Eating is a celebration in itself, especially at a wedding reception. Your guests may not remember many of the small details of the wedding, but they will remember a good meal. As with many parts of a wedding, there are just a few common sense catering etiquette guidelines and then most of the choices are a matter of your own tastes – no pun intended.
If you prefer high tradition, then you may lean towards something classic like filet mignon, salmon mousse, and chocolate-dipped strawberries. However, depending on your family customs and background, ethnic cuisine can be more affordable, interesting, and memorable.
The Reception Meal and Venue
The time, type, and service of the meal is guided by the theme and the location of your wedding. A small reception area will have more limitations than a reception area that is large. You should acquire the input of your coordinator and caterer to help with these decisions.
Time and type of meal
If your wedding is in the late afternoon or evening and is very formal, then the type of meal may tend to be formal, such as a sit down dinner. If your wedding is late morning or early afternoon and casual, then a brunch or light food stations may be more fitting.
Traditionally, dinner / supper is the wedding reception meal of choice. However, there are many other options that are less costly and can provide a unique ambiance at the reception. Consider other options such as a breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, evening cocktails, or a dessert only.
Service of meal
How the meal is served is of some importance. There are generally three options, although each option has many different variations that your caterer should be able to offer.
• Hors d’oeuvres / finger food – Staff bring light foods finger foods to the guests as they are seated or standing.
• Buffet – Guests select their own foods or desserts from one or more buffet tables. This might also include service stations for fun and interesting foods such as crepes or ice cream sundaes, which are assembled by staff based on the guest selections. Buffet tables and service stations take up more room in a reception area, so the space must be considered carefully. Stations may allow for more variety such as a carving station and freshly made pasta and seafood station.
• Seated meal venue – Staff serves guests directly at their tables. The seated meal is usually more formal and traditional.
Questions to ask your caterer
Here are the top questions to consider asking a prospective caterer or facility to help you screen and select the best caterer / vendor for your special wedding day.
1. Health rating and licenses – This can determine cleanliness, health, and legality.
o What is their current rating by the state health department? Remember those A, B & C signs in restaurant windows?
o Do they have a license to sell alcohol? Do they sub contract out the alcohol service?
o Do they have liability insurance?
o Are they affiliated with professional organizations?
o Do they have references?
2. Price – Ask for a price list and options.
o How are foods and meals priced – by each guest? By a minimum number that attend?
o Are children’s prices lower? Vendor meals?
o Can you get a refund if less guests attend than anticipated?
o For alcoholic drinks, are there options such as negotiating a total food and beverage price or a flat fee for bar service?
o Can you purchase and supply your own alcohol?
o What is the minimum cost of a bar setup?
o Is there a wine corking fee?
o Is delivery of food and alcohol included?
o Are there any extra (or hidden) charges?
o What about décor items such as chairs, linens, and/or specialty china and glassware?
3. Dates available – Lock in your date as early as possible.
o Are they available on your wedding date?
4. Freshness and Quality – This ensures the food is fresh and the highest quality.
o Can you taste samples?
o How close to the time of the wedding will the food be made?
o How will the food be kept fresh and unspoiled? Do they use organic items?
o Do they have a quality guarantee?
o Can you speak with the actual chef?
o Can we make menu choices and substitutions based on our tastes, budget or ethnic needs? How flexible are they?
5. Location and Service – This confirms the environment is consistent with your theme and service is available.
o Are they familiar with your reception location? If so, are there any special issues or nuances you should consider or be aware of?
o How will the staff be dressed?
o Who will be available if problems arise? Who is the onsite contact the day of?
May the aroma and tastes of our life together permeate your wedding reception and create wonderful tasty memories for your family and friends!