Planning a reception meal for a large group seems daunting, but couples pull it off – successfully – everyday. We talked to a few wedding planners and caterers about the major considerations.
Know your budget
How much money you want to spend dictates the choice of food. Your caterer needs to know your general price tag to help you plan efficiently, says Gamini Hemalal, president and CEO of Golden Chefs & ICEGUYS in Toronto.
Avoid high costs by not having a dinner. Consider a morning wedding followed by a breakfast or an early afternoon wedding followed by a cocktail party or afternoon tea. Or choose to serve proteins like chicken rather than prime rib, says Vanessa Sinclair, lead wedding planner at Uniquely Exquisite.
Breakfast, lunch or dinner?
The time of day affects the cost of the food, but also what you serve. If you’re doing Sunday brunch serve waffles and omelettes instead of a meat entrée. If you’re not doing a full-meal reception, then you could serve more filling finger foods so your guests don’t get hungry, says Gamini.
It is your wedding, but consider your guests tastes when choosing the menu. Michelle Garber, owner and event planner of Fab Fête, says couples ask whether their guests have any dietary restrictions on their RSVP invitation card. Be considerate of guests from other cultures who don’t eat specific meats. Vanessa suggests asking your family if there are any traditional foods they’d like to see at the wedding. If so, you can ask them to make it or have it catered.
Buffet or table service?
There are different variations of these choices, but the most basic options are that guests either go to the buffet and serve themselves or they are served at the table by waiters. Michelle says she prefers plated service, but you do pay more because you need more wait staff. If you do a buffet your guests can encounter long wait times and sometimes there’s more people waiting than eating, Vanessa says.
One or two live stations might be a good idea because that way guests see the food freshly made and have a chance to interact with the chefs, says Gamini, but it will cost a bit more.
Choosing the caterer
The sooner you get this done, the smoother your wedding planning will go. Booking your caterer a year in advance allows enough leeway time for you to get the person of your choice. Typically when you book your venue you’ll only be allowed to use their list of preferred caterers or their in-house caterer. Sometimes venues will let you bring your own caterer, but you’ll have to a pay a percent fee or they’ll only let you do so if the venue doesn’t specialize in the specific cultural cuisines, says Michelle.
If you’re planning an outdoor wedding, ask your friends whom they’ve used or experienced at other events, says Vanessa.
Ask for references
Sit down and chat with the caterer’s referrals before booking them. Some questions you might ask: the largest party they’ve ever catered; what style of catering they’re familiar (such as Italian or East Indian). If you’re using a wedding planner, they can suggest whom they’ve worked with in the past and whether they’re punctual and professional.
Sample, sample, sample
Test and taste the caterer’s food to ensure it’s what you want served at your wedding. Give the caterer a trial run by having them cater a small function or try takeout from them, says Vanessa.
Planning the menu
If you have a favourite fruit, it’s OK to incorporate it into some dishes, but not into everything. Mix up your food’s type, taste and textures, says Gamini. Also be careful of serving too many starchy foods.
If you’re serving finger foods make sure they are practical, he says. “Can you pick this up with your fingers and bite it or will the sauce or the salsa drip onto your dress, spoiling your whole day.”
Ask questions, says Vanessa. “[Caterers] should be accommodating to help you create your perfect day. Anyone that’s an affirmative no, can’t do it, that’s not possible, try shopping elsewhere.” There are certain vegetables or fruits that aren’t available all-year round at the proper quality or price point, but the caterer will let you know in advance. Keep in mind that you need to be realistic and if you’re on a tight budget, serving sirloin steak might not be a good idea.
Photo courtesy of CaterTrendz Culinary Production