7 Steps for Creating the Perfect Wedding Menu

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7 steps to having a fun, creative wedding menu you can afford by My Fair Wedding author David Tutera of The Wedding PlannerMake your reception memorable by infusing personality into your wedding food and drinks. Start with fun, crowd-pleasing ideas from My Fair Wedding: Finding Your Vision… Through His Revisions! by David Tutera of WE tv’s The Wedding Planner.

When it comes to catering your event, presentation matters! People really do “eat” with their eyes first, so each course should be visually exciting. The colors and textures of the food, from the first course to the dessert, should be an extension of your wedding décor. And that goes for drinks too. For your cocktail hour, serve a signature cocktail (either passed or at the bar) that matches your wedding colors—and for that special touch, name it after something meaningful to you and your groom (the place where you met, your song, or something similar). When creating your wedding menu, keep the following tips in mind:

—At the cocktail hour, stick to finger foods (ideally, five hot dishes and five cold dishes)—and be creative. The passed hors d’oeuvres are your chance to inject some personality into your menu. Consider shot glasses filled with your favorite soup or miniature gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Setting up food stations is another great option. Think raw bars, sushi bars, carving stations, stir-fry stations, or pasta stations.

Never have the first course preset at the reception—it’ll spoil the surprise! Have the appetizer course revealed after your guests are seated. It’s always better to keep your guests guessing.

Remember my thirty-minute rule! Each course should be consumed and cleared within half an hour—and that goes for family-style meals too. A wedding reception is not a dinner party—the food should be one element of the event, not the focus.

Don’t balk at buffets. When done right, having buffet stations can add energy to your celebration, because guests will be up and mingling. For my Venezuelan-Ukrainian couple, guests were seated for the first course (which is important because this sets up a “home plate” for each guest), and then the two separate buffets were opened, revealing food from the respective parts of the world.

Keep the menu light. You don’t need six courses—stick to the traditional three-course menu (appetizer, entrée, and dessert). Also avoid heavy foods and sauces, which will weigh guests down. It’s a party—you want them up and dancing, and having a fabulous time!

Experiment with “duets” and “trios” to add a touch of novelty to the meal. Duets and trios give your guests the opportunity to sample different flavors and choices within the same appetizer, entrée, or dessert course. For example, a mac ’n cheese trio could feature three different preparations of this classic dish and a beef duo could match braised short ribs with petit filet mignon. However, duets and trios shouldn’t be offered with every course. That would be overkill!

Literally cater to your guests! It’s great if you and your groom are “foodies,” but if the majority of your guests aren’t, then don’t get all fancy on them. You don’t want your guests to feel intimidated by the food, so keep your menu selections simple. At one black-tie wedding I planned, in which the bride was from Texas and the groom from New York, guests were served a trio of cones filled with three types of French fries (regular, sweet potato, and polenta fries) with three different gourmet dipping sauces. Your guests will appreciate that you’re not taking every part of the meal so seriously.

Finally, I beg all of my brides to never consider cooking their own food or having a potluck wedding. Even if you have a limited budget, you do have other options. Either ask your caterer to create a simple, less-expensive menu, or consider having a cocktail party reception. Cocktail parties are often more upbeat and celebratory than a dinner reception, so take advantage. Have passed food during the first hour, and then open up buffet stations, serving light fare, as the party progresses.

Don’t let the cost of food keep you from having the large wedding you’ve always wanted. It’s better to have a smaller party and be able to invite all your closest friends and family members than to have a dinner reception and be forced to limit your guest list. Yes, you need to feed your guests, but having them there is what’s most important.

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Maggie Scarf is a visiting fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, and a fellow of Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University. She is the author of two books for children and six books for adults, including the New York Times bestselling Intimate Partners. She has made many television appearances (among them The Oprah Winfrey Show, the Today show, Good Morning America, CBS News, and CNN) and has been featured in many newspapers and magazines, including People, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, and others. She lives in Connecticut with her husband Herb, the Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale, and is the mother of three adult daughters.

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