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The ultimate guide to wedding menus – and the mistakes to avoid

Here's everything you need to know when planning your wedding food

Planning your wedding menu feels like an overwhelming task for many couples. From deciding on the budget per head to choosing your food options, not to mention catering for a myriad of dietary requirements, knowing where to start can be tricky.

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The secret is finding a good caterer who will guide you in the right direction while also remaining open to suggestions. HELLO! spoke to Marc Hornby, who runs catering company Caviar & Chips with business partner Jonathan Carter-Morris, for the lowdown on everything you need to know when it comes to planning your wedding breakfast.

So without further ado, here's the ultimate guide to your wedding menu, from the most popular dishes that are guaranteed to be crowd-pleasers to the mistakes to avoid…

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How does a wedding breakfast menu work?

You might be wondering why the meal is called a wedding 'breakfast' when it's served in the afternoon or evening. The tradition actually dates back to the 16th century when guests fasted up until the wedding day – and were therefore looking forward to a real feast!

These days, the wedding breakfast is still the main event. Marc reveals: "Couples can now virtually design their own pop-up restaurant for the day. We see everything from two-course menus to eight-course tasting menus. Meals that are informal and served family-style with sharing dishes and boards and then some refined and with a touch of fine-dining about them. We've also served some wedding breakfasts festival-style with Pie & Mash, Pad Thai and then Crepes for dessert."

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When it comes to planning the timings for your wedding breakfast, there's also a lot more flexibility. "Going back to tradition, you'd often see speeches between the main course and dessert and it would be Father-of-the-Bride, followed by the Groom and then the Best Man," Marc says. "However, we see some very different takes on this. Some speeches as soon as guests take their seats, some after each course and some with several people making a speech. The easiest way to answer this question is to say, 'Wedding breakfasts work however you want them to!'"

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Your wedding breakfast is one of the highlights of the day

What should be on a wedding breakfast menu?

The good news is – it's entirely up to you. While you might feel under pressure to please your guests and cater to a wide range of tastes and dietary requirements, don't forget that it's your special day, and ultimately your choice of food.

Try and enjoy the process of creating a bespoke menu. "We start all of our wedding menus with a blank piece of paper and ask our clients to tell us about their favourite foods and their plans and ideas for their day. So our advice would always be to choose your menu the way you want it. Don't worry about trying to please all of your guests because you'll never please everyone and it is your day, after all.

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"It's also possibly the largest food bill you're ever going to have to pay - so make sure you get to enjoy it! That being, we often hear from our clients that they'd like a menu that their guests couldn't eat just anywhere. They want their guests to feel full and they don't want anything too risky in terms of spilling it all down the dress or the shirt!" Marc explains.

What food is normally served at a wedding?

Wedding menus are becoming more adventurous over time, with Marc revealing they're often inspired by travel or even the couple's favourite restaurants. However, the classic format of serving guests canapés during the drinks reception, followed by a three-course wedding breakfast and then evening food, remains a winner.

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Chocolate desserts are always a winner

Detailing the most popular wedding menu choices, Marc says: "Canapés are a great place to get creative with tasty, one biters and the most popular tend to be a great Wild Mushroom Arancini - served with a little truffle oil and parmesan.

"For the three-course wedding breakfast, the retro Prawn Cocktail is as popular as ever, but we're seeing lots of Mediterranean-inspired charcuterie sharing boards. The main course is often won by a beef dish, but each year we're preparing more and more delicious plant-based dishes. Dessert is often won by an Eton Mess in the Summer and sticky toffee pudding in the winter!

"For evening food the go-to is often street-food inspired... the dirtier the better and by that we mean Loaded Fries, Mac n Cheese with a plethora of toppings, Dirty Burgers, Pizza, Pad Thai and then a Spicy Chicken & Chorizo Paella are our most popular options. You can see our wedding food trends for 2022 over on our blog."

What should you not serve at a wedding?

Food is an entirely subjective thing – and remember that you can't please everyone. However, Marc recommends steering away from anything too adventurous.

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Choosing the right caterer is important

"We see so many cuisines and fusions of cultures coming together and celebrated through food and it's really wonderful for some guests to try new things. Being mindful however that your wedding breakfast doesn't need to be about educating or getting people to try something they're unlikely to want to eat," he explains.

Should you necessarily have a menu at your wedding?

