6 Steps to Planning a Delicious, Crowd-Pleasing Menu

Discover how to select scrumptious cuisine all of your guests will love!

6 Steps to Planning a Delicious, Crowd-Pleasing Menu

Photo: KT Merry Photography

Brides and grooms can agree that designing a delectable wedding menu is perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of wedding planning. However, determining which dishes will satisfy hundreds of different palettes can be a daunting task. Heather Heuser, who owns New York restaurants Traif and Xixa with her husband, chef Jason Marcus, reveals the 5 wedding cuisine tips all couples need to know, including how to choose your caterer, determine the right selections for your type of wedding, and successfully feed your guests at a destination celebration. 

When hiring your caterer, look for chefs with passion. 

Ask the chefs why they do what they do? What kinds of food do they personally enjoy? The way someone talks about food and their passion towards it can tell you a lot about their approach. You can find other clues by looking at the menu examples they have chosen to represent their company. Is it a basic chicken or beef entrée, or is there a little more thought put into the choices? Businesses should understand that they have only one chance to make a good first impression, and sometimes that doesn't even involve a conversation – sometimes a couple takes a glance at the website and makes a quick snapshot decision. Companies that care will always find a way to express their passion and their willingness to please, even in the smallest details.

Also, if dealing with a larger wedding, consider the challenges of execution. The more complex the dish is, the harder it is to ensure seamless execution on a large scale. The bottom line is that you need someone who cares, and is creative while still grounded enough to understand how to deliver the best quality food within a wedding’s parameters. 

If you’re having a destination wedding, stick to local cuisine. 

[For my wedding] we traveled to Mexico because we love its cuisine and charm. It would have been silly and disastrous of us to ask and expect our chef to cook eccentric French dishes or other less accessible cuisine they may not have experience working with. It is important to appreciate what the area has to offer. Consider what resources and ingredients are available. Fresh versus frozen may come into play in light of shipment restrictions, especially on remote islands. We served guests fruit “agua frescas” to pair with tequilas, a homemade churro bar and delicious ceviches – all local cuisine our guests went crazy for, while keeping the chefs in their comfort zone and highlighting what they could execute best. Catering companies can be tricky; sometimes the best chefs can be found on a more local level. 

Don’t choose anything too eccentric. 

Weddings are about family and friends coming together and feeling comfortable. So give them good food that will put them at ease and make them naturally excited for the day’s events. Including a food station that allows guests to build their own “something” is a great way for guests to personalize their meal. At my sister’s wedding, the build-your-own-mashed-potato station offered both the comfort of a creamy cheese sauce as well as a decadent lobster bisque topping that elevated the food while keeping it approachable. It also adds an element of interaction to the experience, which is another way of creating a unique menu. 

Do your research to find wines that will please the majority of guests, as well as introduce them to something new. 

It is important to consider the crowd and what their comfort levels are. I personally love red varieties with some energy for a day of festivities. Austria is a great place to look for both whites and reds; you can find a nice variety of lesser-known grapes that also share characteristics with those more widely consumed grapes. For example, most guests are comfortable drinking Pinot Noir, and the Saint Laurent grape from Austria is a nice alternative. Keeping in line with the cherry notes of pinots and often with the same delicacy and elegance that Burgundies can embody, Saint Laurent grapes deliver quality and finesse, beautifully pairing with the richness of the food, without breaking the bank. 

Trending now: Comfort food served in a casual setting. 

I’m seeing fewer formal, sit-down dinners where guests are served a salad and an entrée. More and more tray passing with stations and buffet styles are being utilized. This allows guests to mingle and move around. It also provides a nice social feel to the wedding; it creates opportunities for groups to interact with one another instead of being stuck with one group of people for a long sit-down dinner. There are a lot more ribs, mashed potato, and sundae bars around – elevated comfort food. 

If you and your fiancé have different tastes, start with a common theme. 

It’s always great if there is a protein or main component that the two of you can agree on. From there you could offer different toppings by way of sauces or accompaniments; this gives guests variety while allowing the bride and groom each to share their preference. From passed hors d’oeuvres, to food stations, to dessert and a creative bar (i.e. specialty cocktails or coffee drinks), there are lots of opportunities for each of you to have input. Just remember to not get too disconnected from one another. As long as you can keep focused on this agreed-upon guideline, your differences can shine together instead of compete or feel disjointed. 

Opening photograph by KT Merry Photography