June 7, 2005
Wedding Food

The Redhead and I went to a wedding this weekend. She was in the wedding, I was melting in the Virginia heat. All turned out well and two more people were successfully sent on their way with brand new tax advantages and albums of pictures.

I got to thinking about wedding food and wedding receptions and although I won't be able to put any of this to use personally (at least not until a still-only-theoretical daughter gets married), I've formed some strong opinions and rules on what constitutes good wedding grub. My rules:

1. Drinks are the most important thing.
You're having a party and ample beverage is important. Lots of drinks usually means lots of dancing and tomfoolery that will prove useful for blackmail when the wedding photos come back.

At our own wedding we had lots of good liquor and yellow label Veuve. Guests were handed a glass of bubbly on arrival so they had something to toast with and so there wasn't a party stopping crush at the bar.

If you go with champagne, go with good champagne for at least the first glass. You can always back off to a much less expensive bottle after the first toast, but you should have your marriage toasted with good stuff, don't you think?

I don't think you have to have tons and tons of beer (unless that's all your family drinks), but a good assortment of middle to top shelf liquors and lots and lots of mixers are important. Vodka and tonics or gin and tonics are not possible if you have no tonic. Make sure your caterer or the venue (whoever is responsible for the drinks) understands they just can't run out of Coca-Cola, orange juice, tonic, seltzer, 7-Up, cranberry juice, and any other mixer your friends and family require for drinks. Remember the kids at the wedding will be drinking what you might consider mixers.

If you serve a lot of booze, make sure you have transportation back to the hotel or home for your guests. It's not just a good idea, it's polite and smart. You don't want to hear about one of your guests getting into an accident on the way home.

One tip - if the bride is wearing white, keep her drinking clear or pale liquids all night. No rum and cokes or red wine unless you want a big stain on the dress in your photos.

On the subject of cash bar versus open bar - have an open bar. Period. You may restrict the costs by restricting drink choices or offering a subsection of the venue's usual selection for free while leaving higher priced items available for purchase, but no one likes being forced to pay for drinks at a wedding.

2. Food is the other most important thing.
There are three phases to the food service at most weddings:

First, is the passed appetizer/snack service. Success depends on a small assortment of appetizers that people will enjoy but not spill on them. Little soups would be a bad idea. Crumbly snacks are ok. Clean little bites are best. Make sure you have at least two vegetarian friendly items. Not only does it make the vegetarians happy, it makes the health-conscious happy. You should also have at least one item that's a fat bomb so the non-health-conscious don't notice the conspicuous vegetarian items. Brie works well in this role as do sausage rolls.

Second phase of the food at a good wedding in the dinner. The choice is between buffet or sit-down. I'm not a fan of the sit-down restaurant service style wedding dinner. Usually, you're given a choice between steak, fish, or chicken, and at least one and usually two of the choices are disappointing at best. Add the annoyance of having to wait for your food as it gets colder and colder as the servers work their way around to you, and I'll take the buffet every time.

Again, make sure a variety is available. Adding one very unusual item (ostrich or buffalo or alligator - something along those lines) will stimulate conversation, but not much of it may be eaten.

If you can, arrange the buffet in stations around the room where the reception is held to get people circulating. The wedding I was at this weekend added a great idea - the children's buffet which featured peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chicken fingers and other easy to handle foods that appeal to younger tastes. At the other end of the age spectrum, you should be sure to have someone assigned to take care of getting food for any less mobile elderly guests ahead of the rest of the room.

This is the phase where as the happy couple, you must have someone assigned to force you to sit down and eat. It's too easy to lose track of time while enjoying the company of the hundreds of people around you and miss the food service, which you'll regret later in the evening.

Try to ensure there's nothing too chewy on the buffet, or you will inevitably have just that item in your mouth when the glasses start clinking for a kiss.

The third phase is of course the cake. There's a whole ceremony around the cake and the first piece. After you've wiped the frosting off your nose, you'll be happiest if you've gone with a simply flavored cake. It doesn't matter what flavor it is, but if you have a complex cake, you may find the flavors are lost in the buttercream frosting used to get that "shellaqued package" look that most wedding cakes have. If you have a need to have a more complex cake, add a groom's cake to serve that purpose.

You can add other food items to the reception as amuse bouche's or as treats generally available throughout the evening. The reception meal in Virginia started with an attractive box in the shape of a flower filled with two chocolates. At our wedding, we had a tray of bourbon balls set on top of a piano in the foyer which disappeared throughout the night and which were much appreciated.

