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How to Design Your Wedding Reception Menu: Expert Advice and Inspiration from Simple to Extravagant

The style of catering and the reception menu you choose for your wedding day can have a big effect on the overall feel and impression of the whole day, not to mention the cost. Many couples say that having good food is one of their utmost wedding priorities.

How to Design Your Wedding Reception Menu

Catering a wedding isn’t as simple as any other meal – either to choose a menu for, or to prepare. Depending on the number of guests you are having, your venue and your budget, you may be able to choose all of your favourite foods for your wedding menu, or make a few compromises. Thankfully, the modern couple now has more wedding menu options than ever, which will cater to all budgets!

I’ve previously written a guide to choosing between wedding catering options – i.e. style of catering, and weighing up the relative pros/cons/costs of each – so this article will focus on how to actually design a menu – it’s all about the food. Whether each of these will work with your choice of catering style will depend on your imagination and creativity!

Should you Plan a Wedding Menu According to your Favourite Foods?

If you’re making decisions about your wedding menu according to your favourite foods, consider whether your palate will be a popular one. Also think about whether your food of choice will be able to be served to a large group simultaneously, and whether it’s something made from scratch right before serving, or if it can be prepared earlier.


When choosing your wedding day canapes, aim for a balanced selection of flavours; some hot/some cold; at least 1-2 vegetarian options, and opt for those which are easy to eat in one bite. By definition, canapes should be able to be eaten with just your fingers and usually in one bite. Serving larger canapes which take a few bites to eat can be a bit of a pain at weddings, as guests are usually holding a Champagne glass in the other hand, so need to be able to snack easily.

How Many Canapés per Guest Do You Need?

First of all you need to make the basic assumption that your guests will eat 4-6 pieces in the first hour and 2-4 pieces each hour after that, and then consider the following:

  • If someone is passing the canapés around then this will be less and if the food is unattended at a stand alone station it will be more
  • If you event is happening during a normal meal time, then increase your canapés by 25-50%, this is also works if you event is following a meal, as you can then decrease the number of canapés needed by 25-50%
  • If there are mostly men, use more and the opposite applies for events that are mostly women

Your caterer will probably provide you with a list of canapes they typically serve, but some great balanced choices include:

  • Sushi – a great vegetarian option
  • Crumbed aquid
  • Tomato bruschetta
  • Blinis with crème fraîche, roast beef & cornichons.
  • Small lettuce cups
  • Fig & goat’s cheese puffs
  • Thai chicken skewers – easy to hold but a more substantial choice
  • Mini Tacos
  • Club Sandwiches

While guests won’t be filling up on canapes, they’re an important part of your wedding day menu, especially if your guests are waiting for a couple of hours before your wedding reception dinner, and having a few drinks.

How to Choose Your Wedding Menu - Catering Advice

The Main Meal

Seasonal Choices – When it comes to your main menu food choices, keep the seasons in mind for your wedding catering, and your tastebuds and budget will thank you. Of course, in New Zealand we have access to fresh meat all year around, but your choice of vegetables will certainly benefit from seasonal choices. Autumn and Winter are best for hearty vegetables, though vege like carrots, kumara and yams can certainly be given a modern twist by your caterer, and eggplants add interest and texture.
Summer weddings are spoiled with seasonal vegetables, with plenty of ripe tomatoes and avocados making colourful salads, while summer fruits are perfect to add flavour to dessert or wedding cake options.
Meat and Three Vege – Is a little bit dated! Vegetarian and Veganism is on the rise, so if you’re not catering to those who favour meat-free meals, you may leave some guests hungry. Offer a balanced meal to all your guests by providing at least one vegetarian option, and/or plenty of vegetables on the plate.

Comfort Foods Which can be Made Wedding Appropriate

Especially if you’re catering to a heavy-drinking crowd, you may be considering heavier, comfort foods for your wedding menu. Give comfort foods (which everyone loves) a classy twist and noone will go hungry!

