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10 Tips for Selecting the Perfect Wedding Menu

A couple planning a wedding menu.

Your wedding day should be full of joy, laughter, and plenty of dancing. These tips for choosing the right food for the occasion will ensure everyone’s got enough fuel for the celebration.

From selecting décor to finding the perfect venue, wedding planning is super involved and takes lots of preparation. Let us help take the stress out of the menu selection process.

We’ll cover the various serving styles, tell you which foods to avoid, and even give you an inside look at balancing what you want as a couple, and what your guests will appreciate, too.

Offer Starters

While some will tell you offering hors d’oeuvres isn’t necessary, we’re here to smash that and say yes, it is. How many weddings have you attended where you found yourself starving and wondering where the wedding party was, only to discover they’re still taking photos.

The additional wait time, plus zero appetizers, equals hangry guests. There are plenty of options that don’t cost a fortune, and your caterer should work with you to find what works best.

Even a few souped-up platters of cheese and crackers will keep guests happy until dinner is served. Many weddings offer a cocktail hour after the ceremony, which is a great time for guests to snack and grab drinks while the wedding party takes photos. Anything is better than nothing.

Set Your Plate Budget

Aside from renting your dream venue, food is an expensive factor to consider when planning your wedding budget. Most caterers and venues determine food costs by the number of guests that plan to attend, whether planning to go with an elaborate buffet or plated-style.

Whether your venue has an onsite restaurant or you’re working with a caterer, they’ll talk to you about package deals and possibly options for alcoholic beverage inclusions.

All you need to do is figure out is how much you are able or willing to spend, and then work with your planner or caterer to determine which plates or buffet options work within the allotted amount.

Know the Reception Serving Styles

People loading plates at a buffet.

There are a few serving styles to consider when planning your wedding menu. Here’s a break-down of each:

  • Traditional: The most standard serving style at a wedding is the traditional plated sit-down dinner. Guests typically pre-select an entrée of choice when submitting their RSVP, then enjoy it at a formal seated dinner that is served to them.
  • Buffet: Another popular choice, this serving style offers many entrees and sides so guests can just go through the line and choose what, and how much, they want. The more you offer, the more expensive it becomes, but guests tend to like this style as it offers variety. A fancier alternative is offering self-serve stations with plated options for guests to grab. However, these stations take up a lot of space and usually don’t work well for larger weddings.
  • Family: This style offers various plates of food that can be passed around the table and enjoyed as if you were eating at home with your family. It’s a little less formal than a plated option but fancier than a buffet option. This style also tends to be a bit pricier than others because of the service needed to accommodate everything involved in these coursed dinners.
  • Cocktail: If you choose this style, guests just grab bite-sized treats all night, rather than eating a traditional sit-down dinner. It’s a great way to keep guests up and mingling throughout the night, but it’s not a great option if you have many older guests. If you plan to go this route, make sure you let your guests know beforehand.

If your primary concern is presentation and elegance, perhaps a fancy plated dinner is your best option. However, if you want plenty of variety for your guests, a buffet-style dinner is likely your best bet.

Offer Several Options

Whether you’re going buffet- or family-style, or plated, you’ll want to make sure you offer more than one or two choices.

While it’s impossible to accommodate everyone’s wants and needs, having a few standard options—like one meat, one fish, and one vegetarian—is usually an excellent starting point.

When in doubt, offering a variety of options and at last one that doesn’t include meat, is ideal. A vegetarian pasta is typically a safe bet for most.

Think Seasonal

Wedding cakes and pastries.

Seasonal food is always superior in flavor, quality, and overall freshness. Each season offers foods that are best suited for that time of year. It’s the easiest way to delight your guests by providing a fresh and flavorful dinner they’ll love.

In the spring, offer lighter options with plenty of herbs and light sauces, and plenty of fruits and veggies. Summer is your best time to show off the bright colors of produce with heartier and more robust flavors while still keeping things on the lighter side.

Fall should provide gorgeous arrays of brightly hued ingredients like root vegetables and squashes, and be sure to deliver hints of flavorful spices into your meals, too. Winter is your best time to incorporate rich pasta dishes with root veggies, soups, and anything creamy you wouldn’t usually serve any other time of year.

Consider Common Allergies and Dietary Needs

If you plan on offering a pre-selected, plated dinner for your guests, be sure to leave room for guests to call and inquire about a meal that can be made to accommodate any dietary restrictions or allergies.

You can do this by politely adding a blurb on the bottom of the RSVP card providing information about calling to ask about alternative meal options.

Otherwise, it’s best to avoid serving foods that include common allergens like peanuts or tree nuts. If you want to include something like a pesto dish, be sure to have your caterer mark the meal card for safety.

Match Your Wedding’s Dress Code

This one is a silent rule, but also one that many are breaking these days. Matching the level of your wedding’s formality means you want to serve fancier foods if you have a formal dress code or casual options if you’ve gone for more casual-dress.

However, today the trend seems to be that many fancier weddings push for more casual menus, like offering pizza buffets, taco bars, or even hiring a few food trucks. It’s your wedding, after all. Just make sure you weigh your options before making these spontaneous decisions.

Another factor to consider is matching the style of food to your wedding’s theme. For example, if you’re planning a rustic event in a barn, consider offering a family-style dinner with barbecue chicken, baked macaroni, cornbread, and biscuits.

Balance Between You and Your Guests

People enjoying an outdoor wedding dinner.

Speaking of decisions, while choosing foods that you and your soon-to-be spouse love, remember that this meal is also thanking your guests for taking the time to celebrate with you.

So, although you and your partner should make decisions based on foods you both enjoy, keep in mind that the meal is a gift to your guests, too.

A great way of balancing these two factors is by adding bits and details of foods you love into your selection. Buffet style is the easiest way to make everyone happy as you can add the meals you love plus a few other options your guests might also enjoy.

If the two of you have a favorite meal that isn’t exactly fit for a wedding, see if the caterer you are working with can develop a fancy alternative that your guests will woo over.

Choose Foods Based on the Setting

Serve foods that will work well with the setting of your wedding and hold up well in the expected temperatures. For example, selecting an all-butter cream frosted cake sounds delicious, but it won’t keep well while on display outside under the hot sun.

The same goes for dressed greens, which won’t hold up long whether inside or outside, but especially not in the heat. The same goes for serving plated options that won’t taste right if cold. Your caterer can work through these types of scenarios with you to avoid any problems.

Indoors are a bit more predictable and temperature-controlled but outdoors are tricky.  If planning an outside summer wedding, serve foods that are hydrating, like fresh fruits and veggies. Think watermelon, yogurt-infused dishes, and cucumbers.

Avoid Certain Foods

There are certain foods and ingredients you might want to avoid altogether. Foods like raw onion and garlic cause bad breath and really squash those romantic feels during slow dances.

Foods with a high splatter factor will stain those guests who are dressed to impress, and risky foods with raw ingredients might not suit everyone’s taste buds and can be unsafe.

We’re not here to set rules; in fact, breaking tradition is fun and provides a twist your guests will never forget. So, if you want to serve donuts instead of cake, do it! Your guests will love it.

If you keep these meal-planning tips in mind when selecting what to serve on your big day, you, your honey, and all of your guests are sure to have a fantastic time! Something else you might want to consider is a cool backdrop to make those wedding photos extra special!

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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