How to Choose the Perfect Menu

How to Choose the Perfect Menu

I don’t know about you, but I can’t WAIT to plan my menu for my wedding one day. I live for food and being able to sample a bunch of options for the biggest event of my life, yes please!

Now, the menu for your big day is not just exclusive to the dinner portion of your reception. Here we will journey through all the possible food options of your entire day, from the moment guests arrive to the second they leave for the evening. We will look at all our options, discuss what is necessary and what isn’t, as well as, variables to take into consideration when choosing your food.

Don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed or feel pressured. All you need is a little prep work, some creativity, and a stellar caterer.

Before we dive in, the first thing to do is concider your budget.

Everyone’s budget for their wedding is different, which means the budget for their food is different as well. It’s a must to take into account what funds you have available. Serving all of your friends, co-workers and family can get pretty pricey, so do your homework!

Knowing your head count will play a big factor into your budget for food.

After considering what types of food you might want at your event, research as many options as you can, including: caterers, store bought items, food trucks, or homemade goodies. As a bride, you need to decide what is most important to you at your reception. If delicious, beautiful food is a big factor for you in the success of your event, consider allocating a few more dollars toward this area and cut back somewhere else. That way you can hire that amazing catering company and sit back and relax.

If money is tight but you still want beautiful food, caterers have several budget options and can often deconstruct their menus to give you portions of a menu at a lower price. Store bought items that come in bulk or homemade treats are also a great money saving option – especially if you have a large family that is willing to help but be sure to check with your venue before making any major decisions to see if they allow outside food.

Next, consider your timeline.

Once you know your budget, then consider the timing of your day. This is something you can work out with your wedding coordinator and will give you a really great idea of how much food is really necessary for your event.

There is no need for food before the ceremony starts. Most couples choose to invite guests 30 minutes prior to the start time of the ceremony to give them time to find parking, and account for late guests. If anything, beverages like water and/or beer & wine offered would be a nice touch for those guests who arrive early.

As for another suggestion, if you are getting married at a venue that is surrounded by bars or restaurants, speak to them about possibly setting up an affiliation where you can send guests to that location to hang out for drinks before the ceremony. Often times places will be more than willing to host guests because they want the business! Once the ceremony is about to start, your coordinator can gather everyone up to bring them to the ceremony space.

Appetizers after the ceremony… should you??

These days, many people do a first look for the sake of having a private intimate moment alone with your significant other, as well as, to be able to get many photos out of the way to shorten the length of cocktail hour after the ceremony.

The length of cocktail hour depends on how many photos will be taken after the ceremony. The more photos you get out of the way before the ceremony, chances are, the shorter the cocktail hour will most likely be. The length of cocktail hour will determine how much food should be given to guests during this time.

If your wedding overall is on a 4 or 5-hour timeline, chances are, photos will be taken beforehand to optimize your time.  Don’t take ALL of your photos beforehand, but take what you can for the sake of time. The average wedding these days has a cocktail hour anywhere from 30 minutes to maximum an hour.

Why is all of this relevant to food???

Because knowing your timeline will allow you to better understand how much food you need to fill the time for your guests. If you end up only having a 30-minute cocktail hour, one or two appetizers will absolutely be sufficient. If you plan on taking an hour and a half worth of pictures, maybe a stationary appetizer, tray passed hors de hourves, or a station of some sort could be sufficient.

Remember, during cocktail hour, guests are going to the bar, mingling, finding their seating arrangements, going to the restroom, taking pictures in the photo booth and enjoying the scenery. So also keep this in mind! The longer your guests sit around, the more they will be wondering where the food is. If you keep the cocktail hour short, they won’t even have time to notice the fact that there were only a couple appetizers. Before they know it, it will be time for dinner.

Then, choose the style of your dinner.

Seated Dinner

Italian wedding

At a seated dinner, each guest’s meal is plated individually and delivered to the table by the waitstaff, course of course. This often is best for a fixed menu offering one or two choices of traditional meals, which generally consist of soup or salad served with bread, followed by an entree with side dishes.


