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Wedding Menu Planning

Planning Your Wedding Menu

Whether you’ve already fallen in love with a wedding venue or are still in search of the perfect haven to celebrate the special day, you’ll need to decide what to eat. Of course, your wedding should be a night to remember. Your guests will reminisce over the dancing, food and drinks for years to come.

With so many caterers, serving options and drink packages to consider, it’s crucial to find the best experience for your wedding party.

Of course, the first step is finding a venue with great catering service.

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As you consider venues, speak to your contacts to see what their in-house catering options are. You may find that a superb drink and meal package seals the deal. In that case, just select the service that works best for you and your guests. Then, sample some delectable entrées and take your pick.
If you are wondering how to plan a wedding dinner, this guide will answer all your menu questions.


delightful hors d' oeuvres and a satisfying main course

Food is the essential element of your wedding — after exchanging vows with the one you love. A proper meal can energize your attendees for a night of revelry and dancing. Remember, this will also be your first meal as a married couple. Between delightful hors d’oeuvres and a satisfying main course, an exceptional menu enlivens any event. Food also prevents guests from over-indulging at the bar, which keeps your friends and family safe.


Every wedding is as unique as the person you’re marrying. Whether you plan a themed wedding, an intimate gathering or a black-tie affair, your menu choices go a long way in cultivating the right energy. It’s no secret that some foods are fancier than others, but the wedding’s catering style impacts the tone of your event, too.

Here are some things to consider when planning your wedding menu list to set the right mood:

  • Formal wedding: A black-tie and ball gown affair is about more than dress codes. Attendees often expect a lavish seated dinner with escort cards and several courses. Waitstaff will be respectfully dressed and serving passed hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour.
  • Casual wedding: An informal event may still have a plated-entrée. You can safely opt for a buffet or family-style dinner if you prefer. Passed and stationary hors d’oeuvres are both acceptable.
  • Limited guest list: A small wedding can make top quality dinner options more affordable for you and your betrothed. An intimate evening is a chance to give your friends and family a world-class experience with plated dinners and top-shelf liquor.
  • Full guest list: The more people you invite, the more dining options you may need. Some attendees have dietary restrictions such as gluten sensitivities, while some may prefer vegetarian choices. A buffet option can help all your guests enjoy their night since they are more likely to find food they like.
  • Kid-friendly: Kids tend to eat less, so many venues offer discounts for guests under a certain age. Child-friendly weddings tend to be a bit more casual. With more picky eaters in the room, you may be best off with a dinner buffet. If you have guests under 21 attending your wedding, you may need to ensure your bartenders are TIPS certified to prevent underage drinking.
  • Adults only: A more mature event calls for a classier affair. You can pull out all the stops knowing all your guests will appreciate the effort.
    Short reception: A very short reception may consist of only a cocktail hour. A quick reception saves time, rental fees and more. With a bit more time, a plated dinner works best. Since guests put their orders in before the event, they receive their meals much quicker.
  • Long reception: When you have a more drawn-out after party, you can afford to spend more time on dinner. When you order a buffet, attendees are called up section by section to keep lines short at the serving table. Depending on your guest count, it can take up to an hour for all tables to eat.
  • Small venue: When real-estate is tight, or you’re maximizing space for the dance floor, the way you serve food makes a significant impact. You might not have room for long lines or big tables. Plated entrées save space so you can make room for what matters most to you.
  • Big venue: Family-style meals need more surface area, to leave room for the platters of food on each table. With a bigger venue, you can afford larger tables. You can also comfortably fit a self-serve station and accommodate lines at the buffet.

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Plated dinners are served to guests while they are at their tables. Typically they come in courses, with a salad followed by an entrée. Usually, guests have the option to choose from two or three menu options when they RSVP. To ensure quality service, wedding caterers ask for assigned seating with name cards, so guests get what they ordered.

A plated wedding dinner is a more traditional option, and guests usually expect them at formal gatherings. Plated entrées allow caterers to calculate how much food to prepare, so you pay for less uneaten food.

Plated entrées require more serving staff. Each dinner will have to be plated in the kitchen and served. As a general rule, you’ll need to hire one to two staff members per table, so factor this cost into your budget.

Plated meals are an excellent option for smaller parties, where you can control portion sizes and serve a limited menu. With a plated entrée, you only need to offer two protein choices and can upgrade to a third for more variety.


A buffet has platters of food set on long tables. You can design a self-service station, where guests line up on either side to fill their plates. Or, you can hire staff to dole out food in planned portions. A buffet will stay open long enough for each guest to eat and for most to get a second helping. Generally, they close soon after everyone has had a chance to eat.

A buffet wedding dinner offers more informal dining. Picky eaters and those with dietary needs are more likely to find options they like. You save on costs with fewer staff members and can serve more options at a lower price. Buffets also promote mingling and a social atmosphere.

A hidden cost to watch out for is that people tend to eat more when they serve themselves. In addition, tables will be dismissed in batches to keep lines short. So, this dining style may take more time than a plated meal. With a buffet option, you can offer more variety than you might with a plated meal and can order smaller quantities for individual food items.


other wedding meal alternatives

While plated meals and buffets are the two styles of wedding dinners most are familiar with, these aren’t the only options. You can up the trendiness of your wedding and make yours a memorable affair by switching up how you serve your guests.

