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Eat, Drink, and Be Married: Choosing a Menu

Mar 19, 2012 11:50PM ● Published by Anonymous

Service with style

As in years past, many brides choose the standard plated or buffet dinner. There's a reason why each of these options have withstood the test of time—They work. A plated dinner offers a formal, traditional feel, along with some other bonuses. Everyone is served at the same time, and the portions are controlled, making it more cost-effective.

Buffets, on the other hand, create a more casual ambiance and allow guests to get seconds if they really like the meal. The prevailing theory is that buffets are less expensive; however, that's not always the case. Because people often like to eat seconds (or thirds!), caterers have to make more food, for which they charge appropriately.

Beyond traditional meal servings, there are two more options that have emerged on the weddings scene: Action stations and cocktail receptions.

Action stations allow your guests to mix and mingle, as do cocktail receptions, rather than being chained to a table all night. For a successful stations reception, choose three to four food stations to give guests a variety of tastes. Comfort foods have been a hot trend in the culinary wedding world recently, with mashed potato bars leading the way. Follow that train of thought but make it a little different by offering a soup station for a fall or winter wedding with rich, creamy soups such as clam chowder, butternut squash, or cream of crab. Other station options offered at local venues include a sushi station with a chef hand-rolling maki for your guests, a raw bar (a pricey, but Chesapeake-oriented and delicious), or a carving station featuring prime rib, turkey, and ham.

If you're looking for a stylish gathering more reminiscent of a party than a wedding, plan a cocktail reception that's heavy on the bar and features multiple mini-bites of food (think tapas or heavy hors d'ouerves). Some caterers will have to arrange a special menu for your event; however, many vendors have caught on to the trend and have already created cocktail menus from which to choose. Appetizers served at these events include trendy items such as Ahi Tuna on a Gyoza Crisp, classic fare like miniature crab cakes, and vegetarian options like Kalamata Olive and Artichoke Tarts. Many couples choose to include one or stations at a cocktail reception just to offer a little bit more food.

Something to note: Some guests expect a full meal when attending a wedding, so be sure to provide warning to your guests that dinner might not be as they expect. The best way to do this is to state it on the invitation: "Please join us following the ceremony for a cocktail reception." It also works better if you have your wedding at a non-meal time, such as the early afternoon or late evening.

A final option is to host a "confections and cocktails" reception in the late evening. A dessert reception was once a choice only for budget brides; however, it's growing in popularity for all price ranges. Hold your ceremony at 7 p.m.—after dinnertime—and follow it with a variety of desserts and a signature cocktail or two. Along with the standard wedding cake, work with a baker to offer flavors of pie, chocolate truffles, cheesecake, and cannolis. Hire a bartender to make espresso martinis, a mix of Kahlua, vanilla vodka, and a touch of cream, as a twist on the classic "cake and coffee."

Choosing Your Menu

Too often, brides and grooms think they are limited by the few choices their venue's caterer offers for dinner. If the venue and caterer allow, take cues from the season and your personal preferences to make a menu.

Creating a seasonal menu is one of the fastest ways to make your wedding meal stand apart from others. How often have you seen this meal at an autumn wedding: A garden salad with house dressing, followed by steak medallion with green beans and roasted potatoes. It's tasty, but boring.

Now, how often have you seen this meal at a wedding: Curried pumpkin soup followed by cranberry-glazed pork roast and a side of sweet potatoes. The flavors offered in this seasonal meal are fresh and inventive—at least when it comes to wedding receptions. These same principles can be applied to other seasons with fresh vegetables such as using fresh produce in the spring, serving chilled gazpacho in the summer, and warming up over hearty stews in the winter.

Perhaps the most important elements to consider are your own preferences. Because food is one of the biggest parts of the day—consider how much money you're spending on the meal in relation to everything else you're paying for—it's one of the easiest ways to inject your own personality and background into the wedding. There are no rules when it comes to what type of food to serve at your wedding, as evidenced by the recent trend of grilled cheese triangles served with shooter glasses of tomato soup at elegant, upscale weddings.

Think back to what foods made you the most excited when you were growing up. Was it spaghetti and meatballs? Set up a pasta bar, complete with sauté chefs to make pasta dishes to order. Did you lust over Mexican food? Serve small quesadillas filled with gourmet cheeses during cocktail hour.

Don't completely forget about your guests, though. After all, the reception is traditionally the way the couple thanks their guests for coming to their wedding. One of the main concerns for omnivore brides is figuring out a vegetarian dish to serve. Many caterers offer vegetarian pasta, but you're not limited to that—Annapolis chefs offer options such as seasonal vegetable ratatouille, paella, eggplant roulades, and mushroom and lentil risotto.

Before you make any decisions, do your research. Talk to at least three caterers before selecting one. Each caterer should offer you a consultation during which time, you can tell him your ideas and he can draw up a menu with an estimated cost. If you like a caterer's menu, but not the caterer himself, don't be afraid to ask another caterer if she can create the same menu for you.

It's your wedding, and with a little research and personalization, you can create a meal that your guests will wish for at every wedding reception they attend.

-- Kelsey Casselbury

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