There is no obligation to follow the tradition of having a pre-dictated menu at the wedding, and some couples might prefer to have the element of surprise – as long as the caterers are aware of any dietary requirements in advance. However, Marc advises that a menu creates a "sense of anticipation" and allows guests to look forward to the sit-down part of the day. Not to mention the fact it's a welcome ice-breaker should you be seated next to someone you don't already know.

How many canapés should you have at your wedding?

Four to six different canapés are recommended as a way to bring guests together and mingle. Marc says: "Canapés served is a nice way to entertain your guests while you're off having your wedding photos taken and it sets the tone for the wedding breakfast to come."

His top tip? Be mindful of the length of your drinks reception – to avoid any disappointment when the canapés run out!

According to Marc, there are a few things to consider to ensure a seamless and successful canapé reception. He reveals: "Think seasonality and use great ingredients that are in season and go with the time of year. You don't want anything too hot and spicy on a hot summer's day. Equally, a chicory leaf with mango salsa in the winter might not be that inspired!"

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Canapés are a great ice-breaker for guests during the drinks reception

Ease of eating is important, too. "Having canapés that are one or two bites at most is usually best. Think of your guests standing with a glass in hand, making polite chit-chat with people they're unlikely to have met before (but will be dancing with later) and having to then delicately navigate their way around eating something without smudging make-up or dribbling down their new outfit."

What are the most popular starter, main course and dessert options at a wedding?

While your choices are entirely down to you, catering companies are seeing an increase in non-traditional starters. Marc revealed that 34 percent of the 100 bespoke menus Caviar & Chips catered for over the past year saw couples opt for a sharing-style charcuterie board – which has the added benefit of being a conversation starter.

In terms of mains, people like to keep things traditional, with 37 per cent opting for beef and 34 per cent choosing chicken-based dishes. Marc says: "We're seeing a renaissance for chicken as we look for creative and exciting ways to serve a delicious classic. We've enjoyed serving a Honey & Bourbon Roast Chicken Supreme, Truffle Mash, Pancetta-Wrapped Fine Beans & Chicken Jus."

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As for desserts, the split between chocolate-based desserts (the brownie still reigns supreme) and fruit had been pretty even – but fruity dishes have taken the lead in the past year! And a third of clients have chosen a trio of desserts, perfect for those who just can't decide. Meanwhile, almost one in five couples have thrown in a cheeky pre-dessert as a surprise for their guests, such as a Gin & Tonic Granita.

What are the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to their wedding breakfast menu?

First and foremost – don't stress. A good caterer will think about the dietary requirements for you. Think about what you like as a starting point and let them take it from there.

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Seasonality is key when it comes to wedding food

Secondly, Marc advises to always remember to think seasonally. "Serving ingredients that are out of season isn't necessarily a mistake, but we'd always recommend seasonal, fresh and locally sourced ingredients where possible. Not only is it better for the environment, but you'll get a much better quality product and it's a lot more in keeping with the great British seasons that will reflect well on the themes of your wedding day."

Number three – keep things simple, no need to overcomplicate. "Again great ingredients, cooked well and served with fantastic hospitality make for a great meal," he enthuses.

And finally, don't worry too much about dressing the table. "Charger plates are lovely, but they're decorative, not functional. Filling the table with flowers and candles again is lovely, but be mindful that after a few glasses of wine and one or two toasts, your guests get progressively less 'organised' at the table and so the busier the table, the more likely that things get knocked over, spilled or damaged," he explains.

How much importance should you place on dietary requirements?

Gone are the days when being vegan is seen as an inconvenience. Marc reveals that an average 10 per cent of all guests have a dietary requirement, and you should definitely choose a caterer that takes this seriously. Marc says of Caviar & Chips' ethos: "The idea is that everyone is looked after and it's not about feeding 100 people as quickly as possible. We avoid language like 'normal milk' or 'are you the vegan'?"

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Your caterer will help navigate guests' dietary requirements

He adds: "It's absolutely fine to choose a three-course menu with pre-set dishes for each course. Send your menu with invites to all of your guests and ask for dietary requirements and then share this with your caterer. They'll then be able to prepare the menu in the right way and ensure your guests receive an enjoyable meal that they don't have to worry about whether it's safe to eat!

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"If your few guests with dietary requirements are well-catered for, not only will they be delighted they can enjoy some food, but they'll love you for it and your menu will definitely be remembered for all the right reasons."

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