Does wedding food always have to be boring? Do the predictable choices of chicken or beef conjure memories of uninspired or downright awful food at other weddings? Steve Stinnett, executive chef at the Manchester Country Club, calls this the “rubber chicken” syndrome. It isn’t easy to serve 250 people a superb meal on a budget, and at the same time cater to a variety of tastes. If a wedding with memorable food is important to you, consider working with the executive chef to devise a custom plan that may be more satisfying than a package choice.
What are other options? Stinnett says one of his most memorable wedding receptions focused on Mediterranean cuisine. More than six serving stations offered guests a wide array of food: artisan-cured meats and cheeses, raw vegetables, Caprese salad, and Provençal mussels to start, while other stations rounded out the gamut with a chicken dish and lamb with rosemary and garlic. A dessert table featured biscuits with fruit and berries, dressed with whipped Marscapone cheese. The finale also included cookies and a chocolate ganache-style fondue. There was a lot of food offered but, with a Mediterranean focus, it was light and healthful. Everybody was very happy; in fact, Stinnet claims the father of the bride is still talking about the food.
Another successful wedding at the Manchester Country Club featured a wine-tasting, where food was carefully paired with several courses. A bit of wine education became part of the meal. Both receptions involved a custom menu, but Stinnett is more than happy to get involved in offering more creative solutions for a meal. His advice is to not get overextended with options, but to “keep it light and concentrate on quality.” After all, you want your guests to be able to get up after the meal and boogie down.
It would keep the meal even lighter if you consider simply an hors d’oeuvre buffet. Servers might pass a few items while other appetizer-style options are arranged at stations. Guests could wander from a carving station to a raw bar display, pleasing themselves with the foods they prefer. This more casual setup is also more social — guests can graze and mingle at the same time. Consider options that are available at upscale restaurants. Forget the time-worn rumaki and chicken croquettes.
Does interesting cuisine have to be more expensive? Cost has a direct relation to the amount of food served. A station-based offering might cost more than a sit-down dinner simply because there are more options and more food prepared. Also, you may want not to give up the elegance of a proper sit-down meal. After all, having guests serve themselves from stations is really just a fancy buffet without the long lines. Costs vary from venue to venue, but typical prices per person at the Manchester Country Club are from $34 and up for a plated service, $40 or more for buffets or stations, and approximately $65 for a wine-paired meal.
If a sit-down or plated service is your preference, costs can vary greatly, depending on the entrée choices and the venue.
At the Bedford Village Inn, entrées range from rosemary roast Statler chicken breast to combination entrées of a filet of beef and jumbo shrimp. Prices vary from $48 to $62. Of course, you could switch the shrimp to a lobster tail for a bit more. Weddings at BVI may also include a guarantee and room rental. At their bridal fairs, brides and their parents can taste a wide variety of entrées, desserts and buffet-style food to help finalize the decision.
If you are unfamiliar with the chef or venue, it would be a good idea to ask for a tasting session of the proposed menu.
When serving alcohol, an open bar is considered the most proper. You may want to limit it to wine, beer and soft drinks to keep the cost down. You don’t have to serve alcohol. An afternoon wedding with hors d’oeuvres or savory pastries would be perfectly acceptable with coffee and teas.
If you enjoy interesting food, make that passion a part of your wedding cuisine. Don’t let catering to finicky guests spoil the wide world of choices. Let them eat cake.
Having a catered reception? Some advice.
Does she cook onsite or deliver prepared meals done ahead of time? Does he have place settings and table linens — not to mention the tables and chairs — or do you have to rent them from someplace else? Is her crème brulée creamy? What exactly is crème brulée?
These are only some of the questions to think about when you begin your search for a caterer for your wedding reception. Here are a few more to consider:
It’s probably never too early to begin your search for your caterer, especially if you live in a major metropolitan area or you want the hottest caterer in town. Typically, most brides book their caterers about eight months before the wedding day.
Your contract should clearly state the wedding date, reception site and time. It should also include any deposits, balances, fees (and taxes and gratuities) already paid and those due and stipulate when they are due. You should also be aware of the caterer’s cancellation and refund policies.
When planning the menu, a reputable caterer should allow you to check out a food display or presentation and sample a meal. You should also build in a ceiling to your per-meal price to cover any fluctuations in food prices.
Be sure to get an estimated cost and find out how far in advance the caterer will need the head count. You might also want to discuss adding a few extra meals for other professionals working your reception (photographer, DJ/band, bridal coordinator, etc.).
Make sure the caterer is state-licensed and has the appropriate health permits and liability insurance.
Ask if the caterer will also supply alcohol and bartending services and about any special fees, such as a corkage fee, associated with that service. Be sure to find out if they have a liquor license (and what kind —full or just beer and wine) and liquor liability insurance. Some caterers also make wedding cakes. If yours does not, have them coordinate with your baker. You might also have to consider fee for transportation, set up, and/or cutting and boxing. Find out the server-to-guest ratio. For a seated meal, usually there is one server to about 10 guests.
Ask if the caterer can accommodate dietary restrictions, Kosher meals, vegetarian meals or special meals for children if applicable. Always get references and always call them!
by Cindy Kibbe
This article appears in the December 2003 issue of New Hampshire Magazine