Choosing a menu is no longer a case of sending out chicken Balmoral and hoping for the best. Use it as a chance to serve up something really special that gives guests a flavour of what you’re all about
Food can make or break a special occasion: even if the company is laugh-a-minute and the venue is gorgeous, if the dinner is dire then the atmosphere is dead and gone. That’s perhaps not what you want to hear when you’re stressing over what to feed a horde of hungry guests. It’s understandable that picking a wedding menu feels daunting, but it needn’t be! Yes, it’s important that your loved ones are well fed but it’s also vital that you serve a meal you’ll enjoy yourself, albeit with a few tweaks.
For Kelly Naylor of Bespoke Catering & Events, couples should concentrate on their own personal relationship with food before even touching a menu plan. “Talk over your food loves, your first meal together, what you first cooked each other and what you dislike,” she says. “That way, you’ll start building ideas about the style and type of menu you’d love to have on your day.”
“You have to consider the likes and dislikes of so many of your friends and family,” points out Scott Gilmour, executive chef at Seamill Hydro. “I need to ensure that the menu is unique to the couple but still appealing to the vast majority of guests. There are so many food trends surrounding lifestyle, health and fitness, but your guests are probably not ready for an all-raw, organic vegan meal.”
Still, if there are vegans or vegetarians among your guests, and these days it’s more than likely, make sure that what’s put in front of them is just as delicious as anything the carnivores are getting. “I create a number of off-menu choices to cater for a range of dietary requirements and personal tastes,” assures Scott. “We are very used to dealing with a wide range of intolerances and can often do so without prior notification, although a little warning is nice. But if any guest does have an acute allergy, make sure your venue is properly informed.”
Once you have a firm idea of the kind of menu you’d like to serve, you need to find yourself a caterer. “Start as early as possible once you’ve set your budget and found your venue,” insists Teresa from Falkirk-based King Boar Catering. “To get the best caterers you usually have to book up to 12 months in advance. Research prospective caterers online and check if they are on your venue’s recommended list.”
Of course, if the food is being provided in-house, you might have chosen your venue based on the reputation of its catering. “Our packages are all-inclusive, so the value is built in,” Scott explains. “I have the flexibility to create personal dishes for our couples, without them having to worry about the budget.”
Your choice of caterer ought to depend on you loving their work and the flavours of their dishes – something you should sample before you make your decision. “A menu tasting is essential – it’s the only way you can properly evaluate the caterer and see if what you envision for the menu has been replicated in the food,” argues Teresa. “After an initial meeting, our couples can expect to be invited to our premises, where they are free to inspect our kitchens and have a complimentary tasting of canapés and their menu and discuss any changes.”
But back to the food. What to choose? Luckily, it’s not your responsibility to find dishes that complement each other beautifully; all you have to do is to communicate your favourites to the caterer. And what if those favourites seem more comfort food than cordon bleu? Could you really dish up macaroni cheese? Teresa has plenty of ideas: “It could be served as perhaps a canapé of fried mac’n’cheese with a ham-hock rillette. Or it could be a side, topped with truffle and brioche crumb, accompanying blade of beef as a main course?”
Basing the food on a theme can work well too. “One of our couples got engaged in Paris so they decided on a French bistro menu,” recalls Teresa. “Our chef devised starter platters of charcuterie, pâté de foie gras and moules marinières. Another couple had Mediterranean sharing platters, followed by a traditional carvery service of roast sirloin and dressed gammon, followed by Eton Mess and chocolate torte, as these encapsulated all their favourites from holidays, family Sunday lunches and childhood puddings.” Mouth watering yet?