count though, as most venues and caterers have discounted meals especially for vendors. Just make sure you know how much vendor meals need to be prepared.

2.Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

As always when it comes to wedding vendors, you should follow a few rules of negotiation to get the best deal for your catering. If getting a deeper price cut is really not possible, you can try negotiating for extras, such as more varieties of dessert, complimentary vendor meals, or special prices for edible wedding favors.

3.Ask all the right questions

A good wedding caterer is not simply the one who can cook the most delicious dishes. There are so many things you should consider, like the equipment and settings you need to prepare, the wait staff, and of course, your budget. To help you find the right caterer, we've compiled all the important questions you need to ask every potential caterer before you make a decision.

Wedding Catering 101: Planning Your Wedding Menu Image 2

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As one of the first services you should book after your venue, catering can make you feel overwhelmed. But don't consider it as a heavy burden, and instead think of it as a way to charm all your guests. After all, food is the heart of every joyful celebration, and you should be happy to share your favorite dishes with your loved ones. Fun canapés, ethnic cuisine, decadent desserts, the choice is yours!

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