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The Definitive Guide to Food and Drink

Choosing menus is one area that often trips couples up. It is very easy to overlook this area and really when it comes to the guests this is the most important aspect of the wedding; after all we always remember great food and wine (and even more so bad food and wine)!


Wedding Planning Editor, Susanna Richardson

Whether you are hiring caterers in or using in-house chefs it is vital to sit down and discuss all options in detail with the person that will be doing the food on the day. If you are looking to hire outside caterers try and meet with at least three and get a good idea of all the different options available. Most caterers will have a good idea of what works well especially if you are having a large wedding but don’t be afraid to ask for anything in particular that you want to have. If you really want homemade steak pie, a Moroccan banquet or an English tea party talk to the venue and see what they can do. Many venues are very flexible and will be more than happy to accommodate your requests. You also need to check that they are happy to supply special menus for those guests that may have allergies or dietary requirements. Many times you won’t find out about this until all RSVP’s have been received, so it can often be a last minute change. Food_and_Drink.jpg

It doesn’t always follow that the more expensive the better the food. Of course you need to make sure that they use good quality suppliers but you also need to make sure that you don’t pay over the top for a simple dish. Keeping food simple can work well at weddings especially if you are trying to keep the costs down. You also have to cater to everyone’s taste so it’s best not to go for Foie Gras for instance. Chicken is always a popular choice but can be a little boring so ask about ways to jazz it up a little.   

A starter of soup can be just the thing for a winter wedding and a green salad is perfect for warm summer days. Having said that, many couples opt for menus that are very glam and trendy and go for a more exotic mix. This can work well as long as you know your guests would appreciate it, as not everyone will be happy with Sushi for example. If you do decide to go more exotic it can be a good idea to go for either mixed canapés starters or a buffet so that guests have a good choice of what to eat. That way you can try to keep everyone happy, no mean feat when it comes to weddings! You know your guests and their tastes so don’t ever be afraid to have what you really want. You’ll never please everyone and wedding food can be a little dull so it’s always nice to see fresh dishes on a menu.  

A middle option is food that is “family service” where plates of food are put into the middle of each table and guests help themselves. This way, everyone can eat the bits that they like the most. This is especially good for dessert, where you’d offer a choice of two or three whole desserts and guests tuck in. The downside of this is table space, once you’ve factored in floral arrangements etc there isn’t a lot of room so discuss this with the venue and the florist so everyone is clear on the space available.  

If you are worried that people won’t like the food then you can always add the menu to the information sheet when you send the invitations and that way guests can tell you in advance if they have any dietary issues with what’s on offer. Be warned though, giving guests a pre-choice can be nice but it can get tricky when it comes to counting numbers and guests will often forget what the ordered and change their mind on their day. If you do this be sure to add the menu choice to the back of the placecards so there’s no cheating going on! 

The amount that you spend will be dependent on your overall budget and what you want. It will also depend on whether a drinks package is included. Make sure that you get a breakdown of just what is included and always compare like for like with quotes. On first inspection some quotes appear expensive but you may find that a higher quality wine or Champagne is included along with canapés on arrival.

It can often be the little finishing touches that really add to the success of a wedding breakfast. Petit fours with coffee, an after dinner liqueur or an array of jewelled cake desserts can be fantastic additions and will often be remembered by the guests more so than the dinner itself.

Choose your wine carefully and do your research. If you can, try to opt for a corkage option, where you buy the wine elsewhere and the venue charge a fee for allowing you to do this (normally around £5.00+ per bottle for wine and £10+ per bottle for Champagne). 

If you have a friendly wine merchant or are planning a trip to France this can save you a fortune.  Make sure that you try all of the wines and where possible try them with the food you are planning to eat. Don’t go for anything too heavy and try to stick with easy drinking options, a wine that is not too oakey or sweet will always work well. 

As with the food it doesn’t always follow that the more expensive the better, there are some great budget wines and Champagnes that will work wonderfully. Sparkling wines can be a great alternative to Champagne if you are trying to cut costs and many house wines are of a great quality, so don’t be afraid to go for these options. Again it is all about budget and you just need to make sure that you stick to what you can get for your money.  

On average you will get 5 good glasses of champagne out of a bottle and a glass or a half glass is an adequate amount for the toasts. Half a glass is more than enough if you don’t want to go OTT on the budget; it is just a small gesture for the raising of glasses. With drinks on arrival you may want to offer anything from 1-3 drinks dependent on how long this reception period will be, base it on one drink per 45 minutes. If you are working out wine for the meal anything between ½ and 1 bottle is a good amount, depending on how well watered you want your guests to be! 

Don’t forget about the tee-totallers and children, there are some great non-alcoholic cocktails available that work well for these guests. They will be thrilled to have something different to orange juice or sparkling water on offer and this shows a great deal of thought on your part. With evening receptions it is perfectly fine to have a pay bar. Fewer couples opt for a free bar in the evening these days and guests rarely complain about this. It can be a nice touch to offer the evening only guests a glass of something on arrival just as a small gesture or you could put a small amount of money behind the bar just so that everyone gets one free drink.

Ways to save money 

Have your cake as dessert – If you are paying out for an expensive cake why not serve it as dessert, you can always have an extra layer added so that you have some spare for sending out after the wedding.

Serve sparkling wine instead of champagne – There are some wonderful sparkling wines around so why not serve one instead of the usual champagne? It can halve the price. 

Have a buffet instead of a sit down meal – Having a buffet can be a great way of cutting the costs and can work really well for mixing in exotic dishes. 

Don’t have canapés on arrival – Unless you are having a long drinks reception there really isn't any need to serve canapés on arrival. Or if you really want canapés, as the venue to make more substantial canapés and have them serve as the starter as well.

 Do your own catering – With the help of a good supermarket or cash and carry it can be really easy to do things yourself.  If you do plenty in advance and rope in some helpers it needn’t be stressful at all. 

Supply your own wine and fizz– ask the venue about corkage and make friends with a good wine merchant, it is amazing how much money this can save 

Use the local Catering College – If you are having a marquee or home wedding why not contact your local catering college and enquire about hiring the staff. If you are marrying in June or July they will have already undergone a full years training so will be up to speed. 

Don’t have an evening buffet – Don’t opt for the traditional evening buffet. Bacon sandwiches, cheese and pate, mini fish and chips or curry pots make wonderful alternatives that your guests will love. 

Be creative – By adding a twist with the food you can get away with cutting the costs. Prepare hampers for the guests for a Summer style picnic, have a hog roast or a “Jamie Oliver” style BBQ, they all work well and can be super cheap to do. 

Get married later on in the day – You can then just have an evening reception and minimise the need to feed your guests twice.  This also means that you can have a simple buffet and a pay bar, which will bring the costs down dramatically.

With thanks to Jonathan Ryan of www.WeddingsByRyan.com for the photograph

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