  • Make Cheeseburgers Wedding Menu Appropriate by serving small sliders – cute and bite sized!
  • BLT – Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato Sandwiches can be made Wedding cool by turning them into little bruscetta, think diced tomato and lettuce with little bacon pieces on top – yum!
  • Fried Chicken (& Waffles!) – One I wish we’d served, my absolute perfect comfort food. Serve bite-sized chicken and waffle bites as canapes, just make sure they really are bite-sized, as extra-large canapes can be messy.
  • Ice Cream – My personal fav, and while it wasn’t easy enough to serve at our wedding, your caterer may be able to create mini ice-cream cones for dessert, perfect if you’re serving a banquet style meal or dessert table.
  • Doughnuts – Duh, a Donut Wall is Perfect for a Wedding, both as a dessert station backdrop or even the backdrop for a Selfie Station – talk about sweet photos 😉

24 Carrots Catering – See Brunch Wedding Inspiration for more Comfort Food!

Considerations When Serving Traditional Food from your Culture

If you’re planning on serving traditional food from your culture, think about whether those flavours will be suitable for your entire guest list. New Zealand, for example, has a lot of Indian and Chinese weddings, though the spices of Indian, and the flavours of Chinese, may not be suitable for a delicate palate, especially older people.
If you’re serving a traditional wedding menu from your culture, perhaps ask your caterer to provide less flavourful options for some, and serve plenty of white rice to soak up the flavours, for instance.

Late Night Bites

If you’re having a late night, consider whether you might like to serve a late night snack additional to your wedding reception menu. We served pizza and it went down extremely well at 11:30pm!

The Buffet Menu

If you’re hosting a buffet style wedding reception, you have the advantage of choosing lots and lots of varieties of food, which makes designing your wedding menu both fun, and possibly challenging!
Still, do choose dishes that would naturally complement each other – most people won’t enjoy both a hearty Indian curry and Fish & Chips (I probably would!). Don’t make your vegetable options an after-thought at your buffet either, buffet food has come a long way, and a good caterer will be able to put together delicious vegetable options that are as interesting and delicious as the meat options.

Set Menu/Alternate Drop

Personally, I find this style of menu too restrictive (and annoying, I always want whatever the people next to me are having!) but if you’ve chosen an alternate drop menu, for example beef or chicken, ensure there are also plenty of salads, vegetables and bread available – if anyone truly doesn’t want to eat whatever their ‘drop’ was, at least they can fill up on alternatives.
For alternate drop, you really only get to make two choices, so the most common is one red meat, and chicken, because not everyone enjoys fish. If you already know your guests include a lot of vegetarian or vegan eaters, this may not be the best choice.

Cocktail Menu

One drawback of a Cocktail wedding menu is that guests don’t actually stop to eat, as there’s no set place from which to get food, and some can end up hungry (and drunk). While a cocktail wedding is very fun and sociable, I suggest that as well as having staff serve canapes through the evening, you have a designated place for trays of food, and possibly, larger, substantial bites. Again, when designing a cocktail menu for your wedding, think balance and variety.
Whichever menu you choose, it’s important to check with your guests for any food and allergy requirements when they RSVP. Both the our wedding planner and the planning pack remind you of this, as well as having spaces to record notes from each guest, so you’ll make sure to stay on track.

Hawkes Bay catering guru’s Orton Tailored Cuisine also gives us his expert advice:

It is true what they say that the most talked about thing after a wedding is generally the food. When someone asks how the wedding was, the reply is usually a recount of the outstanding lamb or not so memorable salmon.

We may be biased but we like to think of food as one of the highest priorities of a wedding. The caterer and menu is something that should not be left to the default options put forward.

We have taken the time to compile our top 5 considerations when planning your menu with your caterer.

1. Your favourites

Think about if you were hosting at home. What would you cook? How you would you present it? Perhaps you would serve a big-shared feast down the middle of the table or immaculately presented individual plates. You may start with a platter laden with local produce or you may choose to not seat your guests formally at the table at all. What is your favourite cookbook, chef or food blog?

