Wedding food can be delicious or disastrous, we've put together our top tips for picking the perfect wedding menu to suit you, your guests and your budget.
Wedding food and drink can often be a make or break element of a wedding, it always seems to come up in conversation post-wedding, so it's important to get it right. Together with Lancaster House Hotels wedding coordinator, Lisa, we're giving our top recommendations to help you pick your wedding menu.
Choosing a dining style
Traditionally couples would either choose a buffet or sit down meal for their wedding breakfast, as time goes by more food options are available and expectations of wedding food has changed.
Sit down, plated meal
The first option is a sit-down, plated meal, this is probably the most common choice. A sit-down meal means guests have been able to see the menu prior to the wedding day and advise of any dietary requirements and preferences. This option is the most likely to run smoothly and ensures your guests receive a meal they enjoy. It's also easier for the venue to prepare which reduces the likelihood of mistakes or misunderstandings.
Best option for: Wedding breakfast
Many couples who choose a buffet as their main meal do so thinking it'll be cheaper. This isn't always the case as venues will encourage you to select more dishes in the likelihood you'll have a couple of guests who think it's an 'all you can eat' situation. Buffets have to be carefully considered as the food is more likely to 'sit around' whilst each table takes their turn. This means you may want to avoid fried foods which could go soggy or dishes which go gloppy when stood for any time, such as risotto. Also think about the atmosphere you want, buffets may see crowds round tables, budging each other to get in or lines of people waiting.
On the upside buffets make an excellent choice for a 'top-up' meal in the evening, by this time people aren't ravenous and just need an extra bite to get them through a night of dancing. The best dishes for an evening buffet are simply sandwiches, tapas, a hog roast, stews or lasagne. Things that are quick and easy to serve or self-serve.
Best option for: evening 'top up' food
Food stations are a new addition to wedding dining; made popular by the social media craze, they're visually more pleasing, but is it all for 'the gram'? Food stations include having lots of different 'stalls' with themes of food, stations you may have are tapas, pasta, pizza, sushi, baked potatoes, fruit, desserts and cheese. Whilst food stations look great, they're often not placed on any heat which means if you're picking hot dishes to serve this way they may be wasted if they aren't eaten quickly.
Food stations definitely work best with cold meals, canapes or desserts. For canapes this is really easy as people will more likely mingle around the food stations. This option for desserts is ideal as it means you can have multiple options on a table so guests can have a choice.
Best option for: Desserts or canapes
Choosing a drinks package
Plain and Simple - Wine, Prosecco and Champagne
Most couples tend to have prosecco or champagne as an arrival drink and for the toasts. For the wedding breakfast it's usual to have several bottles of wine per table to complement the meal. This is the easiest option in terms of estimating how many glasses each guest will be allowed, this is simple to calculate per bottle. A bottle of wine is 3 large glasses of wine and a bottle of prosecco is 7 glasses.
Bonus: Depending on the venue you may get a refund if your guests don't drink as many bottles as you expected. If you choose to have bottles of wine you can save on hiring extra staff to make complex drinks and it's easy for guests to help themselves through the meal.
Best option for: Weddings over 50 guests
Lancaster House wedding coordinator, Lisa, recommends "the best thing about choosing a wine package is that wine is easily paired with dishes, this creates a better dining experience."
Mix it up - Spirits and mixers
If you're not a fan of wine then a simple spirit and mixer can be a good alternative to wine. If you have a large wedding party then consider having a spirit and mixer station so people can help themselves on arrival, it saves your guests queuing at the bar to get their first drink. If you have a bigger budget then you could have small bottles of liquor as wedding favours which can be paired with various mixers, to be available on the tables. Your main consideration here is how you'll choose the spirits. Do you have a single spirit such as gin? Or do you pick multiple spirits? Which brands do you have? Do you add a box on the invite to request guests' preference?
Good option for: couples who don't like wine, prosecco or champagne
Drinks with a twist - Cocktails
If you really want to 'wow' your guests choose cocktails for your arrival drinks or for the toast. There are two key things to think about here, you either have to choose a cocktail which is fine to sit around so the bar car prepare for your guests arrival or you only do this for a smaller wedding party. If you have a large wedding group and all can choose different cocktails this will never work well, everyone will wait a long time for drinks instead of mingling. If you're having a small wedding then this is an amazing special touch you can consider.
Whatever you decide just don't have a cocktail making station, it will turn into a mess, people won't make drinks that taste good and before you know it your venue will be pouring your money down the drain in wastage.
Good option for: Top table alternative at a large wedding or a small wedding party - 30 guests or less.
Wedding coordinator, Lisa, suggests "Cocktails such as Pimms are great in summer with Hummous & Roasted Red Pepper Brochettes or if you're having a winter wedding then a warming mulled wine with pigs in blankets would be a tasty combination." If you're choosing cocktails for your arrival drink you should consider what type of canapes would complement your drink.
Choosing for tastes and seasons
Even though it's your big day it's worth contemplating your guests tastes. It's not worth choosing a distinctive dish that you love but that no-one else will like. Hungry guests don't make happy guests. We've got our top recommendations for starters, mains and desserts.
The best warm starters include homemade soup, baked or grilled mushrooms with vegetables or cheese and black pudding and bacon or black pudding and chorizo.
