Wedding catering - everything you should know...
As bespoke caterers for weddings and events of all shapes and sizes across the UK we’ve collected our shared experiences and summarised them into our top tips and things to think about when you’re planning your wedding day.
Wedding breakfast menu format
Your wedding breakfast will be your first meal together as husband and wife and so a really important part of your wedding day. You’ll be sharing this meal with your family and dearest friends and so it’s a great opportunity to plan a menu that you will all enjoy and remember together.
Wedding traditions are a great starting point to work from when planning your day, but you certainly don’t have to feel constrained by the ‘should and should nots’ of your wedding day. We’ve seen many menus lean towards informal, sharing dining with canapes used as a starter course, or the starter course blurring into the main course with continuous tapas, grazing foods. We’ve also prepared sharing desserts or simply served wedding cake as pudding to finish off the meal.
Do make sure you discuss your wedding breakfast format together and agree on the things that are important to you both. We’ve certainly met several brides and grooms to-be where one thought they would be having a traditional Sunday roast format and the other thought they would be having foods influenced from their favourite holiday. You can certainly find ways to do both, but do discuss what is important to you both and challenge your caterer to help you put together a menu from your brief. We have some great examples of this on our menu pages here
Your menu and format can also play a big part in the kind of atmosphere you would like to create for your wedding reception and wedding breakfast. There does tend to be a natural flow to your guests going from not knowing each other at the wedding ceremony, to exchanging stories of the bride and groom over the wedding breakfast and then they’re best friends on Facebook when it comes to dancing and enjoying the evening bar!
You can use food and drink in many ways to create the atmosphere that you want throughout your day. A drinks and canapes reception helps your guests mingle and whets their appetite. Sharing starters such as charcuterie boards of cold meats, artisan breads and dips encourage sharing and discussion. The main course can often be the focal point of the menu and a chance to wow guests with a dish that looks fantastic on the plate. Imagine how each part of your day may play out and ask your caterers for guidance and advice on how to ensure guests have a wonderful time.
Whether your venue is a rustic yurt in a picturesque woodland or a beautiful dining room within a historic stately home (or somewhere in-between) there are always different things to consider for your wedding catering when choosing your venue.
With weddings that we have catered for in woodlands, fields or gardens then we think about power, water, lighting and things that you’ll clearly be missing in the absence of a building. All of these things can be overcome, but do think about this when putting your menu together. We often bring kitchens with us to cater for weddings in yurts, marquees and tipis, but you’ll need to consider where the catering tent will be positioned, how food will be prepared and served and simple things like the potential of wonky tables on uneven floors!
With historic venues we often find that there can be restrictions on some things that you’re allowed to do within the rules of the venue. This might include your drinks bar, the dining room being on a different floor to the kitchen or even whether you’re allowed candles on your tables - so check everything that you want as soon as you can.
Whilst these are things to consider, they again can always be overcome and your venue can lend itself well to influencing the menu. For example, a relaxed and informal barn wedding reception may work well with trestle tables and sharing foods with guests seated in rows and food passed along like a banquet.
Timings for your wedding day
Whether you’re the type of organised couple with a project plan on a spreadsheet or you’re a bit
more last minute and on the day having an outline of timings can help input into the menu. Think about the time of day your wedding ceremony is at because if you’re having a late morning ceremony then your guests will certainly be hungry for lunch, dinner and maybe even supper?! Some couples that we’ve worked with have planned their ceremony after lunch, but then we’ve prepared a wedding party picnic for those involved such as the parents, best man, maid of honour, bridesmaids and groomsmen.
If you’re having additional evening guests, then they’re likely to be hungry during the party and so think about catering during your bands set breaks with a BBQ or street food style menus such as paellas, chillies and curries.
Wedding breakfast menu
Serving canapes during a drinks reception after your wedding ceremony is a great part of the day where you can get quite creative with the food that you serve. We often recommend that for a one to two hour reception that you choose four or five canapes and think about balancing them with meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan options.
With the canapes being small bites, it’s a great opportunity for guests to try something new and different or weave in little stories about your relationship together or how you grew up. One lovely couple we worked with were planning an outdoor wedding in the groom’s parents' garden under a stretch tent. With trestle tables, eclectic furniture; and a festival vibe, they wanted relaxed, fun food and drink on their menu.
When we discussed ideas, we heard the lovely story of how the bride met the groom’s grandmother when they were just 16. She was vegetarian and he didn't tell his grandmother this.... as she prepared the family favourite shepherd's pie. Feeling too shy and trying to be polite she went ahead and ate the shepherd's pie and loved it! So for their canapes we made mini-shepherd's pies which told a sweet story about the early days of their relationship.
