Planning the perfect wedding menu

Imagine getting married at the very same place where you were born.

In normal circumstances, it might sound a little strange, but at Bell City Events in Preston, it’s the perfect combination of two massive milestones.

According to wedding director Alexandra Lohe, the 24-hour venue – which offers onsite services such as a beautician and hairdresser – used to be the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital.

It shut down in the late 1990s, but that was far from its last link with the area’s big celebrations.

“We’ve actually had some really wonderful stories with people who were born at the hospital and then chose to get married here,” she says.

It’s such a beautiful and sentimental idea, which enhances the family feel as couples build a relationship with the venue in creating their dream day.

Nowhere does this come into play more than with the wedding food.

Alexandra says conversations often start with a focus on budget and then move on to education.

“What you might find is couples will look at a menu and say ‘Well I like this dish, so that’s what we’ll have.’ So it’s then about broadening their focus beyond just their personal tastes,” she says.

“You want to look at aspects such as what guests will like, what’s in season, what time of year it is and also what’s popular in wedding menus.

“It all then comes together to create a food story that will send everyone home with great memories.”

Here are her top tips to consider when planning your wedding reception menu:

Take the climate into account

According to Alexandra – who oversees 15 event spaces, ranging from a marquee to a ballroom that seats 240 people – the time of year you’re getting married has a key role to play in choosing the most appropriate food.

In summer, think light and flavoursome dishes that won’t leave guests feeling heavy, matched with a light white wine, a rose or pinot.

In winter, when the mercury drops, look to bring more substantial options into play, with heavier fare matched with something beautiful like a shiraz.

Look to the clock

The time of day is also a massive influence. Traditional weddings, with an afternoon ceremony and evening reception, often focus on three courses – four if you count canapés.

However, as couples diversify to hold weddings wherever and whenever they want, wedding food is also adapting.

So if you’ve always dreamed of saying your vows as the sun rises, follow the celebration with a great breakfast spread. Or, if a lunchtime celebration is more your speed, think lighter fare and smaller portions.

Again, it’s all about being appropriate to the situation so your food enhances, rather than overpowers, the moment.

Think about culture

Modern Australia has a wonderful mix of cultures, which come together when a couple ties the knot.

In fact, one of the highlights for wedding guests – who enjoy free parking at Bell City – is seeing the various traditions and trends that come into play in a ceremony.

This further extends to receptions, which are also steeped in a rich legacy. In some cultures, for example, it’s considered tradition for one of the courses to feature a bird which mates for life, such as a duck or goose.

“It’s really important to remain culturally aware in planning a reception,” says Alexandra. “This is especially true if you have one person doing the menu planning.”

The best advice is to make sure you undertake thorough research to pay proper homage to your families’ heritage.

Cater for diversity

They say variety is the spice of life. So while a wedding menu should reflect your tastes as a couple – and ideally feature some of your favourite dishes – it’s a good idea to mix things up a bit to create a wonderful journey through amazing flavours.

“One way to do this is to strike a balance between land and sea, say by serving seafood for entrées and then poultry and/or meat for the main,” says Alexandra. Don’t forget about vegetarians either.

They’re far from a tiny majority these days and, if you put thought and care into serving them something especially delicious – rather than just a simple plate of stir fried vegetables – you’ll get a massive A for effort.

Make balance a keyword

Couples often focus on making sure their guests have enough to drink at a wedding. But part and parcel of this – not least of all because of responsible service requirements – is to provide enough food to act as a counterweight.

This applies not just during the dinner, but at any point when drinks are served, such as the break between the ceremony and reception.

When planning your drinks, look at things such as how many adults and children there are, how many people are heavy drinkers or don’t drink, and what you have planned for the night,” Alexandra says.

Then plan your food accordingly, from light canapés through to substantial meals.

“People do sometimes try to skimp on food to cater more for alcohol, but you’re best to take a balanced approach,” she says. “After all, you want them to enjoy themselves but still be able to remember the celebration.”

Realise smaller can be better

When you’re planning finger food, Alexandra says it pays to think about size and handling as much as taste, so your guests aren’t left struggling with canapés, a serviette and a glass of wine. The best bet is to have single items that offer no more than a mouthful.

Quantity again comes into play when planning for main meals.

“You want portion sizes that are generous, but not overly so,” she says. If you fill them up too much, your guests will feel too full and may not have the energy or inclination to hit the dance floor.

Tell your story

If a wedding is the culmination of your courtship, the reception food can help to showcase the journey.

It’s an idea that holds true with Alexandra, who encourages couples to have a good think about their relationship highlights.

“If your favourite holiday was a three-month trip through France, consider adding a French influence to the meal,” she says.

Favourite foods are another cornerstone. The idea is to come up with some ideas about how you’d like the menu to unfold and then discuss them with your planner, who can work through the available options to add personal flair.

Complimentary aspects that are easily customisable include theming and styling. If it’s something really special, you could also consider a note in your menus or a mention in the speeches to highlight its significance.

Share and share alike

Grazing or share platters are a great casual option for weddings and encourage guests to mingle and get to know each other.

They are particularly great icebreakers during moments when the official party is absent, for example, when they head upstairs at Bell City to take advantage of photo backdrops that incorporate the city skyline and mountain ranges.

Platters are also perfect for courses such as the entrée, dessert, or cheese and crackers, adding a lovely touch of informality without taking attention away from an amazing main course or the wedding cake.

Opt for the traditional

There’s a reason chicken, beef and fish are found so regularly on wedding menus – it’s because they cater to such a wide variety of palettes.

“When you’re choosing alternate placements, we encourage people to opt for a red meat such as beef or lamb, served with a prominent starch such as smoked mashed potato, or sweet potato and fetta puree, to ensure they enjoy both the bold, earthy flavours of the meat and the ‘full’ feeling of the starch,” says Alexandra, who notes they also offer hen’s day packages that incorporate a high tea followed by a cocktail-and-canapes-style celebration.

“For the other selection we suggest a lighter-style meal, such as a fish or chicken with a few seasonal vegetables and a zesty sauce. This will give your guests a good selection from which they are able to swap among themselves to settle on a favourite.”

Try before you buy

Alexandra also nominates a menu tasting as an essential part of the planning process. It’s all about finding a balance between what you like and what will appeal to your guests.

“When you arrange for the tasting, it’s definitely worth selecting a few more dishes than you would normally try,” she says.

“But don’t try to get too creative with the options. For example, you might enjoy beef tartare, but it’s not something everyone will like. Whereas, if you go for a beef or chicken, a salmon or another fish, they are popular and are things that everybody likes.” And, at the end of the day, it’s all about being a good host.

As a final thought, Alexandra – who says brides and grooms enjoy free accommodation with all the trimmings on their wedding night, plus a late checkout the next day – notes the food you serve is a key part of the joy everyone will take away from your wedding.

“It’s not always the top priority of the bride and groom, but it’s the lasting memory of your guests, so it’s worth the work to get it right,” she says.

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