While drinks are quite easy to choose to cover all of your guests' tastes, the same cannot be said about food. With drinks, you can simply buy a full open-bar for the whole day, and not worry about them. Food, on the other hand, requires you to put some thought into it. The variety of choices does not make it easy either! You have buffet and sit down menus, you have to think about the number of courses, types of courses, think about your lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant, vegeterians, vegans, tomato allergic guests. If there are children, they will also need a different meal. And since weddings don't last just for a couple of hours, it is also good to provide nibbles before and after dinner! So many things to think about!!
Don't panic, it is not as hard and scary as I made it seem. You'll just need to take the food planning step by step.
Buffet VS Sit-down!
This is the first thing you should think about, when it comes to food at a wedding. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. The simplest rule you should follow when making a choice between buffet and a sit-down, is the number of guests. I think the following way: if you plan on having 30 guests or less attending your wedding, then a sit-down menu will be a good choice for you. With 30 to 50 guests, you can go with either a sit-down menu or a buffet, both will work well. With 50 guests or more, a buffer dinner will be the best for you.
A sit-down menu usually looks more elegant and gives a more sophisticated feel to the whole wedding. The guests won't need to leave their tables to have their food at the table, but there should be a correct planning of the timing of each course. The kitchen will have to know exactly what time to prepare each course, so that everyone will get their food still hot, or not melted, in the case of an ice-cream dessert.
The reason I believe a sit-down menu is not a good option for more than 50 guests, is exactly because of the timings. For a perfect sit-down wedding meal, each table should have at least one personal waiter, so that all the tables will be served at the same time. You really don't want the first tables to have their meals half eaten, while the last tables are just being served! With that in mind, the more tables you will have at your wedding dinner, the more waiters you will need, and that might not look very nice, especially at some wedding venues in Santorini. Imagine having a horde of waiters suddenly storming into the reception area!
It is quite possible that you will wish to offer your guests more than one choice of menu. With a sit-down menu, a sitting plan will be a "must" in this case, otherwise the waiters won't know where to serve each meal. This is not a big problem, unless you don't like restricting your guests with their sitting options. Keep in mind that the wedding venue you chose for your reception, will need to know in advance your menu choices. This means that if you decide to offer your guests multiple meal choices, the venue will have to know how many of each menus you will require. Create a questionnaire for your guests and let them know that you need a reply by a certain time, Include the menu options in the RSVP's, for example. It is absolutely not a good idea to leave this to the very end.
A big advantage of a buffet menu is that you can choose as many different dishes as you like. Let your guests choose on the spot what to eat. You can include meat and fish, a variety of salads, sides, and appetizers, enough options to satisfy the most picky guests. All this without getting to mess with questionnaires and worrying about getting the reply in time. This is the main reason why the more guests you have, the best of an option a buffer style dinner is. That, and the fact that you won't need the previously mentioned horde of waiters.
Another advantage of a buffer, is that everyone can choose as little or as much food as they like, and only the type of food they like. I've never had guests stay hungry after a four course sit-down meal, as it is enough to get full even the professional food munchers among us, still there could be someone who would prefer to eat meat the whole evening, without having to wait through the salad course. This is based on experience. A sit-down menu does not offer as much customization, as a buffet menu. With a buffet menu, every single person attending the wedding, will have in their dinner plates only what they like the most.
Nibbles, when and why?
Wedding days last for 8 hours minimum, and can easily last twice as that. This means, that people will get hungry during that time, and probably more than once. Also, there will be alcohol involved, and it's not such a good idea to offer your guests alcohol without food. This is why having finger food and canapés is a really good idea for a wedding. When to serve them though?
This really depends on the schedule of your day, so let us begin from the very first moment your guests set up their foot at the venue. I personally don't like having any food before the ceremony, for various reasons. One of those is that the guests will be too occupied getting to know the place. rather than to think about food, so the carefully chosen canapés will go quite unnoticed. There is also a chance that your guests had something to eat not long before starting to get ready for your wedding, another reason why the canapés might go to waste. Lastly, there is a slight chance, someone will get stained by the food served, by accident of course. You don't want guests with stained clothes on your group photos, don't you?
In case you plan to have your guests arriving at the venue an hour before the ceremony is scheduled to begin, then feel free to offer your guests some fruit, not so much for the hunger, as to make the waiting time less noticeable. Fruits will keep them occupied and make the hour seem shorter. I'm not joking…
A good time to serve some finger foods and canapés is during the cocktail hour. As mentioned in the last post, this is where stronger alcoholic drinks will be served, so it will be nice if your guests had something to put in their stomach along with the alcohol. There is no need to have a huge variety of canapés and an unlimited number of pieces. I would say 2 - 4 different canapés and 3-5 pieces of each per person, is a good number. Have one kind of canapé and just a piece or two per person, and it will look too "cheap", have too many of those yumy-yums, and your guests might get too full to enjoy the actual dinner.
Don't serve all of the canapés and finger foods at once. Spread them through the whole cocktail hour. Have some of them served at the beginning of the cocktail hour, and the remaining, half an hour later. This way, the canapés will serve as a way to distract your guests from your absence, won't result in your guests getting stuffed and losing appetite, and will give them a good and always successful topic to chat about. Again, I'm being serious here!
Should you plan to keep the party going until late at night, or rather, early in the morning, offer your guests some nice finger food once again. Around 4 to 5 hours after dinner, with all the dancing and drinking that will take place, your guests, and yourself, will need some fuel to keep the party going. Have some hot dogs, or small pies, maybe even small sandwiches for your guests. Everyone will be happy with those late night snacks!
Most sit-down meals and buffet dinners have desserts as their last course. What a great way to end a delicious dinner, if not with something sweet. But, if the menu already includes a dessert, when to serve the cake?
As a really good friend, and a fellow wedding planner, suggests, ask the cake to be served an hour or two after dinner. Should you serve the cake right after the menu dessert, your guest won't have enough room for it, and it will simply go to waste. Let some time pass between the dessert and the cake, and your guests will love it! I followed her advice, and it turned out to be a great idea!
If you wish treat your guests with a lot of sweets, set-up a sweet table. You can have it at a corner of the dance floor, to lure your guests to dance, or have the sweet table together with the wish table, so that your guests will notice the guest book and write in it. Just make sure to have the guests book at a safe distance from any chocolate sweets, to avoid getting it stained … and provide napkins for the same reason. Don't have the sweet table set-up from the very beginning. Chocolate can melt creating a mess, and your guests will start eating the sweets before dinner and then won't want to eat dinner. Set up the sweet table once the dinner is over, while your guests are distracted by the cutting of the cake or the bouquet tossing, for example.
Those are some of the advices I have stored for you on how to choose food for your wedding reception. As with everything, your final choices will depend on a variety of factors, so feel free to discuss all of your options with your wedding planner. One last advice I would like to give you is not to overeat, because then dancing becomes not an easy task… this is something learned from personal experience.
Thank you very much for your time and I hope you to see you around.
Special thanks to Le Ciel Santorini for providing their pictures.