We are seeing a renaissance for prawn cocktails, terrines and delicious soups for starter courses. There are many ways in which our chefs turn these retro dishes into tasty and beautiful starters for your guests and it’s great to see clients asking for some classic foods.
The starter course is also a good place to relax your guests and create an informal vibe with sharing boards, tapas and mezze and we’ve seen lots of examples of this work really well. With baskets of artisan breads with oil, hummus and pesto alongside these meal formats create an energy in the room, but also relax the pace of service and guests graze and take their time to get to know each other.
The main course for your wedding breakfast doesn’t haven’t to match the rest of your menu. We’ve served some amazing pies filled with fresh ingredients such as Braised Steak and Craft Ale or Chickpea, Feta, Sun-Blushed Tomato and Spinach.
Roast dinner style is always a popular choice and chicken can be done in more interesting ways than you may be used to. We’ve served a Spatchcock Chicken marinated in a Bourbon and Maple Sauce which goes really well with sharing salads such as Lemon and Herb Cous Cous or Tomato, Parsley and Mint Bulgar Wheat Tabbouleh.
This can often be the place of controversy with one of you thinking chocolate and the other fruit…often lemon! On so many occasions we’ve settled this on the menu with a duo or a trio of desserts which can be a great way to ensure that all of your guests enjoy at least one of the options…if not all three!
We recently prepared a full vegan menu which included a trio of desserts - Caribbean Eton Mess with Passion Fruit and Havana Rum, Lemon Cheesecake made with cashew nuts and a Roast Pineapple with Mango Salsa
When it comes to your drinks the one thing we would always say is make sure your guests have enough water to keep them hydrated throughout the day. Starting with potentially a drinks reception, then having wine with the wedding breakfast and an evening bar tots up quite a few units of alcohol, so do help your guests balance this out and don’t think you have to ply them with copious amounts of fizz, wine and beer to make your celebrations special.
If you’re providing your own drinks then do the maths and think about how long your day is, how often people are likely to refill their glasses and so how much you should order. This is a great excuse for a booze cruise, but it’s not a great situation if you run out before the evening party.
Again if you’re providing your own drink do also think about glassware, ice, garnishes, refrigeration and storage. With our clients we often take care of this for them and so do ask your caterer how they can help you as buying and keeping 20 bags of ice chilled is a challenge!
Obviously it’s easy to just get your caterer to take care of the drinks for you and get their advice on what drinks will pair well with the menu.
You don’t have to have a champagne or prosecco reception and we’ve provided some lovely winter wedding receptions as an example with mulled cider, winter pimms and classic cocktails. Summer lends itself well to gins and a lovely elderflower presse as a non-alcoholic alternative.
Evening wedding food
If your wedding celebrations are going on into the night then you may want to think about feeding your guests around 9:00pm – 10:00pm to help soak up the alcohol and keep them fuelled for dancing!
We’d often advise that you don’t need to cater for everyone of your evening guests like you do during your wedding breakfast. This is particularly true with more relaxed and informal foods such as BBQs, hog roasts, street food style menus and pizzas. As a guide consider catering for about 80% of your guests and this will help your budget go further and reduce food waste as not everyone has something or a lot to eat, so this can be a good thing to look at with your caterer.
If we were to give you our top five tips of planning your wedding catering then they would be as follows:
1. It’s your first meal together so make it personal
Take the opportunity to think about your favourite foods, experiences you’ve shared together, your first meal and above all make sure it’s food you enjoy.
2. Decide on timing and format
When working from a blank piece of paper, in the way we start with couples that we work with; starting with your timings and format can help give some shape to the day. It can help you think about where food and drink may be needed and then what types of foods could work well.
3. What does the caterer provide?
When working with caterers make sure you ask them what they will include in their service for you.Ask about napkins, crockery, cutlery and clearing away waste.Ask about a kitchen if you need one, where will the prep and what their team is like.Don’t worry about asking too many questions – this is your big day and an expensive meal, so make sure you’re absolutely confident and happy.
4. Taste the food
Try the food that your caterer is going to make.Sounds simple, but too often we’ve heard stories of couples who have gone into their wedding day without knowing if the food will be nice or not! Some caterers may charge for this and some may not do the tasting until you have booked them.We keep things simple and just make your menu for you at your home or your venue and we don’t charge – our tastings are just like a dinner party that you can enjoy.
5. Enjoy the process
Your wedding planning has a lot in it, with a lot of suppliers, a lot to organise and it will be one of your most memorable days of your life.Try not to be overwhelmed and take time to enjoy the process of planning your wedding day.Hopefully you’ll only do this once and so take time together to really enjoy it and have the most fantastic wedding day.
Further information and wedding advice
For even more wedding tips and ideas visit Wedding Wire - an online directory for everything wedding! You'll find ideas, suggestions, tips and great advice to help you with your wedding planning.