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Reception Necessities - Wedding Food

- Cake
- Catering
- Drinks

- Back to the Planning Guide


If all else fails, the cake is the main piece of food you should have. Every reception has a cake of some kind, no exception. The cake often reflects the theme of the wedding and often incorporates the wedding colors and/or flowers. Modern cakes are leaning more towards spectacular colors, shapes, and arrangements- from giftbox-like cakes to skyscraper cakes and from mixtures of shapes to brightly colored flowers and ribbons. Basically, there is no longer a pressing rule of making the cake white, anything goes.

To figure out what style of cake you want, you'll want to have most of your wedding shopping done- have your dress, colors, decorations, and location in mind when you pick out your cake. Make sure the cake you choose will coordinate with the overall theme of the wedding. If you are having a very formal wedding with a white and red theme, you will not want a topsy-turvy orange and lime green colored cake. Often it is easy to pick the decorations you want on the cake simply by looking at one of the components of your decorations. For example, some brides choose to duplicate the lace pattern from their dress onto the wedding cake; other couples may have a beach or garden theme that would work well with a cake.

The decorations are not all you have to choose, there's also cake shape and style. Once you have figured out the theme you want your cake to have, it is usually easy to determine the shape and style. If you chose to duplicate your dress lace, you'll probably want something a little more formal like a tiered cake separated by columns. If you are having something more fun, you may be able to pull off something more modern like a cake with various shapes stacked on top of each other. For a mix of traditional and modern, you may choose a tiered cake composed of square cakes instead of round ones. Keep in mind that the more elaborate/colorful/large you want your cake, the more expensive it will be.

After you've taken care of the "sight" details, you'll want to focus on "taste" details. Even if you have the most beautiful cake, if it tastes bad, you'll regret it. One of the best things to do is to set aside some time to "taste-test" cakes at different bakeries. Most of the time the store will be willing to do this and it is by far the best way to compare your potential bakers. Ask to try all the different flavors you have even thought of using, along with all the possible fillings and icings. A word on icings: many couples are choosing to use the very modern, very sleek fondant icing for their cake instead of the usual buttercream; however, not only is fondant more expensive, but it does not taste as good as buttercream. So, if you're thinking about using fondant, do a taste comparison and ask the baker if they can do the smooth look using buttercream.

After you have all of the "sight" and "taste" details, you'll have to look into the price of the cake. This implies two things, the actual price of the cake (whether per slice or per cake) and the amount of the cake (since it largely effects price). As mentioned before, you'll want to have a lot of your wedding planning done before you go cake shopping, this includes having a rough guest list, or at least an estimate of how many guests you are expecting. If you are having a lot of guests, but are on a tight budget, you may want to get a small-scale cake of your ideal style, taste, and decorations and then have sheet cakes to serve when the cake is gone. Some couples simply choose to have alternative/less expensive desserts to serve as well so that they can just cut smaller piece.

So, speaking of cutting? when is it supposed to be done? Well, usually it is around the end of the reception- but not the last five minutes. You'll want to do it after the bouquet and garter tosses, but you'll want to leave time afterwards for more mingling and/or dancing. Many couples will tell the DJ or band a certain time that they want to cut the cake and the guy with the microphone will inform your guests that it is going to happen. You may choose someone else to announce it, or just send a couple of people through the crowd to tell everyone.

Typically, the groom will put his hand on top of the brides as they cut the bottom layer of cake (don't cut the top one- you'll save it for your anniversary). Don't worry, you and your groom won't have to cut the whole thing, there'll usually be one of the servers appointed to that task. Beware of high cutting fees though, and try to get out of them or find another company to deal with.

No matter what style of cake you choose, you should absolutely love it. Don't be persuaded by modern styles or family member's ideas- just choose the cake that you want and let it be a reflection of your big day.

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One of the most expensive parts of a reception is the cost of catering. Luckily, it is one of the best and most memorable parts of a wedding too. Generally, caterers will charge by person, so the more guests you have the more you should plan on spending. There are so many different types of meals you can have- this list will help you find the best one for your style and budget.

