In some ways, planning a wedding banquet isn’t that much different than hosting a dinner party—it’s just the scale of the celebration that’s expanded. A memorable feast is all about providing your guests with great food, generous drinks, and good company.
These days, however, planning the menu isn’t as simple as asking attendees to choose between meat, seafood or vegetarian options for their mains on their RSVP cards. As a society, we’re becoming smarter and pickier with our food choices, and the result is that caterers are having to juggle many more requests for every event. From accommodating allergies and sensitivities to everything from tree nuts to dairy, to acknowledging that guests may be following special diets such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose free and Paleo, there can be a lot to consider.
Here are some guidelines to help you navigate the process.
1. Get the full scoop
Whether your attendees are RSVP-ing online or via snail mail, make sure that you give them the option or space to detail any dietary restrictions. The more information that you have in advance, the easier it will be to try to accommodate them. And don’t hesitate to ask for more information—is your cousin really a strict vegetarian or really a social pescaterian who would be fine with fish or seafood? For friends with truly complex requirements, start by asking them what they normally can eat at group celebrations.
2. Prioritize needs over wants
Eliminating any foods that might cause a life-threatening allergy is a no-brainer, as is making sure that all of your guests have a few options to choose from for their meal. And, it’s often possible to substitute one common ingredient for another in a recipe, if there’s a very specific sensitivity. But instead of nixing the beloved pasta course to accommodate a single gluten-free regimen, for example, you could just ask the kitchen to serve that guest an extra serving of the salad or soup.
3. Provide menu options
No matter cultural norms or your personal beliefs, a gracious host always plans the meal with guest sensitivities and preferences in mind. For example, even if you’re a strict vegan, you might want to offer attendees the choice for meat, seafood or dairy appetizers or mains. Or, while some traditional Asian banquets involve extensive seafood courses, be sure to order alternate plates for friends who are vegetarian or have common shellfish intolerances.
4. Buffet wisely
Buffet spreads and family-style service are affordable ways to offer greater food choice to everyone, while letting guests with dietary restrictions choose the exact quantities and variety that they want on their plates. You’ll still have to warn the kitchen far in advance about any allergies, especially life-threatening ones, as cross-contamination of dishes could happen in the kitchen or via the serving utensils.
5. Serve smart drinks
While open bars and fine vintages are always a good idea, it’s also important to offer guests delicious beverage options that are non-alcoholic! Pregnant women, designated drivers and kids are just some of the attendees that would appreciate a well-made mocktail and fresh-squeezed juices at the bar.
6. Plan for last-minute requests
Even the best laid plans benefit from flexibility; if budget allows, order one or two extra vegan or vegetarian mains to have on hand, just in case. And be aware that you might get last-minute food requirements even onsite at the reception—see what the kitchen can do, but don’t feel bad if a picky eater has to skip a course, or pick the croutons out of their Caesar salad.