Biggest day of your life? Need to food to be a) perfect b) on budget c) err, more perfect.
The lovely chaps at Ren’s Kitchen Caterers shared a few tips…
At Ren’s Kitchen when we take on a wedding catering brief we will sit down with our couples and ask them lots of questions. We want to know all about their friends and families, their expectations of the day – of course the basic details such as the time of wedding and the blessing and reception venues, the numbers of day guests and evening guests – and most importantly what everybody involved likes to eat and drink. We don’t skimp on details, and neither should you. Tell your caterer everything you wish for, and more…
Remember: briefing the caterer about the food for your wedding is not like choosing your dinner at a restaurant. A good caterer is there to cook for you and create whatever menu you desire to make your day special – not to strong-arm you into picking something from a pre-determined list. Caterers are trained chefs, there is no need for compromise on food quality or taste.
Let’s walk you through the catering logistics of a classic wedding day – with a traditional breakfast following on from a morning service – and let’s take it from the point when your guests arrive at your reception venue.
First and foremost we would advise always allowing more time for travel and for photographs than you might think – especially if you have elderly relatives or a large family to accommodate in the official shots.
As people arrive you will want your guests to be met by cheerful waiting staff with a champagne and canapé reception – think of this as inviting people to your home; once they have something to eat and drink guests will happily entertain themselves greeting each other and chatting for up to about 90 minutes.
Again, allow a bit more time than you would expect for seating guests for the wedding breakfast. Elderly relatives, children and large groups in general move slower and more haphazardly than you might think!
If you have more than ten children amongst your guests you might think about catering separately for them. Weddings can be a boring day for younger ones; once they have been quiet and seated for the ceremony even the best behaved might struggle to sit politely at a dining table. We would recommend laying on a picnic or buffet spread for them with finger food such as mini chicken goujons and chips – yummy things they would like to eat to minimise the tears.
Children over around twelve – by contrast – often are keen to be treated as grown-ups at weddings and are happy to be seated at the guest tables. For this little group of connoisseurs we would recommend again creating a few special touches – maybe some non-alcoholic cocktails served in adult glasses?
People will tell you lots of things are important: place settings, colour schemes, table décor… The only truly important things are having enough food and drink, the company of your friends and family, and that the bride and groom – specifically the bride – have fun on the day.
Common mistakes couples make include making whole menu choices that cater for one person’s diet – maybe you have one vegan relative attending, there is no need to lay on a whole vegan menu option, simply ask your caterer to create something special for this guest.
For a mixed crowd hog roasts work well – as do balanced menu choices such as steak/fish/chicken options. Unless you have a party of real food buffs steer clear of really unusual mains (offal, spicy food, foie gras etc) – your caterer can add flair and ‘wow factor’ to your main course through presentation, smooth service and quality ingredients. Whilst you do want your catering to be memorable, it should be for the right reasons.
A good sample menu might be:
Pan fried scallops with smoked paprika, crispy maple glazed pancetta, pea and watercress purée
Moroccan duck salad with a warm plum and pomegranate dressing
Wild mushroom risotto balls with saffron aioli and Parmesan crisp
Mustard roast chicken supreme, creamed leek and tarragon in a puff pastry croute
Chargrilled Sussex lamb rump, puy lentil cassoulet, pomme purée,
Butternut, roast pepper and spinach rottollo with sun blushed tomato and basil,
Sticky toffee and cinnamon pudding with clotted cream caramel,
Caramelized Limoncello tart with red berry coulis,
Chocolate and amaretto tart with white chocolate tuilles,
Filter coffee and home made truffles
You should allow at least two hours for the main meal – more if you have lots of speeches. We’d would recommend asking the father of the bride, groom and the best man roughly how long they plan to speak for and letting the caterers know, to ensure smooth service. If speeches involve a slide show about the groom’s past behaviour, for example, this could add another hour to the seating time.
A good time for speeches is between the main course and dessert; anything after that your guests will get itchy feet and begin to meander from their designated tables.
After the meal we’d suggest your caterers clear most of the dining space for dancing, but do leave some seating for tired guests – or those who don’t share your taste in music!
If you have evening guests arriving later in the day, don’t feel like you need to give them another sit-down meal. They will almost certainly have eaten a meal before coming out. But your guests who have been there all day will most likely be peckish again (especially after enthusiastic drinking and dancing) and so a light buffet of nibbles is generally appreciated.
It is important to consider the following: are your friends big drinkers? How far will they have to travel and will this mean they will want to leave early? Are your guests foodies? All of this has a bearing on what you might serve in the evening and what quantity.
If your guests are a mixed crowd, think of the evening menu as you might think about the music; keep it simple and crowd-pleasing. Don’t be afraid to go ‘low brow’ in the evening! Just as everyone loves to hear ‘Abba’ at a wedding, tipsy guests are appreciative of mini fish and chip cones, miniature burgers, cocktail kebabs etc and all of these can be as well-crafted and presented as your main meal.
A good sample buffet menu for evening guests;
Mini sirloin steak sandwiches with home made red onion marmalade and rocket on toasted ciabatta,
Black pudding scotch eggs with tarragon and Dijon mayo,
Tempura and sesame prawns with soy and lime,
Battered halloumi with triple cooked chips in newspaper cones,
Tip: it’s a nice touch to ask your caterers to feed the band or DJ and any of the venue staff on the day.
Which direction you take when choosing your wedding cake all depends on whether you want to serve it to your guests or not. At Ren’s (where we have our own patisserie attached to our café) we think it is lovely to serve delicious cakes as your dessert course – or something fun in the evening such as a decorated doughnut or profiterole tower. Traditional fruit cakes might not be to everyone’s taste, but we are often asked to create traditional trimmed, tower cakes with a variety of fillings (maybe one layer of fruit cake, one layer of chocolate and one layer of red velvet – complete with icing and wedding decorations). Cheese towers as ‘alternative’ cakes do work well (and look great visually) but it is a good idea to serve something sweet also. At the end of the day, think about what sort of cake you really enjoy – and taste plenty before you decide!
When thinking about alcohol, unless you have very boozy friends or relatives allow half a bottle of champagne or Prosecco per head for welcome drinks as your guests arrive at the venue and also provide a non-alcoholic option at this stage. For the seated meal, for a table of eight allow at least one bottle of red wine and one of white – plus a little bit more fizz for the speeches. (A little tip here: ask the Best Man to announce the speeches and suggest guests make their champagne last through the various toasts.)
In our experience, guests are happy with a paying bar in the evening. It is worth looking at the bar prices when you choose your venue though! Ask your caterer if they offer the option of running a joint subsidised bar for your event; so the caterer stocks and runs a minimal bar and serves drinks at a reduced price. Once the outlaid costs of drinks and bar staff have been covered, the profits are then passed on to the bride and groom. This keeps guests happy as it keeps the drinks prices down and can often also cover the costs of all your free drinks on the day as well.
Your wedding day is a one off event. The food should be perfect. Whilst we have advocated the benefits of keeping the menu simple and well executed, if you want showmanship and flair catering you should have it. Creating the food is often the most basic part of the service a good caterer can provide and you’ll find that often the price per head you will be quoted is based on logistics as much as the ingredients themselves. If you hanker after a medieval banquet or a sushi chef – don’t be afraid to ask!