Planning food for 150 people at a time is tough, even under the best of circumstances. Add the stress and financial worries of planning a wedding, and it is no surprise that a lot of wedding food is bland and forgettable at best, and overcooked and inedible at worst. Some of the reasons are obvious — caterers often want to avoid strongly flavored or spicy food so as not to offend anyone, high-quality steak or pork can be expensive and is often not used, and the simple act of cooking 150 meals can lead to overcooking or food sitting around for longer than ideal.
Your wedding might not be centered around food, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make choices to get the most flavorful options. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you choose a caterer and plan a menu.
1. Whenever possible, choose something local and in season. Not only will the food taste better (and you can tout your eco-credentials to your friends) but local food can be more affordable in season. Don’t know what is in season? That is what your caterer is for. Your caterer is a professional, who hopefully has a deep love of food and cooking, and will be able to give you tips on what will be available and flavorful during your wedding.
Another benefit of choosing local foods is to showcase your city to your guests. Show them what Midwesterner are made of and serve locally made cheeses, locally grown apples, maple syrup, or wild rice.
2. Take a moment to think about what foods you actually like. It is probably not going to be chicken cordon bleu or beef tips in sauce, yet that is what most people choose for their wedding menu. Choosing food out of obligation or because “that is what food is like at weddings” will guarantee you have a forgettable meal.
Instead, think about choosing a food item that had real interest for you, such as a favorite recipe or comfort food, and then talk with your caterer about options. A few years ago, I attended a wedding at a lodge up north where the choices are usually chicken or beef, but the bride and groom loved spicy food and wanted a vegetarian option, so guests had the option of chicken or Thai green curry with tofu.
Along with choosing foods you are excited about, you should also feel comfortable losing foods that you don’t care about. There are no event police on the day of your wedding to ticket you for not having a salad course, or only having one meat option for guests to choose from. You can use that savings to make another part of your meal special.
3. Think outside the box. Often wedding food is mediocre because the challenge of having 150 hot meals has to take precedence over serving the most delicious food possible. If you rethink what a “meal” has to look like, you can have a lot more options to boost flavor.
Having a party food (something that is meant to be heated as one big unit or served room temperature) guarantees flavor, consistency, and temperature. Consider a lasagna or even a large pig roast — slices can be carved to order in a buffet line. A friend served a cold party food for her wedding: a sandwich buffet. Guests had lots of options because they made their own meals, and the components were top-notch.
If you don’t need a sit-down meal at all, choosing food stations or hot passed appetizers is a great option. Individual foods are presented by the caterer in the way that will best showcase their flavor and can be replenished as needed. Also, when you get little “bites” of food, there is no room for bland asparagus or overcooked steak.
4. Go off menu. Your caterer runs a business, and they have plenty of couples who come in, circle two meats and a salad, and leave without ever really talking about food. That is efficient for them, and works for many couples. But your caterer is also a food lover, and you should utilize that love to yield better results. Many caterers are excited to work with couples who want “different” foods because they don’t often get the chance to experiment.
Talk with your caterer about designing a menu or bringing in different ingredients to better serve your needs. If you love the chicken but find it bland, ask for a flavorful sauce. If you love curry but your caterer doesn’t currently offer it, give them a recipe and ask if they will work off of that. Often, revising a dish or adding a special ingredient will not cost much more than the “on menu” options, but will personalize your menu and add more flavor.
5. Finally, splurge on something fabulous. Choosing the least expensive options will lead to forgettable foods. if you choose one aspect of your meal — a cheese plate, local vegetables, mango sauce for pork — you guarantee that part of your meal will be wonderful and memorable.