Wedding Food 101: The Dos and Don'ts of Personalizing Your Reception Menu

Updated 10/23/16

Photo by Vienna Glenn Photography

Newsflash, brides-to-be: Gone are the days of just chicken or fish. "A wedding meal should be a narrative of you as a couple and the foods you love," says Hugh Acheson, the James Beard Award winning chef at Atlanta's Empire State South. So get hungry, brides, because no idea is off-limits when it comes to your reception food!

Obsessed with brunch? Surprise guests with breakfast for dinner. Was grilled cheese your favorite childhood snack? Serve a gourmet version as an appetizer. Now is the time to experiment. "The beauty of weddings is that guests are happy but hungry, so they're willing to try something new," says Acheson. "The reaction you want is 'Wow, this isn't typical wedding food.'"

Need a bit(e) of guidance? The first rule in menu planning: It's about you. "Start by choosing two entrees, using the proteins you and your groom love most," suggests Chris Huerta, executive chef at North Carolina's Old Edward's Inn. "If he wants beef, there's no reason you can't choose fish or poultry to accompany it." And don't feel like you have to change your entire menu or offer individual dishes to suit a handful of guests with food allergies (like those with gluten intolerance) or dietary restrictions (vegans and vegetarians).

Rather, provide a variety of dishes to choose from, which is much easier to handle than many custom plates.

But what are the ultimate dos and don'ts of personalizing your wedding menu? Read on to find out.

DO Offer simply prepared dishes ideal for large groups, like stewed meats with grains and veggies or cured-meat and cheese boards. They can be total wedding budget savers.

DON'T There's no need to overdo it with labor-intensive (and expensive) entrees like individually temperatured beef tenderloin.

DO Set up interactive stations where dishes are made to order by a chef. Plan on one station for every 50 guests.

DON'T Ditch the fried foods, like french fries, which get soggy quickly. (You can always make a pre-honeymoon pitstop at In-N-Out!)

DO Go for fresh salads chock-full of local, seasonal veggies, like burrata with tomato, corn, and basil in summer.

__DON'T__Avoid choosing out-of-season produce. "Research seasonality in your area and ask the caterer to devise a menu using those ingredients," says Stephany Wilder of the Ace Hotel Palm Springs in California. "You'll save money and support local businesses."

DO Consider a vegetable gratin. "They can be pre-assembled, are cooked at the last minute, and are cheesy and beautiful," says Acheson. Don't offer risotto, which is hard to execute and tastes gummy if it sits too long.

See More: 3 Things Not to Do at Your Wedding Menu Tasting

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