When it comes to the most memorable components of a wedding, food tops the list for many guests. And, happily, the days of cookie-cutter menus (think boring chicken, steak, and pasta options) are in the distant past, with caterers and event teams offering more cutting-edge and exciting culinary options than ever before. But with more options come more decisions to be made, and narrowing it all down can feel like a mighty tall task.
To help make sense of the menu-planning process, we asked Tatiana Cardenas of Starr Events, which has locations in Miami, Philadelphia, and New York City, to share her expert insight. Here, she shares six tips for planning a crowd-pleasing culinary experience.
Assess your list
“Open a bottle of wine, sit down with your fiancé, and run through your list. Consider the following: cultural backgrounds, age ranges, and level of traditionalism. This helps when deciding what type of food service to choose. Plated vs. Stations is a question most brides toy with. If your guest list is mainly traditional, you may consider the elegance of a plated meal. On the other hand, if you feel that your guests would be open to changing it up a bit, a station-based dinner brings your guests together and provides an array of different options.”
Trust Your Team
“Choose a caterer that is in line with your own standards. How important is the quality of the food and the manner in which its served to your loved ones? If your answer was “highly important,” do your research on your caterer. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few choices, trust yourself and trust your team. Catering is a critical piece of the puzzle and it’s important that you fully understand who your team will be on the days leading up to and on the big day. Trust is everything.”
Be Truthful About Your Budget
“Discuss the experience you want to create for your guests. Talk to your catering manager about different types of food service and which one would fit best with your intended budget. Your team can’t help you target your budget if you haven’t determined one. Likewise, once you have established a number you’re comfortable with, give yourself a 10% buffer for unexpected additions you can weigh out as you get closer to the wedding day. Talk to your caterer about adding custom late-night snacks, like your favorite college sports team’s logo on slider boxes, or ethnic street foods to highlight your personal backgrounds.”
“I’m not talking about fuchsia peonies, chevron prints, or alternative wedding cakes. I’m talking about BOLD flavors that excite—make every bite memorable! Your guests have become more educated—social media and the Cooking Channel have opened their eyes to a brand new world, and, as a result, tired catering food simply won’t do. Keep it fresh and focus on presentation, too. Don’t forget—you eat with your eyes first. Team up with a caterer that pushes the envelope while still keeping your wants and needs in mind.”
Maximize Your Time
“Consider the length of your party and how long each type of food service will last. Be sure your caterer has the necessary staff to conduct service swiftly and efficiently in the time your planner has allotted to food service. Staff is not a good place to cut back on—your service may suffer, and that would lead to an overall bad guest experience. Think about the possibility of a first look—it will give you and your partner the chance to enjoy cocktail hour and those amazing tuna tartar spring rolls you had at your tasting!”
Choices—Everyone Loves Them
“If you go with a plated dinner, give your guests a tableside choice entrée. This is the epitome of elegance and consideration for your guests’ wishes. Tableside choice basically means that a server takes orders and each guest is asked what they would like to have for dinner. Your guests will love you! Opt out of the dated RSVP response card—no one can predict what their dietary restrictions will be in three months. Guests want choices, and they want to be able to make them on the fly! Don’t forget to print menus with the different entrée options. Tuck them in guests’ napkins, place them on their chargers, or incorporate them into the tablescape. Just make sure they can see it clearly!”
All images courtesy of Starr Events