For hot starters choose something simple and don't select dishes which take a long time to individually prepare. If you have a large wedding party it's important to think of starters which can be quickly served to ensure everyone receives their first course in a timely manner. If you choose an intricate hot starter it's likely you'll have the first table finish eating before the last table have even been served, or the dish won't be served as well as it would be for a small party.
The best cold starters include prawn cocktail or potted shrimp, chicken liver pate and ham hock terrine.
Cold starters are great for large wedding parties, many cold starters can be pre-prepared meaning you'll receive a quick service. It's also more likely to mean every dish will be of the same quality. Try to avoid salads or dishes which require dressing, as many of these options wilt by the time they've reached the table and don't give the 'wow' you expect from a starter. You also can't expect a chef to get the correct amount of dressing for each individuals personal taste.
If you're having a sit-down meal then chances are you'll be having a hot main. The key consideration when picking which dish, or two, is will it still taste and look good if it has had to sit for 5 minutes? Depending on your party size, your main dish needs to be something that can be prepared and served quickly. Don't choose sauces which will skim over when left and don't choose anything intricate that may delay service.
Our top picks are: Chicken breast, hot pot, sirloin or fillet steak and roast pork.
Chicken is pretty much a favourite of everyone which makes it an easy option, the only consideration is which cut, chicken breast is a popular cut, chicken thigh is darker and more succulent but isn't everyone's favourite and chicken drumsticks can be a messy eat! Stews are great as they can be simmered for ages and still taste delicious. Steaks are another popular dish which most enjoy, they just won't be cooked to order so some may not have their preference. Roast pork is an all round winner, it's a favourite and easy to serve.
Dishes we recommend you avoid are strong seafood dishes as it's a hit or miss with guests, spaghetti which may cause a few wardrobe mishaps as well as burgers and ribs which also tend to be messy.
If you're having a cold main then it's most likely due to choosing buffet dining. In this case our top recommendations for cold buffet dishes are cold meats, cheeses, tapas selections like stuffed peppers and olives and sandwiches. These are all safe options and easy to serve.
Desserts for many is a love-hate relationship, do you go for sweet or savoury? Some love chocolate puddings whilst others think it's too sickly. Our recommendation for desserts is to go for multiple options, if you're having a sit down meal then give guests a choice, usually a sticky toffee pudding, cheesecake or tiramisu are the best options. If you're opting for a dessert food station then we'd recommend cookies, cupcakes, doughnuts, sweeties, cheese and fruit. All these are served cold making them easy to serve and most people like at least one of those options.
It's also a good idea to consider whether you'd like to serve your wedding cake or wedding cheese tier as part of your dessert.
Allergen and dietary considerations
As of July 2014, eateries must be able to inform you which dishes contain any of the 14 allergens highlighted by EU law. A venue should be able to advise you which dishes from their menu are suitable for guests with allergies or be able to create a suitable dish. It's definitely worth checking allergies and dietary requirements prior to confirming your menu, some venues may require you to choose a vegetarian or vegan option in your wedding breakfast menu to help cater to this requirement.
More people are adopting different diets, it may be difficult for a venue to cater for every diet if it's not an allergen. The standard diets of vegetarian and vegan should be easily catered for by any venue but diets requiring certain protein levels in each meal or no carbohydrates may either mean you pay extra for the chefs to amend dishes or that guests need to be more flexible.
Lisa, Lancaster House weddings coordinator, encourages "couples are better to not exceed 3 choices per course, we recommend couples with vegan or vegetarian guests choose a suitable dish as part of their 3 choices rather than as well as. This ensures quicker and smoother service. The menu can always be adapted to suit all needs and if you're worried about celiac or dairy intolerant guests, be reassured we can cater for every individuals dietary needs."
Cost per head is a crucial number to many couples who are sticking to a strict budget, it's important you set a maximum amount you can afford per head prior to agreeing rates with your venue. Often once you've agreed a price you'll be asked to sign a contract to lock you into that rate so it's imperative you decide a budget early on in your wedding planning stage.
Cost per head for a sit-down wedding breakfast usually ranges between £38 - £50 per head for a 3 course meal. Canapes are often on top and may cost between £3 - £10 per head. An evening buffet may come in between £20 - £40 per head, this would include a main and dessert. All these costs are estimates and vary depending on the type of venue you've chosen, how they package their quotes and the level of food you're look for. Some venues will give you individual costs for canapes, wedding breakfast, evening buffet, drinks and venue hire. Others will give you a package price and group it all together. Therefore you need to fully understand what elements are included in your quote, if you're not sure about any cost ask your wedding coordinator to break it down for you.
Finding a venue to suit your needs
Once you've decided the style of meal and the food and drink theme you'd like you'll need to find a venue flexible to your choices. Some venues will have set menus that they recommend, others are more than happy for you design your own menu. Make sure to question this when visiting venues.
Lancaster House Hotel weddings coordinator, Lisa, advises "couples can design their own menu from the brochure or the restaurant. We are also open to creating a dish that is not on the menu if couples have something specific in mind."
Lancaster House often has guests who are vegan, vegetarian or have multiple allergies, head chef Damien Ng is known to go above and beyond to find a dish your guests will love. He strongly believes no-one should be left out of an excellent meal. He has created a vegan menu especially and can cater for many dietary requirements.