All these favourites can be inspiration with your style of menu and sharing this with your caterer ensure you are on the same page from day dot.

2. Your travels

We love this one! It is always an exciting brief when couples share with us their memorable meals from around the globe and request elements of these. Think about food that evokes memories. We are currently working on an entirely Spanish menu for one couple (yes, there are churros to finish!) and we have a wedding coming up who are serving mini hotdogs as a nod to their New York engagement.

3. The flow of your day

Giving though to the run-sheet and how the menu will flow is something not to be overlooked. Consider from start to finish and remember it does not have to be the default Entrée, Main, Dessert. What about Canapes served standing, a seated main, Dessert Canapes handed around the dance floor and then late night snack? Who doesn’t love a pulled pork slider at 10pm or a bag of homemade sea-salt popcorn for the bus-ride home in the wee hours?

4. The details

The food need not stop at the menu. Give some though to the details. Consider the cutlery, the napkins. plates and even the salt and pepper dishes or bread-baskets. Take it one step further and consider the staff uniforms (bow-ties anyone?) and the presentation of food. We had a bride request all food for the mains include edible flowers as garnishes. Our side of beetroot, kale and pea shoots looked incredible with the addition of some bright orange peppery nasturtiums.

5. The drinks

Apply the 4 points above when considering what to serve for drinks at your wedding (this is assuming you are blessed with the flexibility of byo or a venue that bends the rules). 1. What are your favourites? 2. What gems have you discovered on your travels? We have recently served a Malbec from Mendoza (Argentina) – It had a terribly romantic backstory that we encouraged them to share on the drinks menu. 3. Consider timings and the seasons. Pimms post ceremony in summer, Mulled wine in winter and I am looking at you Espresso martini for later. 4. Consider glassware, waterjugs and of course pretty labels help too.

Always come back to the bottom line of YOU (and the fiancé of course) and having a menu and day that reflects you as a couple. Your day. Your way. Churros and all.

Wedding Catering Donut Wall Advice Choosing Menu

Planning a Wedding in Australia: Cost, Checklists and Step by Step Guides

Are you dreaming of a wedding in Australia? Let me help you navigate every part of the planning process from the engagement party right through to the post-wedding tasks without putting too much strain on your pocket. 

Before you Start Planning Your Australian Wedding

1 Take a moment just for yourselves and enjoy being engaged. Spend time talking about what’s important to you – why you want to get married, what your dream day looks like, and who you want to celebrate it with.

2 Announce your engagement and possibly plan an engagement party to celebrate with your friends and families.

3 Think about the kind of money you feel comfortable spending. It’s no secret that weddings can be expensive, and that managing your wedding budget is a big task. Make sure you are on the same page about how much to spend, and what your priorities are.

4 Let people help you. Talk to friends who have married recently, and subscribe to our emails, and we will help you with the best wedding advice without spamming your inbox (that’s a promise!)

Build your Wedding Planning Tool Kit

We suspect that you may have a a Pinterest list, or Instagram saved folder as long as your arm, and probably quite a bundle of wedding magazines too… Still, to order all of your ideas into a cohesive, well-organised, and easy-to-follow plan, you’re probably going to need a few wedding planning tools.

Most brides-to-be choose to create or buy a wedding binder or wedding planner book, but for those who prefer everything electronic, there’s the little white planning pack – an electronic resource comprising worksheets and questionnaires to guide you through everything you need to think about and ask, as well as checklists, worksheets, and the budget and guest list templates.

Work out your Budget, Guest List and Wedding Date

After discussing with your fiancé what ideas they have about the big day, the first step to planning your wedding is to work out your wedding budget. You may wish to talk to each of your parents about whether they would like to contribute, but be certain to understand if they wish to have any say over your plans too..

Once you’ve worked out the basics with your fiancé in terms of what’s most important to both of you for your special day and how much you can allocate towards your wedding budget, you may have to sit down for some tricky conversations and decisions around your guest list. You can also choose your wedding party now – they may even help with some of your wedding planning tasks.

