Planning a wedding can be extremely stressful, and the menu often makes it into the top 5 most stressful things to plan.

The couple usually sits with, what they perceive to be, a difficult decision – who should the menu be designed for? Who should they take into consideration, and how much weight should their guests’ tastes and preferences carry? When we work with a bridal couple, we never neglect to emphasise that it is their day, and therefore the menu should reflect them. It should include dishes that the couple love. We use that as the starting point – once the menu has been designed featuring dishes the couple prefers, we can add a modern twist, change ingredients to make the dish more affordable or more luxurious, change a sauce or topping to make sure the dishes flow better, and more.

The best tip we can give anyone who needs to decide on a menu is to try and mimic a traditional menu as close as possible. That means try to follow the order of light starter (usually fish or vegetarian), a main meal consisting of one or two proteins, two vegetables, two salads and a starch, and at least one dessert.

When designing your menu, there are a few things you should consider. Let us discuss each of them separately:

Should you serve canapes as well as a starter?

This would depend on what time you are getting married, as well as how long you are planning on taking photos. The earlier the ceremony, the more canapes you should give your guests. If you are planning on taking photos for anything more than 45min, we would recommend that you serve a larger assortment of canapes. If you have a later-in-the-afternoon ceremony or are planning a quick photo session, then we would suggest serving a small selection of canapes and then opt for a light starter once the guests come into the venue. Just a word of caution – if you do plan to serve a starter, then you should serve light canapes, or else you stand the chance that your guests might not be able to finish their main course, or even steer clear of the dessert entirely.

How many courses should you serve?

This ties in with the previous point but is important enough to discuss separately. Modern wedding menus can take on any form, from platters to roaming bowls to more traditional buffets. You can choose to serve two courses, three courses, or more courses. Usually, the rule of thumb is the more courses you have, the more formal the wedding. A “conventional” menu consists of a starter, main course and dessert. You can extend this menu by adding canapes before the starter, a palette cleanser between the starter and main course, splitting the main course into two courses (beef and then chicken anyone?) and even adding a fancy course such as a pasta or salad dish. The number of courses you serve will depend entirely on the couple, their budget, as well as the kitchen facilities, time constraints, and servers that will be required.

What form should the menu service take?

There are so many options to choose from. You can have plated food, waiter-offered finger bites or small dishes, family-style food or a traditional buffet. You can even combine these services, e.g. canapes are waiter-offered, the main course is plated with the salad served family-style, and dessert buffet style in the form of a dessert table. The serving style that you decide on should take into account the costs involved such as extra serving ware and extra servers, kitchen facilities, budget, time constraints, and type of menu. Also, the ultimate vision of the bridal couple is important. If you want a more laid-back informal wedding, serving the food family-style (on the tables for the guests to dish for themselves) or buffet-style works well. For a more formal reception, opt for plated or waiter served.

Should we serve dessert as well as a wedding cake?

This is a tough question to answer. A wedding cake does provide the, sorry for the pun, cherry on top for the wedding. And it is a wonderful way of tying the look and feel as well as the theme of the wedding together. We normally suggest one of two things – either have a smallish cake (not big enough for all the guests to have a piece. Work on about 70% of your guests) which you cut for the cake cutting ceremony, then serve together with a decadent dessert; or have a wonderfully tasty and beautiful wedding cake that is big enough for all the guests to have a piece and ask your caterer to cut the cake up as the dessert. What we have found in all our years, is that most people do not eat dessert. They either go home before then or are busy dancing. So, if you want to cut a few costs, start with your cake and dessert.

How many proteins (or meats specifically) should we serve?

A question just as much about your budget as your preferences. If you have a smallish budget, we recommend sticking to one meat, even a more affordable option such as chicken, but ensuring the dish is special, tasty and unique. If you have a bit more to spend, we suggest rather going for an impressive protein than splitting the focus on two. So serve the fillet or lamb shank, and leave the beef and chicken option for the next time your guests fly.

Should I take dietary requirements into consideration?

If you are expecting guests who have special dietary requirements, consider not changing the entire menu to suit them. Rather cater for them individually by asking the caterer to make smaller acceptable dishes for them specifically. Just remember it remains your responsibility to ensure the caterers know who the special guests are to ensure that other guests do not take their specially catered-for food.

We are vegan, should we make everyone eat vegan?

This is a tough one, and we can argue strongly for both of our recommendations. Your first option, in our opinion, is to keep the entire menu vegan. If you do go for this option, then please ensure you choose a caterer who has enough experience in catering vegan food and insist on a tasting. So often vegan food is either tasteless or unoriginal – two things you definitely do not want for your wedding feast. Option two is to design a conventional menu for your guests, and then a special vegan menu for you and/or your partner as well as any other vegan guests you might expect. This option is strongly recommended if you cannot find a caterer who specialises, or at least have some experience, in catering vegan. Also, some guests might be uncomfortable or not enjoy the food at all, not because the food is lesser than but purely because they have preconceived ideas. If you think your menu might lead to family twists and worse, then consider option two seriously.

These are only a few of the most frequently asked questions, we will have to do a follow up post to discuss the rest!

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