Britney Spears and Kevin Federline may have served fried chicken and Twinkies at their wedding, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Sure, Twinkies as a dessert might be cheap, but there are other ways to stay within a modest budget while still giving your guests a meal to remember. After all, half the fun of a wedding is the reception that follows the ceremony, and the most important aspect of the reception has got to be the food.
The food you choose for your wedding should say something about who you are, but it shouldn’t necessarily break your (or your parents’) bank account. There are plenty of ways to plan a menu that will wow your friends and family while also letting your financial planner sleep peacefully on the eve of your wedding.
To help you out, we’ve recruited the help of a couple of wedding food experts. These two have seen every size budget and every sort of off-the-wall request. Want a wedding menu that’ll put Britney’s to absolute shame? Read carefully.
Want guests at your wedding to be as dazzled by the food as they are wowed by the bride’s wedding dress? Sybil Coyner, owner of Buenaventura Catering, has three pieces of advice: appetizers, appetizers and more appetizers! “You can be extremely creative with appetizers,” says Coyner. For instance, take one of her favorites, crispy mac ’n’ cheese served as a single bite on a spoon: “It’s a huge indulgence,” she explains, “but it’s OK because it’s just that little tiny bit.”
When it comes to appetizers, bigger is not better: Tiny servings, like a few tablespoons of soup or a mini shrimp cocktail served in a shot glass, offer high flavor impact and unique style. Portability is also critical. A relatively new trend, explains Coyner, favors almost anything on a stick — a seared piece of filet mignon, for example, with a bloody Mary dipping sauce, or a lamb lollipop with a mint pesto. The food-on-a-stick appetizer is fun, fashionable and convenient for guests who are standing and already have drinks in hand.
Appetizers are a place on the menu where it’s safe to experiment. Try something out of the ordinary. If your parents don’t like the sound of a mini oyster tostada, it won’t be long before the spoonfuls of lobster mashed potatoes come along.
How ’bout an afternoon affair?
So, now, about that budget … Sure, lobster mashed potatoes sound nice, but they can’t be cheap, right? Well, not if you’re serving 500 spoonfuls of it. Coyner’s first piece of advice to brides and grooms who are working on a limited budget is to trim that guest list. By keeping the wedding on the intimate side, she explains, you can really maximize the dollars you are spending. It may sound like common sense, but with fewer people you can afford to offer a more sophisticated, sumptuous menu.
Coyner’s second piece of advice? Consider having your ceremony in the afternoon rather than the evening. An evening wedding means dinner, while an afternoon wedding means you can get away with serving a lighter, less costly meal. When Coyner caters an afternoon wedding, she often offers a tea menu that includes beautifully arranged fruits and vegetables and contemporary finger sandwiches, like tiny cheese paninis on a skewer (yes, you guessed it, panini lollipops).
With a “homemade” wedding, Coyner advises that the bride and groom really “concentrate on setting the scene” by paying attention to little details like the linens and the china. Beautiful and flavorful weddings done on a budget are possible; they just need to be planned resourcefully.
Let them eat (sheet) cake
“The groom’s last name was Pillow, and he wanted the cake to look like pillows stacked on top of each other with a ribbon around them,” says Shirley Mooney, co-owner of Siblings Bakery in Ventura, as she relays her favorite wedding cake story. Mooney, who has been in the baking business for 35 years, told the groom she’d give it a try, and on the day of the wedding she delivered. “The guests thought it was really pillows on a table. When they cut into it, everyone was shocked,” she says, smiling.
Maybe a cake that looks like a pillow isn’t exactly what you have in mind for your big day. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to settle for a run-of-the-mill, ivory-white, tiered monstrosity.
“I tell brides that the cake is a place where they can save some money,” says Mooney, explaining that there is no reason to go all out and spend too much money on a cake. She recommends that brides and grooms on a budget buy a reasonably sized wedding cake and then a few sheet cakes to serve the rest of the guests. Sheet cakes, she explains, are much less expensive — and after the cutting of the cake, the catering service will take the cake into the back and cut it up, so no one will even know they’re getting sheet cake rather than the “real thing.”
And if cakes and sheet cakes are still a little too traditional for you, how about cupcakes? Recently, Mooney has baked and assembled more than a few cupcakes that have taken the place of the traditional wedding cake. Placed on a tiered display, the cupcakes are individually frosted and look just like a wedding cake. Because Mooney charges per cupcake, the displays usually work out to be a bit less expensive than a large wedding cake.
Think outside the box, advises Mooney. Feel free to experiment with shapes and colors. Square wedding cakes are becoming more popular, as are cakes that incorporate fresh flowers and fresh fruit. Green was a popular wedding cake color last year, but feel free to ask for offbeat colors that match your personality. After all, it is your day.