At the core of every great reception lies a strong menu. From cake and cutlets to hors d’oeuvres and happy hour, you want your food and drink offerings to say something about you and your spouse’s tastes. At the same time, you have some strategizing to do to ensure your menu choices flow well together and provide ample options for your guests.
Most of us are not pastry chefs, wine connoisseurs, or culinary experts, so we rely on professional wedding vendors to guide us in these key decisions. Since making sure you choose the right vendors for your big day is not always a piece of cake, it may serve you well to read through these pointers before tucking into that vanilla buttercream.
Do Your Homework
First and foremost, consider your prospective wedding venue and its approach to food. Some venues, such as hotels, don’t even allow the option for tastings until you have already committed to have your event with them.
If tasting the fare before signing the contract is important to you, you may want to consider having your wedding at a venue that allows outside caterers. This means you’ll have the security of your reception location and can then proceed in matters of drinks, dinner, and dessert.
The flipside to this is that without a wedding planner, having multiple vendors increases your workload. You’ll need to coordinate food delivery and execution with the venue’s, the caterer’s, and (if you’ve hired a separate bakery) the bakery’s requirements in mind. For example, if you’re heart’s set on banana flambé, but your venue has a no-open-flame policy, you may have to settle for Bananas Foster. Or, if the cake needs to arrive after the bakery closes but the venue has strict delivery schedules, you’ll need to find a way to accommodate.
Before your appointment, be sure to confirm whether or not the tasting is free and how many people may accompany you. Study the vendor’s menu before your tasting and see if the chef can prepare specific items for you. This saves you time and keeps you from trying every single item on their menu – keeping you on target with those last five pounds you want to lose before the big day. If anyone accompanying you to the tasting has specific food allergies, let the vendor know beforehand. Also consider asking about vegetarian dishes, as you’ll likely want to offer this option for meat-free guests.
Keep Your Budget at the Forefront
Be candid with the vendor about your desired budget. This will help them plan a menu accordingly. You’ll find many vendors can substitute items at the top of their range with lower-priced dishes.
Depending on the time of your reception, the vendor may even suggest heavy hors d‘oeuvres instead of a plated dinner to lower costs. For dessert, perhaps a cake with two tiers instead of three will bring you within budget. In either case, working together with your vendors at the beginning of your menu planning will prevent unwanted surprises — for both sides of the business relationship.
If it’s Not Exactly Right, Say Something
It’s important to express yourself at a tasting, especially when something you try isn’t exactly up to your tastes. As long as you’re polite and tactful, you don’t have worry about insulting the chef.
Ask for potential solutions to this problem. Could they add less salt to the bruschetta or cook the vegetables a bit longer the day of your event? If the item is especially problematic, you may even be able to replace it entirely, depending on the menu offerings.
Lay Out a Simple Strategy
Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many tastings. Whether you’re sampling cakes and dessert or heavy appetizers and signature cocktails, inundating yourself with too many choices will just slow down the planning process. If your vendors will allow tastings before a contract is signed, you really don’t want to make more than two or three of these appointments, despite how appetizing the alternative may sound.
Secondly, consider the time of day you make your tasting appointment, particularly if you are contemplating using a restaurant as your food vendor. Booking your meeting for a busy time – for instance, the weekday lunch rush or weekend dinner hour – may give you the opportunity to try more dishes than you would otherwise since the kitchen will producing a greater variety of dishes than they would on, say, a slow Monday night.
Some vendors will even let you sample food from a wedding they’ve catered. You’ll be in a separate room, of course, and you may not sample everything you select for your day, but you’ll definitely get a realistic idea for what to expect at your reception.
If you want to get the best idea of what the food at your wedding will actually taste like, consider booking your tasting for the same day and time as your actual event. Chances are, the cook or pastry chef that will be preparing your sampling will be the same as the one that will work for your event.
No matter what food you choose to serve at your wedding, if you follow these guidelines you will have an easier, more productive tasting experience. Let your taste buds be your guide, and you can't go wrong.