If only creating a great menu for your reception was as simple as offering either a fish or chicken option for your guests. How do you manage your sister-in-law’s gluten allergy or your mate who can only eat kosher food? How do you even find the right chef to help you out? And how can you stretch your budget and still offer a fabulous culinary experience?
Paul Stewart, head chef at Queensland’s United Service Club has served up thousands of meals for hundreds of weddings during his career. In fact, he’s even served at royal events, such as Princess Margaret’s daughter’s wedding. Surprisingly, in his experience, even the royals enjoy a down-to-earth meal during their extravagant events.
“The royal events were nothing over-the-top. I did one royal guard’s dinner when I was in Scotland and they just wanted croque monsieurs, which are just ham and cheese toasties,” he says. “Food is like a bridge between the upper and lower classes. Everyone enjoys a good feed at the end of the day.”
Originally from Canada, Paul has worked at the United Service Club since 2012, a gracious, Edwardian-inspired venue that’s more than a century old and filled with high ceilings, sophisticated chandeliers and sweeping staircases.
“Being a private member club that has been around for over 100 years, there is a sense of old-world charm that comes through in everything we do. It’s the building itself and the personal attention each guest receives that you do not often find anymore,” says Paul.
“We also serve restaurant quality food in our events catering as opposed to the normal ‘banquet’ food you get in other venues.”
Here, Paul shares some of his tips for choosing a fabulous menu for your wedding day that you’ll remember for a lifetime.
Consider creating a bespoke menu that’s special to you and your partner
While many venues offer food and beverage packages that are often specifically designed to suit a wide range of tastes and needs, don’t be afraid to think outside-the-box and ask your chef to create a customised menu.
“Most venues will create menus to suit any requirements. In the last two years, we have created more than 200 unique dishes that were specifically matched to wines and whiskies for example,” says Paul.
“Always arrange a meeting with the chef and the beverage manager to discuss any ideas or requirements you have as they should be able to work with you on packages to suit your needs. People would be surprised that to have a fully-customised menu and wines should not be difficult for most venues.”
While the United Services Club generally offers classical French cuisine, Paul has worked in various high-end venues in different countries across the globe and, as such, can infuse a wide range of cultural influences into his food, so he is more than happy to create one-off menus. For example, one of his favourite tasks is to create bespoke menus, especially those written to include highly detailed six-course degustation meals matched with wines.
Ensure you have a wedding tasting
Not all brides and grooms decide to take up the offer of doing a wedding tasting, so when it comes to the reception, they are sometimes disappointed by what ends up on their plate, says Paul. Doing a wedding tasting is crucial so brides and grooms are able to communicate exactly what they want to the catering team at the venue.
“If someone wants a boeuf bourguignon, what I do and what they actually want could be two completely different things,” explains Paul. “Taking up the offer of a tasting is really important for expectations but at the same time, it also gives you a gateway to change the menu however you see fit. At the same time, we have beverage packages in our menu, but we’ve also got a cellar downstairs that has a quarter million dollars worth of wine in it, so the options are endless.”
Trust your chef
“I think the biggest tip I could give is to use the expertise of the hospitality professionals you are engaging for your event. Weddings can be very stressful and by working with the team you have selected, this should make the planning of the reception a lot easier,” says Paul.
“If the venue you are considering seems completely unwilling to work with you to create the reception you want, then you should probably walk away very quickly.”
Don’t rush when making decisions around your food and drink menus for your wedding and when you meet with the chef or catering organiser for a tasting, make sure you ask him or her lots of questions: Will the food be cooked on-site or brought in already prepared? What if we change our minds at the last minute? etc.
Don’t be overwhelmed by everyone’s dietary requirements
Dealing with everyone’s dietary requirements when preparing a menu for your reception can make your head spin, whether they’re unable to eat dairy or gluten or suffer from a particular allergy.
But there are ways of managing your guests’ intolerances while still sticking to the dishes that you want to offer on the day.
Many of the menus that the United Service Club offers don’t actually contain a lot of gluten and most of the dishes are able to be switched around if necessary, says Paul. After all, an experienced chef or caterer will be able to give you a range of suggestions for various dietary requirements, whether your best mate is a vegan or if your flower girl has a peanut allergy.
Paul has also found that there are some brides and grooms who attach the menu to their invitations, so guests can alert them to any allergies or intolerances they may have, and these can be taken care of well in advance.
Be upfront with your budget
Before you meet with your chef or caterer, figure out what your budget is and be honest about it when you show up. After all, he or she should be able to come up with some ideas of how to work with your budget while still offering you a wonderful menu.
“It saves a lot of wasted time if a bride and groom are upfront with their budget. When there are budget constraints, they should look at the whole package that is being offered and what is unnecessary,” says Paul. “For example, having the wedding cake plated as dessert instead of a dessert course or either not having an entrée or changing the entrée to share platters per table can both save some money.”