So you love food and want to make it a central part of your wedding? Here are some suggestions for taking a foodies approach to planning your day.
Have a Theme
Depending on your style of wedding, there will be quite a range of food, from canapés to dinner and dessert through to supper. Choosing a theme can help tie it all together, but choose one that means something to you both. Have you shared a special overseas holiday? Did he take you to a certain restaurant when you were dating? Do your families have roots overseas?
Your theme can be quite specific (Vietnamese Street food!) or loose (Seafood!) but the best caterers will take your ideas and present them in a menu that matches the style and timing of your wedding.
Keep it Simple
Like many aspects of planning a wedding, it’s tempting to add one more thing, just another idea, one last teeny detail to the menu, but experienced cooks know that a ‘less is more’ approach really does pay off when planning the food. We’re not talking less quantity, but understanding that less variety executed perfectly is better than being underwhelmed by a large menu not presented as you had imagined. The more guests you are catering for the more you should keep this tip in mind.
When keeping it simple, keeping it fresh is important. Please don’t ask for ingredients that won’t be in season or at their best on the big day.
Make it Fun
Your wedding will be glamorous, (semi) formal and well organised, but don’t forget that it should also be fun. In fact the most successful weddings I’ve been a part of are the ones that have been the most fun, because what it all comes down to is celebrating the moment and enjoying yourself with the people you love.
Little gazpacho or Champagne popsicles on the lawn, making your own gourmet sundaes, a giant candy station with dozens of jars of lollies, tiny cones of fish and chips on the beach… there are plenty of ways to put a smile on your guests faces with a fun food moment!
Sharing encourages mingling and conversation and makes for a livelier event. A shared table buffet (family-style shared platters on the table) is the most popular and successful style of wedding catering that LittleWolf offers. This format seems to suit us kiwis because it takes the edge off the formality of a plated meal but skips the waiting-in-a-queue-at-the-buffet.
Another way to share is with fork food stations, little dishes that can be eaten while standing but presented in interesting ways around the room. Stations can be manned by chefs for an even more interactive event.
The same way that a restaurant experience has a rhythm and flow, so will your wedding day. The moments I remember best through many years of eating out are the times I’ve been surprised, maybe by something presented in an unusual way or an unexpected addition to a meal that demonstrated generosity. These surprising moments have an emotional edge that makes them memorable but they also play an important part in the rhythm of your day. They can focus people’s attention, signal a new part of the evening or give them something they will forever associate with you.
Some ideas include sweet treats disguised as mini burgers and sandwiches, a surprise supper station after the booze has been flowing for a while and people are starting to flag, or a ‘one for the road’ little box with a handmade savory pastry as guests get on the bus at the end of it all.
The style of menu you choose for your wedding will have a big effect on the overall feel, impression and cost of the whole day. This makes it one of the more important decisions you’ll make early on along with choosing a venue. Luckily the modern couple now has more options than ever, which can be both exciting and confusing. To help you understand these options here’s a basic explanation of the five most common formats:
For shorter receptions, a limited budget or if food simply isn’t that important to you (and that’s not a criticism, if music is your thing then focus your budget on a band and rock it out, it’s your party!) theres absolutely nothing wrong with offering only canapés. Start with lighter, more elegant pieces and move towards to more substantial items later in the reception.
But if you’re partying into the evening be sure to provide some sort of supper. Most caterers will be open to you providing the supper yourself, especially if it’s at a private home (possibly even consider asking a family member to arrange this as their gift).
Fork or Bowl Food
Different caterers will call this different things but these are small dishes of food designed to be eaten easily while standing and mingling. These are almost always served with finger foods and two to three dishes per person is the equivalent of a meal. They can be tray served by waitstaff or artfully arranged on ‘stations’ around the room and can suit both a casual and rustic reception or a more formal and elegant one.
The benefits of fork food are that you may need less equipment and service staff as well as tables and chairs, saving on costs, and it’s also a more relaxed way of eating as the food can be served over a period of time rather than in one hit. You can also have a bit of fun designing the stations. Consider making them interactive by having a chef prepare or finish off the dishes and handing them to guests. Or by personalise them: remember the hot dogs you had together in New York or the crab cakes he made you when he was trying to impress you with his cooking skills? Base a food station on those memories and make it part of your story.
The good old buffet reception has fallen out of fashion in the last few years, but that’s mostly due to unimaginative menus and poor execution and not because there’s anything wrong with the concept.
In fact a buffet can strike a perfect balance between a formal seated affair and one where guests can eat at their own pace and also switch seats. Although they can be a little cheaper than plated meals because you’ll need slightly less wait staff, it really depends on the final menu you choose including how many different items you want to offer. Bear in mind that a smaller selection presented beautifully can be more satisfying than a large range presented poorly.
The key to a striking buffet is the styling of the food table so be sure to ask your caterer how they plan on presenting this. If they don’t seem to have many ideas ask your stylist/event manager to work with them out if you’re using one.
Whatever you do, just say ‘No’ to big, stainless steel, hotel style chafing dishes!
In the USA they call this ‘family style’. All it means is that each table gets platters placed in the centre for the guests to share and serve themselves to their plates. Quite a fun way to eat, it’s a compromise between a buffet, keeping the variety of dishes but without having to queue, and a plated meal.
Consider antipasto or tapas platters to start, followed by whole sides of smoked salmon and carved slow roast lamb leg with accompaniments for a main course and a mix and match selection of desert tarts with sauces and custards in vintage milk bottles afterwards.
The Plated Meal
A more formal way of dining, this is the format closest to a restaurant experience and generally the most expensive due to requiring more equipment, waiters and chefs. Only trust experienced caterers with this, as you don’t want issues such as the Bridal table having finished their meal before the last table has been served.
Giving your guests a choice of entree or main will also increase the cost, as the caterer will have to have more portions of each option ready. Tricks to consider include having a shared platter for an entree followed by individually plated mains, or to offer ‘alternate drop service’, where guests don’t get to choose their dish but the two choices get served to alternate guests (e.g. Salmon, Beef, Salmon, Beef). It’s then up to guests to swap with their neighbour if they like.
It’s my experience that a plated dessert isn’t always the best option as by then guests have been sitting in one place for quite some time during speeches and dinner service and welcome the opportunity to stand and mingle. It’s usually enough to have a dessert table of petit fours or other easily eaten sweets, or even a simple dessert buffet which might include the sliced cake.
Whatever format you decide on it’s important to be a responsible and thoughtful host and also that your guests know whether to expect a full meal or to eat beforehand, so be sure to mention it in the invitation. If it isn’t otherwise stated and your reception is over the lunch or dinner period, guests will assume that they are going to be fed and won’t eat beforehand.
Using a good caterer will make this whole process a lot simpler as they will guide you on what is and isn’t practical for you based on your other arrangements, preferences and budget. They should also be able show you photographs and menus of weddings they have catered in the past and even arrange a menu tasting to finalise the details, though most caterers will only do this if you have confirmed you will be using them.
Bear in mind that some venues have exclusive arrangements with one or a small list of preferred caterers, so you may have to decide early on which is more important to you: having that particular venue or being able to choose your caterer. Hotels may also be a little less flexible as they generally have a set list of menus to choose from, but they have benefits such as offering all inclusive packages with no additional staff, equipment and venue hire costs and of course the convenience of accommodation.
There are plenty of other aspects to the food and drinks aspect of your wedding day that I can’t cover here such as timings, themes, quantities and how to personalise the menu to reflect your journey to this day, but those are all separate posts on their own!