You may find it helpful to consider a few articles on what a wedding in Australia costs – be aware that the “average” cost of a wedding can be misleading, and instead look at sample wedding budgets.

Work out when you want to get married – do you want a winter wedding, or will you be competing with many other couples for some of the most popular days. If so, and especially if you must have a particular date, you will probably need to book a venue very soon (some venues book up to 2 years in advance). However, 75% of couples still cite Saturday as their first choice, so even if you are flexible with dates, begin finding a wedding venue as soon as you can.

Choose the best Australian Wedding Vendors and Venues

I genuinely believe that those wedding plannings in Australia are amongst the luckiest in the world, with such excellent and relatively affordable access to every picturesque venue, from the beach to lakeside and mountain-top, and everywhere in between. So I suggest you get onto booking your wedding venue at least 12 months before your D-day. Have a look at 20 alternative and unique wedding venues.

Grab your wedding planner book and visit some wedding venues – take note about everything you love, find real wedding photos and see what sort of options you have for decor, photos and more.

Begin by drafting a list of what your ideal wedding venue should have in terms of appearance, services, on-site catering, wedding-planner inclusion, or a sound, all-inclusive package deal. Once you have a good idea of how many guests you plan to invite, this will help you to determine the costs of going forward with a particular venue. Next, you must visit a few venues to get a feel for each, and you can compare the packages and costs and how much work would be involved to turn the space into your dream wedding venue.

See How to Find Wedding Venues

Book your Wedding Photographer

The most important wedding vendors to secure are your wedding photographer and videographer. Many of the best Australian photographers and videographers would be in high demand and will book out at the same time as wedding venues are booked. So make this a priority booking. To find a wedding photographer, you may wish to browse Instagram – lookup for hashtags relevant to your area, i.e. Australian wedding photographer, Melbourne wedding photographer etc.

Shortlist a few wedding photographers whose style you like and who are available on your wedding day. Then, make sure you meet them before your wedding date! You will be spending much of your special day with them, so it’s imperative that you feel comfortable – personalities will make a huge difference. Wedding videography is also gaining popularity, especially for couples who can’t have all their loved ones attend the wedding, as videography is a great way to share the feeling of the day. Start researching nearby areas for your photos, especially sunset pictures. Make sure to find a few places for photography if the weather isn’t great too – you can use this tool to see the likelihood of rain on your wedding day.

Once you’ve Booked your Wedding Venue and Wedding Photographer

Booking your wedding venue and photographer will be a great feeling; they’re probably the most complex decisions to make. The good news now is that you can probably take it easy for a while, especially if your wedding reception venue is a full-service one. If it’s a DIY/Dry hire venue, you may soon wish to get onto wedding hireage and styling, but otherwise, the remainder of your wedding planning tasks can be picked up with around 9-11 months to go.

One of the best ways to start searching for your wedding vendors in Australia is to look at a couple of the leading Australian Wedding Vendor directories:

Keep your wedding budget in mind as you continue; you may like to read How to Allocate Your Wedding Budget.

Your next steps are outlined in the 12-month wedding planning checklist, which you may want to bookmark for later. If your wedding venue has an events manager or you have hired a wedding planner, some of these will be taken care of, but otherwise, it’ll soon be time to organise the rest of your wedding vendors. At any point, you can start talking to other wedding vendors and professionals such as wedding florists, stationery designers etc. Still, you don’t need to be in a rush to book all immediately. See the wedding planning pack for questions to ask.

Wedding Planning Legalities in Australia

A wedding in Australia can be officiated by a Religious celebrant, a civil celebrant, staff in some local courts, or a marriage officer working in the BDM (Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages). Unlike the New Zealand legal marriage process, there is no such thing as a marriage license in Australia, so that means that you do not need to apply for or receive or lodge a marriage license in Australia before the wedding. Instead, celebrants must lodge the paperwork within 14 days. Your marriage celebrant will give you a Commonwealth Marriage Ceremony certificate on your wedding day, after which you will need to apply for a standard marriage certificate.

Next, browse some real weddings for inspiration!