The Recipe for a Perfect Wedding Buffet

A rustic wedding buffet of food.

Choosing the menu for your wedding reception is one of the better parts of wedding planning. To make sure the variety is the best it can be, follow these guidelines, which will help you think critically about how much to go with the traditional menu for a buffet, and how much you want to make it your own.

Talk Budget and Options with Your Caterer

The first step to the perfect wedding buffet is to thoroughly examine your caterer’s website and any options or price sheets they offer. These will help you make some clear decisions if you have a specific price per person that you are hoping to stay below. Your caterer will also know which foods are in season and which foods tend to be major crowd favorites. If your caterer makes a pretty boring shrimp cocktail but a truly delectable pork chop, they will let you know. You can make a better choice in the following categories if you have a good idea of what is available and what is affordable.

Decide How Many Main Entrees You Want

Often the most expensive part of the meal, and therefore a very important part, is the main course. Many people choose to offer two or three options at their weddings, but doing so can require a premium if the meal choice isn’t selected ahead of time. If selected ahead of time (often as an option between beef, chicken, or fish), having multiple main courses can be reasonable.

However, another option that can save money is to stick with one main dish that tends to be crowd-pleaser, which can be anything from roasted chicken to lasagna. This is also where you decide what kinds of vegetarian options you might want to offer. Pasta dishes, for example, can be tempting for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.

Make the Most of Side Dishes

Side dishes for a wedding buffet.

Especially if you choose only one main course, picking your sides well can be helpful to round out a meal. Usually, one vegetable and one starch side is a pretty typical minimum, but talking to your caterer may reveal that more sides might allow better customization of the meal for your guests. This is another way to make sure any vegetarian guests or guests with food allergies are able to get plenty to eat; a hearty potato dish or veggie casserole can be both a side dish and a vegetarian entree. Even if you’re offering various main courses, the sides can be a place for picky eaters to get some options. (For instance, if you have any children coming to your wedding who may not often eat fancy or spicy.)

Decide if You Need Salads and Bread

Many wedding buffets will see it as typical to have a green salad available and to offer bread rolls with butter. If these come with the “package” your caterer offers, there is no reason not to have them, but talk about your options. Could you substitute a spinach salad for the less-substantial iceberg lettuce one? Is there a discount if you leave the bread and butter out? These items can be quite nice, but discovering whether they are very everyday additions or if they truly add something to your buffet can be helpful. You want a meal where every aspect is going to shine.

Leave Room For Dessert!

A candy bar in shades of light pink and white at a wedding.

In many other events, the caterer is expected to provide dessert. But unless your caterer also bakes wedding cakes, at least that part may be outsourced to a different vendor. Make sure your caterer doesn’t mind having another vendor in the kitchen and that they meet each other on the day of your wedding so that they each have the space they need. On the other hand, many weddings these days are choosing to serve other kinds of desserts even if they have at least one little cake for the ceremonial cutting. When discussing the menu with your caterer, at least ask about their desserts: if you or your fiancé have a sweet tooth, multiple dessert options might be the way to make the end of the night a little magical and very sweet.

The best thing about a wedding buffet is that less food is wasted when everyone gets to choose the food they want. If you have access to a professional kitchen, it’s even possible to plan and serve your own wedding buffet, especially if you have a small wedding, but a caterer will often provide some ease and support.

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