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Wedding Menu Planning Tips From an Industry Insider

An expert offers candid advice on catering, party rentals, and more.

By Sarah Stebbins
Sandwiches on a wooden platter tied with twineStephen Danelian, compliments of William Morrow1 of 2

Any ideas for livening up the ubiquitous chicken entrée?
The key is not to do a slab of chicken next to a scoop of rice and some vegetables—that’s so blah. Also, any food prepared for a large group should taste good at room temperature because it’s just not that easy to serve 150 hot meals. I like to make what I call a “build-a-meal,” where the main course and sides are layered together. You could do a kale or arugula salad topped with quinoa or mashed potatoes and finished with slices of grilled chicken. I think grilled anything is great at room temperature and it looks attractive. Another idea is a layered vegetable terrine with roasted potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and red and yellow peppers topped with roasted, shredded chicken. Or chicken curry over basmati rice sprinkled with toasted coconut and golden raisins—how cool would that be at a wedding?

What are some ways to cut costs on food?
I love to do a “grazing” of heavy hors d’oeuvres instead of a plated meal. This saves on food and rentals and it’s fun. Clients often think a buffet will be cheaper than a sit-down dinner, but that’s not the case. You have to order one-and-a-half to two times as much food for a buffet because guests will go for seconds. Also, when guests sit down for dinner, the reception loses a little momentum. I like to pass things like grilled skirt steak on mini fingerling potatoes, shot glasses of soup, sashimi and fried chicken bites so people feel like they’ve had a meal, but the party keeps going. An appetizer brunch would be significantly less expensive and really elegant. You could have mini frittatas, muffins, bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon, and shot glasses of yogurt and granola. Can you tell I love serving things in shot glasses?

What are some ways to cut costs on rentals?
Another thing I suggest is to look into buying some of the glassware and serving pieces instead of renting them. You can get a package of six wine or drinking glasses from IKEA for between $3 and $5, which is less than what many rental companies charge. Mason jars are chic for serving lemonade and iced tea. And you can find really cool dishes and platters at flea markets. After the wedding, you can keep the pieces on hand for entertaining.

Read More About:Cakes & Catering

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Lanterns

Talk to your venue before renting any items. Ask if you’ll be charged additional fees for using outside vendors and if the site can accommodate additional setup and breakdown time for special lighting, ceremony chairs, or hanging lanterns.