Choosing your reception eats should be as delightful as looking over a restaurant menu and deciding what sounds good. How about prime-rib with fancy side dishes? Or if the pocketbook is dictating restraint, a spread of rich appetizers may be in order.

Ultimately, the number of guests and location will define the meal’s parameters. A small adventure wedding out at the Channel Islands may require gourmet picnic items that travel well. A blow-out at the Bacara would likely be an elaborate affair as the food and beverage minimum is $35,000.

A hot trend for receptions is serving comfort food or dishes made from family recipes, according to area wedding planner Percy Sales. The bride and groom can share their family or cultural traditions through specialties handed down for generations – sumptuous mole sauces or lamb like great-grandma used to roast.

Find a caterer who is willing to use family recipes to create the wedding feast, recommends Sales (pronounced sah-less). He strongly advises against anyone in the wedding party helping with dinner – especially the bride or groom. “The wedding day should be stress-free, even for extended family,” Sales said.

Sometimes friends will want to prepare food for the reception, but unless those friends are professional caterers, the results could be disastrous. “I’ve seen it happen,” said Sales, “Friends will do so much work, then the meal didn’t come out well, and everyone’s disappointed.” For friends (as well as mothers and aunts) who want to give the gift of a home-cooked meal, let them put on the rehearsal dinner or engagement party, not the main event.

An exception to the do-it-yourself caution is at-home receptions serving a manageable number of guests – again, only if it can be pulled off without aggravation. Rental outlets can provide refrigerators, outdoor stoves, and everything else that’s needed for expanding kitchen capacity.

Overall, caterers can make almost any culinary dream come true. Sales remembers one couple who wanted to recreate the evening they first met. As she was barbecuing fish during the love-at-first-sight moment, the wedding dinner was designed around fresh fish sizzling on a grill. Another couple served Maine lobsters, a tribute to the bride’s home state.

Another popular way to serve food: skip a sit-down arrangement and have guests serve themselves hors d’oeuvres buffet-style or from tray-passing servers. Imagine scallops on a stick crafted to look like lollipops, chicken satay with peanut sauce, Kobe beef mini-hamburgers, and coconut shrimp. Protein-heavy snacks will carry people through the evening, and having them move around the room will inspire mingling as well as dancing when the music starts up.

Think outside of the jewel box altogether and schedule the wedding ceremony so that guests can eat breakfast or brunch, suggests Sales. Guests can eat omelets and waffles, then attend a late-morning wedding service. “It doesn’t mean you’re going cheap,” he said. “It means you’re being creative and you want a wedding experience that’s unlike everybody else’s.”

Some couples make merry with marzipan, meringue, and mousse – dessert receptions are a breezy and affordable way to celebrate with family and friends. Treats like cookies and pies make a homey complement to delicate items such as petit fours or crme brulee – all to be chased by champagne or cappuccino from an espresso cart.

Timing is important. Invite guests to an evening wedding ceremony, letting them know the reception will offer sweets only. They will eat dinner before arriving, and be ready to dance the night away. With the money saved by skipping dinner, a couple can hire a live band, or the bride can have the dress of her dreams.

The Sweet Possibilities of a Dessert Reception:

– Dessert trays can form a colorful backdrop to a traditional wedding cake

– Set up stations for guests to create their own sundaes or decorate cupcakes

– For outdoor settings, offer a s’mores fire pit

– Offer melted chocolate and dip-able goodies

– Drop strawberries or raspberries into sparkling wines

– Spike coffee with hard liquor for people who want to be awake and buzzed

– Serve fancy punch and soft drinks for children and designated drivers

– Include fresh fruit or vegan selections

– Decorate with low-lighting, candles, and flowers


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