Wedding Catering Tips

Questions to Consider When Curating Your Wedding Weekend Culinary Experience

An interview with Bartizan’s Executive Sous Chef, Nick Lawrence

What style of dinner service best suits your event? 

When crafting your culinary experience, first pick your style of dinner service: plated, buffet, or station-style are some of the most popular choices. If you’re looking for a more formal event, a plated dinner is your best option. Guests are served a first course, a salad, soup, or carpaccio, and then are given a choice to preselect their main course. A main course that features two proteins is called a duet and is highly recommended from a culinary perspective. Guests are given the choice of the duet option or a vegetarian/vegan option. This allows for the kitchen to serve guests more efficiently because 95% of guests receive the duet meal. A choice-of-plated meal is when your guests select between three different main entrees; most commonly two proteins and one vegetarian/vegan option. A buffet-style dinner is normally unattended, and all food options are placed in one location. For a buffet dinner, consider having two to three heavier options like pasta, protein, or starch and two to three lighter options such as a salad and seasonal vegetables. A station-style (or sometimes called a cocktail-style) dinner is executed best at an explorative venue. You may or may not have full seating for your guests and stations are placed around the room(s) to encourage mingling. These options are typically chef-attended and interactive. Pro-Tip: Consider what style of service you are featuring at your wedding and then consider doing something different at your rehearsal dinner to give those guests two different dining experiences. 

How can you elevate your culinary experience and make it memorable? 

The culinary/beverage experience begins when your guests arrive at your ceremony. Nothing makes a better welcome than being greeted with spiked hot cider when the weather is chilly or a glass of bubbles in the summer. At your reception, consider pre-setting an amuse bouche. This is a great way to get your guests truly excited about the courses to come. For your first course, a salad with romaine, parmesan, and croutons is okay (and expected) BUT, a baby beet salad with goat cheese, citrus, candied nuts, shaved radishes, and balsamic glaze is MEMORABLE. Even if your aunt doesn’t “like” beets, she will most likely give it a try, and who knows, she might love it and talk about it at every future family Thanksgiving. Instead of a champagne toast (that many guests end up wasting), add table-side wine service. Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon are two popular and approachable wines that pair nicely with most dishes. If your wedding or rehearsal dinner is intimate, under 50 guests, really take it to the next level with a four to five-course wine-paired dinner. The meal would typically start with a seasonal soup/salad paired with a light white wine like Albariño and would end with an indulgent dessert paired with a dessert wine like Petit Manseng. 

What are some creative ways to incorporate seasonal ingredients into your wedding menu?

A great place to be creative and highlight seasonal ingredients is in your first course/amuse bouche. During the Spring/Summer months, consider a compressed watermelon salad with feta and baby arugula; this dish is bright and bursting with flavor. A salad highlighting roasted butternut squash during the Fall/Winter months paired with bacon and a smoked yogurt dressing is literally like a campfire in your mouth, in the very best way. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to your Chef on ways to incorporate unique ingredients that are available during your specific wedding season. Working with seasonal/local fresh ingredients is one of the best parts of the job. Your food isn’t the only item that can be seasonal. Consider featuring a seasonal fruit, vegetable, or herb in your signature drink like a strawberry basil Moscow mule or rosemary cucumber gimlet.

How can you make your menu unique yet cohesive? 

Think about your menu as an entire experience from cocktail hour to dessert. Consider a variation of textures like crispy, chewy, and creamy. Select dishes with different flavor profiles like spicy, salty, sweet, and acidic. For example, tuna poke hits all of these flavor profiles with its crunchy rice cracker, spicy citrus sauce, creamy avocado salad, and nutty toasted sesame seeds. 

How much food is enough food? 

Three to five passed canapés are recommended for cocktail hour. A stationary display, like an oyster bar or a Mediterranean station, is optional but recommended for cocktail hour as well to give your guests something to interact with. For the reception, ensure your plated meal has at least two courses and your station/buffet dinner has five to eight options. Many wedding clients are moving away from traditional wedding cakes and offering a dessert display instead. Consider serving gelato with an assorted gourmet cookie bar. Who doesn’t want to devour a warm brown butter chocolate chip cookie when taking a break from the dance floor? Sending your guests home with a snack for the road like a homemade brioche grilled cheese to soak up the booze is a current trend that’s here to stay. 

How can you balance different dietary preferences and requirements when crafting your menu?

Offer passed canapés during cocktail hour from all categories: land, sea, and woods. Also, ensure you have gluten-free options available throughout the entire evening. An easy way to accommodate both vegetarian and vegan guests is to pick a main course that can satisfy both. For example, risotto can be made vegan with a simple switch of replacing the butter and parmesan with miso. Also, keep in mind that you’re never going to please every guest. It is YOUR wedding, so above all else, your culinary experience should represent you and your partner. If you love lamb chops because they remind you of your first date but are worried your cousin won’t eat them because she’s vegan, serve them anyway. The other 99% of your guests will thank you!

About Chef Nick: A Powhatan native, Nick began his career as a dishwasher at a country club and was quickly promoted to Sous Chef, where he sharpened his technical culinary skills for the next seven years. In 2020, Nick joined the Dover Hall Experiences team. Wine-paired multi-course meals are one of Nick’s favorites to cook because of the opportunity to experiment and get creative with seasonal ingredients and new techniques.