Breakfast, Brunch, or Tea - These are usually done for a morning or afternoon reception. Often they are the least expensive choice. These meals are especially good for spring or summer-time weddings, when receptions are typically more casual. All of these can be formal (sit-down), but they are usually served buffet style.

Lunch - This is a nice median between a brunch and a dinner. Also, it is typically in the middle for price and formality. If you are having an afternoon wedding and wanted it to be a little more formal than a brunch, you'd be better off with a lunch meal. This meal is great all year round and its middle-of-the-road attributes make it great for any style or budget.

Cocktails or Dessert Only - These are typically the simplest meals. Cocktails is mostly just drinks, and desserts only is exactly what it sounds like. These can be less expensive that the other meals, but sometimes the costs of drinks or fancy pastries can really add up. Plus you'll want to account for everyone wanting to try a little of everything. These options are great for short receptions, or receptions that are late at night (too late for a meal).

Dinner - This meal is by far the most popular of all the meals. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive, especially if you choose a formal sit-down dinner. Generally, if you are having a dinner, it will be for a semi-formal to formal reception. Even though the dinner meal can be served buffet style, dinner has always been considered the most formal meal. If you are having an evening reception that is going to be casual, try something like cocktails or a variation of a lunch meal.

When choosing a caterer you'll want to know what they specialize in, and it would be best if you could find someone that works well with whatever meal you choose. Some caterers will not have a very extensive brunch menu, and if that's what you want, you should try to find a different caterer that can work with your wants and needs. Once you decide on the type of meal you want, you'll have to choose the specific foods you'd like. It is usually best to choose foods that you love, but you should also consider your guests (ex: vegetarians, other ethnicities, etc.).

If you find a good caterer, they will actually let you sample their food, which may help you decide on what you want served. After you've made all your decisions, make sure you book the caterer for your reception and sign a contract with them. Remember to read all the fine print to weed out any excessive costs they might try to push on you. A couple weeks before the wedding you should call them to confirm the reception date, time, and location, as well as the menu you chose. Then call them again a couple days before the wedding for a last minute confirmation.

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Weddings are notorious for their toasts. In fact, many couples are now buying commemorative champagne glasses etched with hearts, their names, or other designs. There are many different ways you can serve drinks at your reception.

First, and most expensive, you can have an open bar. This means that the bar will be available to guests for the whole duration of the reception. Generally, with an open bar, guests will be able to get any drink their hearts desire (and how ever many), so it can become quite an expense. The second idea is to have a limited bar, which is much less expensive. This can be taken in two ways, you can either have a limited amount of time for guests to get drinks, or you can have a limited variety of drinks, or both. The third option is to have a cash bar, which makes the guests pay for any drinks they get. This is not recommended no matter how tight your budget is. The last idea is to not have alcoholic beverages at all. This will really decrease your reception costs and is a great option if you and/or your families do not drink.

For all of you couples who do choose to have alcoholic beverages, you may be confused about how much you actually need to get. Below are amounts for various drinks, based on an amount of 100 guests. If you are going to be serving many different drinks, you'll want to split these amounts accordingly.

Beer: 2 cases
Whiskey: 1-2 liters
Bourbon: 1-2 liters
Gin: 2 liters
Scotch: 3 liters
Light rum: 2 liters
Vodka: 6 liters
Tequila: 1 liter
Champagne: 1 1/2 cases
Red wine: 8 bottles
White wine: 1 1/2 cases
Dry vermouth: 2 bottles
Sweet vermouth: 2 bottles

You'll want all of the guests to at least have some kind of drink for the toasts. The most popular choice is champagne with wine close behind. Some couples will choose to have the "bubbly" effect without the alcohol and simply use sparkling cider. If you are having a daytime or casual wedding, you may choose something a little more fun like cranberry juice or lemonade. Just make sure you take into account the style of the wedding as well as your own personal tastes when choosing drinks for your reception.

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