Choosing the catering for your big day can be a daunting experience. In the current economic climate, many couples are trying to economise and financial situations are understandably shaping menus. High quality food is still important however and this can be achieved on a relatively small budget with some careful thought and planning. John Hearn, Executive Chef of Tapenade shares his tips with The Wedding Girl’s SOS readers….
Start by selecting caterers at least six months in advance to give you time to discuss any requirements you have. This also allows time to arrange tastings and tweak menus to ensure it meets your aspirations.
Most importantly, don’t panic! Here are our top tips on shortlisting caterers and embarking on menu choices:
What you need to think about….
- Look carefully at your wedding as a whole and the food you’d like to eat. If your wedding has a particular theme for example, then menus should tie into that theme. If you have a family recipe then that can be recreated, with a fresh twist
- Keep things simple. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by menu choices, opting for more complicated options which can make prices escalate. Choose catering that reflects you both as a couple rather than feeling pressured to have a unique menu
- Think about the time of year you’re getting married and how that relates to the menu. Asking for winter vegetables in a summer wedding menu for example could have a big impact on cost and may not always be possible. Enquiring about locally sourced produce can also help keep costs to a minimum and offers a more personalised menu
- Gather catering quotes from nominated catering lists provided by your chosen venue. You can always see if your preferred supplier would be willing to negotiate on price if you have found a cheaper quote elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to ask the question
- Check what’s included in the price. Make sure it covers full catering, including chefs, food, preparation time, linens, service, crockery, cutlery, delivery and collection as well as the time it takes to prepare. Are drinks included in the price or will there be an extra cost? On some occasions caterers may also be able to include the drinks within the cost – it’s always worth checking with them
Trends and menu choices to make your budget go that much further ….
- Consider cost effective informal styles over traditional formats – buffets, BBQs or a hog roast is a great way to cater for large numbers and on a relatively small budget. This also gives guests the freedom to move around and enjoy the proceedings, making for a more relaxed atmosphere. Remember, the key is to include a good mix of meat, fish and vegetarian options to accommodate all guests
- Wedding picnics! Tasty hampers, brimming with succulent game pies or a selection of cheeses, and sprawling rugs laid out on the grass are perfect for an English summer wedding. This works well as an alternative to a wedding breakfast and can be less costly than a sit-down dinner
- Go retro! Pick classic dishes like prawn cocktail or black forest gateau with a modern feel. Or keep them as they were in the ‘70’s to give guests a trip down memory lane
- Opt for shabby/chic menus featuring favourite dishes like pie & mash, bangers and mash, or fish and chips, with a fresh twist
- Have the wedding cake as dessert. Many couples find their guests are often too full after the meal to enjoy the cake, so it goes to waste. Incorporating it into the main menu can help reduce costs and means less decisions for you! Another alternative is to serve the cake as a buffet with coffee later in the evening.
- Have fun with evening food. Fewer couples are asking for large evening buffets as this simply adds to the cost. If you’re looking for options to curb the hunger later on, why not offer fresh bacon baps or sausage rolls that guests can tuck in to?
- Cheese boards or buffets. Rather than a cheese course, cheese boards can be brought out later in the reception to include the evening guests. Consider a variety of cheeses, breads and pate that guests can help themselves to
- Get interactive. For example, a large platter of chocolate truffles for each table and different toppings such as chopped nuts or popping candy to roll them in
- Have fun with pick & mix instead of petit fours – choose popular childhood sweets, or bowls of pick and mix so guests can choose
- Smaller wedding breakfasts and receptions are becoming increasingly popular. This allows you to keep a better control on expenditure and offers a more intimate and personal atmosphere for you and your guests
So, your caterers are selected and your menu choices are being whipped up in the kitchen, now you just need to finalise the finer details….
When it comes to drinks, there are several options to choose from. Inclusive drinks packages are good as you can be sure your guests can enjoy the hospitality all day without a large bar bill after the event. Another option is to supply your own alcohol. In this instance most caterers will just request a minimal drinks service charger to cover costs of staff, glasses etc.
If you’re unsure which wine to choose, or how much will be needed, your caterers should be able to suggest suitable options. We would usually recommend half a bottle of wine per guest for the meal as standard.
When choosing your wedding cake, your caterers may be able to advise you, but usually an outside supplier will be used. As with your wedding catering, look around and gather quotes. If you’re looking to keep costs down, then decorating the cake with fresh flowers from your florist can be a cost effective option. Many couples now also choose to have a smaller decorated cake on display, with cakes ‘behind the scenes’ that the caterers can then offer to guests.
Another factor to consider is timings. From our experience, the ideal time for the wedding breakfast is around 4pm. This allows plenty of time for people to eat before the evening entertainment starts and it gives the bride and groom an opportunity to speak to all their guests after the meal and speeches. Having it at this time also means that food can be served later in the evening, if desired, without guests being too full.
Last but not least, enjoy it! A wedding should be a celebration so they key is to make sure the catering reflects you both as a couple, with a menu that you will enjoy.