Dinner to Remember
a little planning and foresight, the blissfully betrothed
can ensure a reception meal to suit the ceremony—and, more
important, the couple
always end up at the back of the prime-rib line. After eyeballing
the pasta station and deciding that the line pace there is
glacial, I ease over to the carving station just as Table
8 is called, and suddenly 12 enormous people have clustered
in front of me, plates in hand, each drenching an outsized
chop in all available sauces.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The wedding dinner is probably
the most variable element of that special day, and it defines
the look of the occasion. A feast for 400 in a capacious catering
hall is very different from dinner for 40 in a restaurant—or
catered at home.
The key to success is your involvement—your leadership, in
fact, because the more you entrust to others, the more it
will look like every other cut-and-paste affair.
This is not to disparage the work of the planner or caterer
or other wedding professional, who should ensure that the
event runs smoothly, but it’s up to you to add the individual
touches that make this your wedding and nobody else’s.
Speaking as one who has had to prep, cook and serve 200 orders
of chicken Florentine for a wedding reception, I’m amazed
that the food ever emerges in decent shape. Time is the killer.
Moving all that food through a limited amount of stovetop
and oven space, plating it with a limited number of cooks
and serving it with a limited number of servers creates bad
If you’re planning a reception for several hundred, then your
best bet is a catering hall with the facilities and experience
to accommodate such a thing—preferably one you’ve previously
seen in action. And not just for dinner service: Sending out
a banquet is completely different from dinner for four. If
you need to offer a vegetarian entrée, make sure the kitchen
can handle that. I’ve seen abysmal meat-free fare from supposedly
You’ll be choosing food from different pricing schemes, but
don’t cruise the upper limit of your budget. Leave room for
surprises. You may want to bring in a cake from elsewhere;
you should pay for a round or two of wine. And don’t serve
plonk for the champagne toast.
There are more homespun alternatives. A friend describes a
potluck supper for about 350 people—she’s not sure because
no RSVP was required—that was low-key and relaxed, held in
the reception hall at her church. “That way, we were able
to invite everybody we wanted to,” she says.
It’s easy to get caught in the maelstrom and go mad. The best
piece of advice I was given was to never lose sight of the
fact that the wedding is about the bride and groom, and no
matter who is footing the bill, it’s they who get to call
the shots. In fact, the advice served me well through two
For the first one, with a guest list of about 60, we opted
for a restaurant not far from our apartment. Restaurants love
weddings because they offer good profits, but again you need
to take the initiative in planning the event. And, again,
your experience as a dinner guest won’t necessarily be the
same as a banquet guest, but you should acquaint yourself
both with the chef and the staff who will be serving you.
Ask lots of questions; find out if your philosophies are in
This is probably not the occasion for a rarefied menu. Truffled
duck confit may be wonderful, but it’s costly and takes forever
make. Your chicken and beef favorites are likely to emerge
from the kitchen in the most reliable form.
Buffet service gives you more leeway in accommodating your
guests, but it also puts the biggest bottleneck right on the
floor (and probably at the prime-rib station). Make sure the
traffic can be handled well—you don’t want people cooling
their heels on line or at their tables. If you haven’t attended
many such events as a guest, get recommendations from friends
you trust, always keeping in mind that most of your friends
secretly think that the Olive Garden serves good food.
Off-premises options abound, from Saratoga’s elegant Canfield
Casino to a picnic area at Thacher Park. Most caterers have
an on-the-road option that should include tables and dinner
The smaller your party, the more leeway you enjoy. Keep it
under, say, 20, and you’re in the realm of ordering off the
menu. Or doing it at home. And don’t overlook the idea of
having your home-based wedding professionally catered.
I wish there were statistics that related the success of a
marriage to the success of the wedding meal. My gut tells
me they’re in direct proportion, so make the event culinarily
memorable. And be sure to invite me.
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