3. Coffee is not the only after dinner drink.
And even if it were, you should have caf and decaf coffee. I'd also hope to have tea and some kid-friendly drinks available to have with the cake and after dinner. Of course some Amaretto is nice, too...

4. Take care of your caterer.
Of course you should tip out the caterer and the servers generously, but you should also make sure ahead of time the caterer has all the information he or she needs and knows exactly what you're expecting. Ask questions as you get close to the day and make sure your caterer gives you responses that make you comfortable that the caterer understands your requirements. An informed caterer is a good caterer is a happy caterer who does a great job who makes the couple happy.

So what do you think? Do you have any rules I didn't cover, or any rules of mine that you disagree with?

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at June 7, 2005 11:06 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version


No discussion of the cake/dessert? Ms. Eatchicago and I are planning our wedding right now, and we've given a lot of thought to dessert.

What we've decided is that too many people go overboard with sweet tables and give their cake the backseat. Other times (once at a recent wedding), they served a totally separate dessert and then the cake a half hour later after we were all full.

We've decided to just have a darn-good cake sliced and served buffet-style, along with a few displays of fresh fruit. Everyone's happy, it doesn't cost a ton, and it'll taste great.

So, I guess my rule is: With dessert, keep it simple and tasty.

Posted by eatchicago on June 8, 2005 at 8:37 AM

Totally agree on the importance of the cake. I think that unscrupulous caterers try to talk people into additional desserts on the basis that the cake is somehow apart from the meal.

Actually, I felt like I was being bombarded on all sides by people telling me what I had to include on my "special day" - balloons, butterflies, cameras on every table, limos, etc.

Keep it simple is a good rule for the whole process (and life in general)!

Posted by Meg in Paris on June 8, 2005 at 8:52 AM

Cake is the third phase of the food. The danger with cake is that its going to have that buttercream frosting that's so good, but so thick. If you have a cake that's too "complex" (say a strawberry ginger spice cake), your guests are going to have trouble with it since they've presumably just had a great meal and a lot of drinks.

Rumblies in the tummies ensue.

For that same reason, I don't see a point to the dessert table. You already have the cake. I suppose if you have a family of sweet toothed sugar fiends it might make sense, but...

Posted by barrett on June 8, 2005 at 9:33 AM

I must have missed the third phase when i first read it. Nice post. Thanks.

Posted by eatchicago on June 8, 2005 at 10:22 AM

Great photo, Barrett! Have you thought of entering it in Does my blog look good in this??

Posted by Meg in Paris on June 8, 2005 at 10:37 AM

I catered both of my own weddings.

I do not suggest that anyone do this.

Furthermore, I suggest that if you are crazy enough to do this, unless you are a pastry chef, don't do the wedding cake. Leave that to the professionals. I did the cake for my first wedding, and while it was beautiful and tasted great, I thought I would tear out my hair putting it together.

Brides with big bald patches in their hair are not pretty. So, do not go there.

That said, I generally agree with you. I have catered a number of weddings and the most important things are the drinks and the cake.

What you have in the middle is seldom remembered unless it is fantastic.

I do like doing cocktail party, canape and drinks then cake only affairs. They are fun. A huge buffet table of really beautiful morsels is a big, big turn on for folks.

Garnishing is important--beautiful garnishes turn people on.

Big luscious platters of fruit really get folks going--people will start picking grapes and feeding them to each other and stuff like that, which leads to lots of great candid photos for the album.

Posted by Barbara on June 8, 2005 at 12:15 PM

I don't think it can be stressed enough to make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives for the drinks. There are many adults who will be thirsty but not want to drink alcohol all evening long. And some will choose not to drink alcohol at all.

Whenever my parents had a wine and cheese party, there was always a big punch bowl that was clearly labelled "non alcoholic". The punch was usually a combination of undiluted frozen lime concentrate, unsweetened pineapple juice, unsweetened grapefruit juice and soda water with lime and lemon slices floating on top. (If we ever entertained more than 4 people at a time, we would do the same sort of thing.)

Dessert: What about an assortment of cheese s and fruit? That wouldn't take away from the cake at all.

Our wedding was very small affair in the early afternoon - only 25 guests. The reception was in my parents' living room - elegant luncheon laid out on the sideboard for people to help themselves. With the lunch, we served red and white wine, mineral water, fruit juice and the famous punch. After the cake was cut, we served champagne for toasting (and fizzy mineral water for those who couldn't drink alcohol) Sure, there wasn't dancing but everyone seemed to have a good time - including us because we weren't stressed out at having to personally greet zillions people we barely knew. (Can you tell that I'm a great fan of small weddings?)


Posted by ejm on June 8, 2005 at 5:40 PM
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