Cocktail reception: Rather than a plated dinner, a cocktail hour with butlered and stationary hors d’oeuvres will cut down on the cost of food. You can fit more guests in a venue if your reception is standing-room-only, so a cocktail hour is great for an extensive guest list or a smaller site. Keep in mind that people tend to drink more when there’s no seated dinner.

Family-style: A family-style meal is the best of both worlds between buffet style and plated meals. Your guests remain seated, and waitstaff brings each table platters of food. Guests pass items around the table and take what they want. Like the name implies, guests feel like they are sitting down for a family dinner. This dining style encourages mingling and creates a social atmosphere.


Your wedding’s beverages set the stage for a night of celebration and provide your guests with some liquid courage. There’s a lot to consider when selecting from the wedding bar packages your caterer offers.

You may be wondering what “consumption bar” means or if a cash bar at a wedding is tacky. Not to worry — we have all your beverage questions answered here.


An open bar reception means that guests drink as much as they want. An open bar benefits your guests because they get to enjoy their evening and celebrate you without worrying about their wallets.

Generally, when you opt for this route, there are two ways to pay for your guests’ drinks. Paying by consumption means you will pay only for the glasses your guests indulge in. An open bar is a good bet when you have a smaller crowd that drinks in moderation. The other way is paying the price per head. In this case, you pay a flat hourly fee for each guest.

To make sure you get the best value for your drink package, you must consider many factors.

First, your guest’s drinking preferences can be a major influence on consumption. As long as you know your friends and family well, it should be easy to estimate. On your guest list, highlight your light, moderate and heavy drinkers in different colors. Then, you can make an educated guess on how much your bar tab will be.

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Generally, older guests and pregnant or breastfeeding women will bring down consumption, while younger crowds drink more. People tend to drink more in warmer months and less in colder months. At a winter wedding, more might opt for an expensive bourbon over a summery mixed drink. Also, a brunch reception will likely feature less drinking than an evening dinner.

Once you get a ballpark, you can calculate whether to pay by consumption or per person.


If you’re worried about guests racking up a bar tab, you can go for a cash bar. With a cash bar, guests pay for their drinks and tip the bartenders themselves.

A cash bar reception saves you money. It also prevents heavy drinking so you and your fiancée can have fond memories to look back on.

Note that a cash bar may come as a surprise to many guests. If you do opt for a cash bar, make sure you make this clear to guests in advance so they can bring money with them. Some guests think hosts paying for beverages is proper wedding etiquette, so use a cash bar with caution.

Guests will expect an open bar at a lavish wedding, especially if they travel to your destination and give expensive gifts. If you and your fiancée don’t drink or ask attendees not to bring gifts, most guests will be understanding of a cash bar.


combination bar

To avoid overspending, couples often choose a combination bar. This bar blends an open bar with a cash bar. You can choose to offer beer and wine while asking guests to pay for liquor and mixed drinks. Or you can keep the bar open until a specific time or when the consumption hits a set price tag. After this, the bar switches over to a cash bar. Another option is to give guests drink tickets and offer a cash bar after they hit their limit. After a few complimentary drinks, guests won’t mind paying for another.

A combination bar can ease the cost of an open bar, deter over-consumption and keep guests happy.


When planning your wedding, leave no stone unturned. This helpful checklist can help you coordinate all your wedding catering details so you can enjoy your special day:

  • Set a budget.
  • Begin looking for a venue with catering about seven to nine months in advance.
  • Learn about each catering package and read reviews.
  • Confirm your favorite venue’s availability for the date.
  • Get information on pricing and check this against your guest list.
  • Calculate menu costs, including gratuity.
  • Organize your guest list by how much each attendee is likely to drink.
  • Estimate bar costs based on consumption and compare it to the flat fee rate.
  • Select a food and beverage package.
  • Book and pay the caterer’s deposit.
  • Schedule a menu tasting and select menu items.
  • Confirm what equipment comes with your catering package — linens, flatware and utensils, tables and chairs and more.
  • Ask if the venue provides printed menus or display cards.
  • If serving a plated meal, send out response cards to guests.
  • Communicate any food and beverage information attendees need to know.
  • Confirm the start and end time of food and bar service.
  • Provide the venue with a final guest count about two weeks before the wedding. Your contact should give you an exact deadline.
  • Create a breakdown and timeline of the ceremony and reception. Give your venue a copy.
  • If serving a plated meal, share a seating chart with the venue’s catering team.
  • Enjoy your first meal as a married couple.


When you choose us for your wedding venue, we provide all your catering in-house, which saves you time coordinating between venue and caterer. We take much of the guesswork out of planning your menu.

Select from several catering wedding packages that include butlered hors d’oeuvres, salads and main course selections. Whether you choose a buffet or plated dinner option, your beverage package is included. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to upgrade to premium bar offerings.

colonial golf and tennis handles all your catering needs

Your package will include a complimentary menu tasting, bar service, cocktails for the bridal suite and a champagne toast. The best part is that everything is inclusive. You can customize and enjoy your ceremony without worrying about added costs.

At Colonial Golf and Tennis, you’ll marry the love of your life amid our luscious greenery and elegant reception spaces. Get in touch with us today to book your wedding at Colonial Golf and Tennis.

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