On the long list of wedding planning activities engaged couples look forward to, choosing the food usually ranks supreme. Not only is it fun to taste all the different options and select your favorites (plus a few time-honored crowd-pleasers, of course!), but it's also incredibly important. As any event planner or chef will tell you, guests really appreciate good food during the reception. But how do you go about making palatable picks that will not only please you and your spouse-to-be, but also your many guests? We asked chefs from venues across the country to share the biggest menu mistakes brides and grooms make, plus their best tips to avoid them.
Not thinking seasonally.
You're probably choosing your wedding menu at least one season ahead of time, meaning if you're planning your fall menu in the summer, your idea of "seasonal" will probably be tomatoes, stone fruit, and fresh corn. "But you need to remember that those ingredients won't be available, or as delicious, in October," explains Karen Akunowicz, executive chef and partner at Myers + Chang in Boston, Massachusetts. "Talk to your chef or caterer about which ingredients are at their peak the month you're getting married. For bonus points, use lovely fruit, vegetables or fish local to your area. Think: wild Maine blueberries, Pacific Northwest salmon, or New Jersey tomatoes."
Trying to please everyone.
Samuel Well, chef and owner of catering company 168 Main in Belgrade, Maine, says choosing menu items every single guest will love isn't possible. "You can't please everyone so forget about it! Look to please the majority and you'll be much better off for it," he explains. That said, your menu shouldn't be packed only with your favorite foods. "Even though this is your special day, not everyone likes the same things you do. Not having some mainstream items in the menu selection can leave many of the guests going hungry at the reception," says Gregory Barnhill, corporate chef at The Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Choosing food items that are difficult to eat.
Whole lobsters are delicious, but cracking into one in your formal attire isn't going to be pretty. That's why Jackie Cochran, executive sous chef at Stowe Mountain Lodge, says to actually think about what it's like to eat every item you're choosing. "While Mexican street corn can be a fun and modern addition to a festive wedding, it can also be a mess," she explains.
Not asking about allergies and food preferences.
It's important to let both your venue and the caterer know about food allergies, which gives them time to plan ahead. "Vegetarians are often regaled to eating the 'sides' or a limp pasta primavera at weddings," says Akunowicz, "But it is so easy to add a line on the RSVP card asking for allergies and dietary preferences—otherwise, those guests could leave hungry and grumpy." Well agrees, adding that his team likes to know this information as early as possible. "This lets us come up with alternatives," he explains. "I'm sure these guests will be treated like VIPs. I know mine are."
Going overboard with hors d'oeuvres.
"Cocktail hour is everyone's favorite part of the reception (mine too!), but often a couple will choose too many passed appetizers with not enough quantity of each," says Akunowicz. "This leaves your Aunt Muriel wondering where the oysters are that she saw someone else eating!" To avoid that, Akunowicz suggests choosing just a few different bites, but asking your caterer whip up a larger number of each. "You can also have a stationary cheese and charcuterie table as well as passed appetizers," the pro suggests.
Forgetting about the kids.
If you're inviting little ones to the wedding, you should make sure you have appropriate meal options for them, too. "All too often the kids' meals seem to be an afterthought, often turning out to be dry chicken fingers and soggy French fries," says Barnhill. "I think as much thought should go into making sure children are fed, and quickly, with something they like and something better for them. Kids love choosing for themselves, so sometimes we put small items on the menu for kids to choose from. It makes it a little more custom."
Bringing family recipes to the chef.
You may love your mom's famous cupcake recipe, but asking your chef to tackle an unfamiliar recipe probably isn't the best idea, says Jeff Farlow, executive catering chef at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, California. "Although we're culinary professionals, the end result will likely be very different than what you're used to," he explains. "Also, executing outside recipes stresses the kitchen process, as the chef would need to demo the recipe to have an understanding of the end product and train those expected to produce it, which costs time and money. Save it for another occasion, avoid the upcharge, and allow the venue you chose to showcase their expertise and the experiences they have perfected over the years."
Choosing to have a buffet because it's more affordable.
Saving money is important, but the idea that a buffet is always more affordable isn't true, says Becky Geisel, executive chef at Fell Stone Manor in Hampton, New Jersey. "Most people think that the buffet is cheaper, but they don't necessarily cost less than a plated meal," she explains. "Buffets require much more food and choices for your guests and a chef or caterer never wants to run out, so food costs will be slightly higher. The buffet also needs to be managed by the staff to maintain quality and quantity. This, too, is an added expense."