Your Complete Guide to Choosing the Perfect Wedding Menu
Wedding
Planning

Your wedding is the biggest and most fabulous event you're ever likely to throw. The meal you serve at your reception should match the style and grandeur of the ceremony and keep with the overarching theme of the day.

Read on for advice about how to choose a wedding menu and how to learn about various types of food for wedding receptions. 

How Do I Pick a Menu for My Reception?

The first and most important rule of planning for an event as big as a wedding is to know your budget. Once you have an idea of how much you're willing you spend, you can start looking into ideas within that price bracket. Catering can be surprisingly costly, but wedding meal options are such an essential part of your big day, it's unlikely you'll be willing to compromise. A fantastic meal is often the icing on the wedding cake of a truly memorable marriage ceremony.

8oz Filet

How to Plan a Wedding Reception Menu

  1. Set the average spend per person you're willing to spend, based on how many people are attending the wedding

  2. Decide whether you're going to serve hors d'oeuvres, a plated meal, or a buffet

  3. Consult with your caterer or event manager about the latest food trends if you're stuck for ideas

  4. Find out about your guests’ dietary requirements 

  5. Make sure your beverage offerings complement your food menu

  6. Schedule a tasting with your caterer 

How Do Plated vs. Buffet Reception Menus Compare? 

Whether you decide to offer a buffet vs. plated wedding meal is dependent on your taste and your budget. Buffet style wedding meals tend to be cheaper than plated dinner weddings, and they're arguably more sociable, too. However, many people prefer the formality and tradition of a seated dinner. 

Think about how you'd like to set the tone of your big day — if you'd prefer a more casual party, a buffet-style wedding dinner will be ideal. 

Alfredo

What Is a Buffet Style Reception?

Buffets involve family-style dining where guests can help themselves to an array of you and your partner's favorite foods. Even though this is not the traditional style of wedding dinner service, you have a better chance of meeting all of your guest's dietary preferences. With a plated wedding dinner, guests will usually have two or three menu choices at most, but with a buffet-style wedding reception, you can give them more variety of both entrees and side dishes.  

What Are Some Traditional Wedding Reception Menu Ideas?

A traditional wedding reception menu includes a three-course to four-course plated meal where all guests sit around a table or several tables in a formal setting. This provides an opportunity for decorating the table and providing an extra element of delight for you and your guests.   

Formal Wedding Dinner Menus

Classic wedding food is extravagant and should reflect the splendor of the overall celebration you wish to have. Popular main meals for weddings often include visually-impressive fine dining favorites, such as filet mignon, lobster, rack of lamb and more.  

A Traditional Wedding Food Menu Example

To take some of the hard work off your hands, we've put together a couple of menu examples to provide inspiration for your big day. 

THREE-COURSE MEAL:

Starter: 

Smoked salmon platter with cherry balsamic chutney, egg, capers, horseradish cream sauce, pickled red onion, crackers & crostini

OR Italian bruschetta with vine ripe tomato, garlic, basil, extra virgin olive oil & crostini

Main:  

Filet mignon with wild mushroom demi-glace

OR Garlic & herb jumbo shrimp sautéed with fresh tomatoes, spinach & artichoke hearts in a garlic & herb butter sauce

Dessert:

New York-style cheesecake with a graham cracker crust and fresh berries

OR Flourless chocolate torte with whipped cream & wild berry coulis

BUFFET MEAL:

Choose 2 Entree Options:

Pesto Chicken with roasted garlic cream & marinated heirloom tomato

AND Sliced New York strip with garlic herb marinated with wild mushroom demi-glace.

Choose 3 Side Options:

Herb Roasted Potatoes

Bacon & Onion Roasted Brussels Sprouts

AND Vegetable Medley

Ask about hand-carved entree station options for your buffet to add to your guests’ dining experience.

Remember, chefs need to prepare this food en masse. Try and make it as simple as possible while retaining the necessary glamour. For the same reason, you should try and limit choices as much as possible. The bigger the menu, the bigger the cost — for service and food. 

Katiegracephotography.hayward-641

How Many Courses Should Be Served at a Reception?

You can have as many different food courses as you wish at your wedding, but keep the order of service and time constraints in mind. Three-course wedding meals typically take around an hour and a half to two hours in total. Four-course wedding menus take around two to two and a half hours, and up to seven- or eight-course menus can take roughly three to three and a half hours. 

If you're from a family of foodies, sitting down and eating a luxurious dinner for several hours will sound like heaven. Other people will prefer to get this part out of the way so they can get on with partying. To the latter group, a buffet family style wedding dinner wouldn't usually take up more than an hour and a half. 

While traditional meals can be a magnificent addition to your wedding day, more people are thinking about alternative wedding catering ideas. Read on to find out some wacky food ideas from people's actual ceremonies.

What Are Creative Alternative Wedding Reception Menu Ideas?

More and more couples are breaking the mold and injecting more of their personality into their modern catering ideas. From carnival themed wedding food menus to popcorn bar ideas for weddings, people young and old are thinking outside of the box. Some more fun wedding catering ideas include:

  • Festival style food and drink stands

  • Creative wedding-themed afternoon tea

  • DIY gourmet burritos 

  • Outdoor barbecue

  • Edible showpieces 

Make sure you research unique reception food ideas, too. Non-traditional wedding food can make your wedding truly memorable for you, your partner, and your guests. Unique food vendor ideas are dominating the market at the moment due to the choice and prestige hiring various food vendors affords. 

How to Accommodate Dietary Restrictions & Allergies at Your Reception

When it comes to how to word dietary requirements on rsvp, it's a good idea to preempt common issues that arise. You'll need to set boundaries, otherwise, people will try to write their own menu entirely! We'd recommend making sure there are at least two options for each menu choice, with one standard dish and another one that's vegetarian or vegan. Ensure that chefs can easily adapt both recipes for dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, etc. 

Your wedding invitation food allergy wording can go something along these lines:

"Please let us know if you have any dietary restrictions or requirements, and we'll do our best to make sure you have at least one tasty menu option per course." 

This manages guests' expectations and puts the control firmly in your hands. You can communicate with the caterer to get menu options sorted out and serve them on the day. Instead of going back to guests with menu options and asking if they're okay — be confident in your choice and leave it as a surprise. Let anyone who is concerned know about how allergens are handled and ask the caterer for an allergens chart to give to guests on the day. 

How Much Should I Budget for My Reception Menu?

There are many considerations to make that determine how much you'll need to spend on your wedding dinner. The number of guests you have will always affect the price, and for this reason, most couples will budget more for a gourmet meal.

How Much Does It Cost to Feed 200 Wedding Guests?

Plated Meal

  • A plated meal will cost an average of $26 per person, so the cost of food would be approximately $5,200, not including service. Many caterers also require you to rent china, glassware, and cutlery, so be sure to ask about additional costs. By holding your wedding at a venue that offers catering in-house, often these items do not have additional costs.

Buffet Style

  • A buffet style dinner will cost an average of $29 per person, so the cost of food would be approximately $5,800 not including service. The more entree and side options that you offer, the higher the price per person will be. 

If you can visualize it for your big day — it's possible. Provided you stay within budget, you can have a wedding reception meal that you and your loved ones will never forget.  

To find out more about planning your dream wedding, get more inspiration from RedWater Events.