Buffet service offers each guest dishes from a particular style of cuisine, such as Mexican, Italian, or barbecue. A typical buffet service allows for guests to customize their plates particular to their liking and get as much or as little as they want.


Family-style meals are delivered on large platters with enough food for everyone at the table. Individuals take turns serving themselves from each platter and passing them along to the next person.

Cocktail Reception

A cocktail reception offers beverages as well as food options from various stations where servers prepare items to order, and includes passed hors d’oeuvres. If you choose this type of reception, be sure to prepare guests so they can eat something beforehand.

Attend the tasting to solidify your options.

Once you are aware of HOW MUCH you are looking for, the next step would be to attend a food tasting, often put on by the venue or caterer you choose. Speak with your wedding planner or contact at the venue to see what you were quoted when you received an estimate. That way you are prepared at the tasting and can try things within budget.

Account for your guests, to an extent.

At the end of the day, remember that this is YOUR wedding. So the food you choose should mirror the two of you. With food allergies and preferences more prevalent than ever, picking the right wedding menu can seem super challenging. The good thing is, there’s a way to accommodate multiple preferences without feeling like you need to offer up a restaurant menu when guests get to the reception.

The basic beef, chicken or fish, and vegetarian selections are a great place to start, as these cover all of the major food preferences. From there, look into sides, sauces, and accompaniments that will work for multiple dietary restrictions (especially if those restrictions are your own!).

That vegetarian dish can also be vegan if you skip the dairy and opt for grains instead of pasta (which usually has eggs in the dough), and that braised short rib can be gluten free if you pair it with the right mix of veggies. Worried about shellfish allergies? Skip seafood altogether and go with chicken instead.

If you’re not concerned about allergies or dietary restrictions, don’t be afraid to keep the menu simple! It can be more expensive to offer a wide array of dishes at your wedding reception (as that means more prep and different food costs), so having two or three choices is plenty and will still satisfy your guests. Pick an entrée the two of you really love, then pair it with a crowd pleaser that your caterer’s clients totally love. Your caterer will be able to work with you to find the perfect menu that fits your tastes, your budget, and your guests’ needs, so treat it as a collaboration and you’ll wind up with a wedding meal people won’t stop talking about.

If you and your partner aren’t completely obsessed with the things you tried at the tasting, or maybe you feel completely lost in the direction you want to go in and want to stay away from the obvious choices, then here are some tips to consider when picking your food options.

Integrate culture

If you or your future spouse have a unique cultural background, don’t be afraid to show it off through your food! You could have a Hawaiian buffet or French pastries, a Spanish feast or Asian cuisine. At the same time, you don’t have to be from a certain country to present that type of food at your reception. Some couples like to incorporate food or treats from a country or location they just really enjoy – one couple had their whole wedding, including the food, Paris-themed because that’s where the groom proposed! Decide if there is a place significant to you and your future spouse and consider the options!

If you have a theme, fit the theme

Does your wedding have a theme? If so, create an array of food that is cleverly connected. You can be as creative or traditional as you want! For example, if you’re having a carnival themed reception, go for the highly anticipated carnival foods like cotton candy, corn dogs and popcorn. Or, if you’re having a European inspired event and want the food to have it’s own unique flair, try something unexpected like cronuts. For a Mexican themed event, try a guacamole action station. The sky’s the limit!

Don’t Skimp on Portions

Even if you’re having a buffet, no matter your choices, you should try and give your caterer a pretty accurate head count, and you shouldn’t try to scrimp more than they recommend. Not having enough food at the reception is a surefire way to leave an iffy impression on your guests. While caterers may bring 10 percent extra food, you can’t always count on actually having extra. The surplus is a buffer for unexpected surprises, and the catering team will staff according to your guest count, so be as exact as possible when providing your pro with numbers.


Some final food for thought: (*ha!)

  1. Love what you choose. You will be eating it too on the most important day of your life.
  2. Stay within budget.
  3. It’s okay to cut back on appetizers if you are providing guests with dinner.
  4. Keep cocktail hour less than an hour.
  5. Make sure you take time on your wedding day to enjoy the food!

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