Wedding Planning: The Menu

The wedding menu is probably the most important element of the wedding day – it’s the one thing guests will most remember and it will be the feature that everyone judges the wedding day by!

Once you’ve nailed your wedding theme and venue you’ll be able to select a menu that is appropriate for your wedding style and vision. First you want to determine what style of reception you want, then you can select the appropriate menu to wow your guests.


Reception Styles



This traditional reception style usually has guests grouped at tables for a multi-course meal. The plated meal adds structure to the evening and works well with a traditional, formal, and/or elegant wedding. This works with any number of guests, as well.

– Can be an effective method for controlling food costs as you know the number of guests and the quantity of food needed
– Allows guests to mingle & converse
– Gives an elegant, fancy feel to your evening

– A plated dinner usually requires more staff and servers to prepare & present the food which will increase costs
– Centrepieces & tableware will need to be given more attention & more of the budget
– A seating chart & seating arrangements will need to be figured out

– Caterers & venues usually provide pre-packaged menus for you to choose from
– Ask guests beforehand about any allergies they may have
– You can also select a couple of  plates to serve & allow guests to indicate their preference when they submit their RSVP



This reception style usually consists of a variety of dishes served on a long table (or tables) with nearby seating for guests. This option allows for many different dishes and beverages to be served and is especially suitable for large groups.

– Self-service cuts down on needed staff
– Offers a variety of food for guests to pick & choose what they like
– Easier to accommodate a number of dietary requirements

– May lead to food waste as there is a tendency to over supply the food & some food may not be as popular with guests
– People don’t like standing in line
– It can get very messy
– Food can get cold
– Some food may run out; it’s hard to control how much guests take

– Mix & match for a variety of dishes


Cocktail/Standing Party

This style of reception often has food served at long tables or simply passed around by servers. There is no seating, allowing for more fluidity and guest intermingling. It is a good option for very large parties, especially when most are good friends and relatives.

– The simple setup allows for more room for guests
– Opting for small plates & food stations allows for creativity & inventive dishes
– No seating chart or seating arrangements
– Promotes more mingling & interactions

– A long cocktail party (over 2 hours) can become very expensive
– Requires a number of servers & staff
– Less comfortable, especially for older guests & children

– Offer guests a variety of food options with interactive food stalls & plenty of staff handing out bite-size apps



Not as formal as a seated dinner, this style of reception is ideal for medium-size weddings and offers a more casual approach to seating and mingling. It is a great option for intimate weddings held at informal venues such as a barn, park, or home.

– Seating chart & seating arrangements are not necessary
– More casual & comfortable
– Good for families & those with children

– May not work as well for large parties
– Not best when the guests don’t know each other well
– Can become messy
– If using your home, you may need to restrict areas from guest use

– A potluck may be appropriate for this reception style; make specific requests so guests bring a variety of dishes
– Food trucks are a fun option


Food & Menu Ideas

– Charcuterie station
– Designer comfort food (mac ‘n cheese with Gruyere, mini grilled cheese with tomato soup in shot glasses, individual spaghetti & meatballs)
– Ancestry-inspired dishes; ethnic cuisine related to your travels, where you first met, or that reflects your guest list
– Decor-doubling food such as a donut wall


Tips for Selecting What Food to Serve

  1. Consider the season – pair fall flavours for an autumn wedding, keep it light & fresh for a summer event
  2. Consider your guest list – are they mostly close friends who are confessed foodies or will there be a dominate ethnicity present?
  3. Consider your venue – a formal sit-down meal deserves a fancier food selection while a casual backyard gathering allows for a more rustic menu
  4. Choose a favourite cuisine – pick a cuisine you love & run with it, or combine cuisines for a fusion twist your guests will never forget
  5. Take inspiration from others – maybe something stood out to you at your friend’s wedding last year or a family member’s cooking inspires you to incorporate that into your menu
  6. Consider dietary restrictions – offer gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, etc. options for your guests, especially if you are aware of dietary restrictions
  7. Re-create your favourite restaurant dish(es) – as an app, the main meal, or a midnight snack


Caterer Options

Provided by venue, an in-house caterer offers a reliable pricing structure that includes staff, food, rentals, and sometimes beverages and cake. You’ll have fewer surprises as the caterer is more experienced with the venue and the prepackaged menu options will be well paired for a guaranteed delicious experience. This is usually a high quality meal and you’ll pay a set price per person.

Preferred Caterer
If the venue lacks a kitchen, they may provide a list of recommended caterers that are usually experienced in catering to the venue and have established a relationship with the venue. You can expect similar circumstances as with an in-house caterer.

Outside Hire
Sometimes your venue will neither provide a caterer or have a preferred list of caterers, such as when the reception is held at home or at a casual venue location. This can provide opportunity for a highly customized menu that suits your needs and preferences; this also requires more homework on your part to vet out a reputable caterer and your venue may still place restrictions on the type of caterer or the food they provide.


Things to Consider

Before you sign a contract, make sure your do a taste-test. Also look for reviews and recommendations about the caterer you’re considering.

Discuss if they will include the cake and, regardless of who provides the cake, if there will be a cake-cutting fee (charged by either the caterer or the venue)

Remember to include meals for your vendors (photographers, staff, videographer, etc.); ask if a discount is given for their meals.

Negotiate – if you can’t get a lower price, ask about extras such as more dessert variety, complimentary kids meals, or the inclusive of wedding favours.

Ask questions about the needed equipment and venue arrangement; how many staff will be assisting; how long they’ve been in the business; what they specialize in; whether they will provide tableware, cutlery, linens, etc. or whether you will need to rent these items; any recommendations they have regarding the best food to serve to suit your venue and wedding style; where the food will be prepared – on-site or off-location; how long it will take to prepare; a special kids meal price; and whether they have any other weddings or events booked for the same day as your wedding.

Don’t change your food choices after your caterer’s final menu deadline – otherwise, you may be charged with fees.

Get your final guest count in to your caterer as soon as possible; late additions or count adjustments may incur a fee or cost double.

Always be aware of the hidden fees and penalties.

Ask if the tip is included in the quoted price and if not, budget about 15%-20% of the staffing charges for each staff.


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