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Best Wedding Mains

pastaguy Apr 1, 2012 06:38 PM

I'm in the incredibly lucky position of planning my wedding coming up in August out in Colorado.

I'd love some input planning the menu. As a bit of background--we're a late 20s foodie-ish couple from the east coast with guests of varying adventurism flying in from all over the globe. 80ish people max in a restaurant/wedding venue attached to a ski resort (ie, catering on-site, professional kitchen, processional staff, etc.). We were presented with a list of suggestions, none of which got us excited. When the chef suggested risotto as a vegetarian option, we not only nixed that (there's no way that's gonna be edible when it comes out), but started thinking about other choices not on the menu. Thankfully, the catering team is willing to work with us.

This is where I could use some help. The plan is to offer three options--a chicken, a fish, and a vegetarian one. Other posts here on vegetarian options have given us a ton of choices for the vegee one, but what about the other two? Wedding food is never going to blow you away, but we're looking for plates (main/sauce, sides) that are delicious and can be prepared in quantity by a catering team of unknown qualtity (ie, nothing out of a Thomas Keller cook book, I don't think). If folks have good suggestions that aren't chicken/fish, that would be fine as well.

What are the most memorable wedding meals that you've ever had? I've just had so many bad ones (I still shudder thinking about that steak that I had at a very expensive venue in New York a few years back). I'd like to stack the deck in our favor here--suggestions appreciated!


  1. The Oracle Apr 11, 2012 12:56 PM

    I recently planned my wedding, so I feel your pain. We went through the menus our caterer had with PAINSTAKING care. We did extra menu tastings and spent a LOT of time finalizing menus.

    My suggestion is to taste as much as you can from the caterer. You may be surprised at what they have that really sings. If we went off a written list, we would have missed some hidden gems. The fish we ended up serving (sea bass) was probably the best fish I'd ever had. Unfortunately, I got a tad too descriptive on my RSVP cards and I think the sauce scared people off and most everyone had the chicken (which turned out flat, IMO - because they skimped on the sauce when it was plated).

    Are you traveling to your wedding location any time soon? Or make a special trip out? Can you setup multiple tastings with the caterer? That's where I'd start. I'd think you'd have better luck with dishes the team is comfortable with vs. giving them a whole new dish to master.

    To answer your question: favorite wedding food: a filet that was outrageous, the fish at my wedding (sea bass)....

    Also - timing of meal is KEY, IMO. Don't make your guests wait too long too eat and give them a variety of passed apps during cocktail hour.

    1. gingershelley Apr 4, 2012 09:53 AM

      80 guests is actually a pretty modest number for a caterer to cook for. I have owned a couple catering companies myself, done sales for a couple, and cooked at a few more.
      Bland, boring food - you do not have to suffer!
      At one high-end off-premise company I worked for (which is even more logistically difficult, as you have to prep and bring all food to a remote location, some with limited kitchen facilities - or none), we managed to produce wonderful, moist, flavorful, colorful food every week for weddings.

      I disagree, too, that a buffet has to be universally aweful; If you do a double sided one, you can get 40 guests through a buffet in 20 minutes, and if the dishes are colorful, it can add to the decor and ambiance of the whole event. Things like cold asian noodle salad, platters of roasted vegetables, cold (read; stopped the cooking while still moist!) rolled stuffed chicken breasts, displayed on a platter. Tiny new potatoes in butter and parsley. A whole Salmon baked in a salt crust (moist - delicious!) at the end of the buffet, being served to guests by a server who knows what they are doing.

      Agree with many posters' tho, that if your going plated, skip chicken. Offer beef, salmon or something like the butterfish idea - with a sauce. And do ask that the caterer "throw in' the vegetarian option - again, very few will order this, so it should not count as one of your main entree options. For a third, I think the duck breast is a great idea, or lamb loin.

      Do save on your cake if possible; make it pretty, and tasty, but don't spend $6 a person on it - not enough people care!
      Wine, beer and champagne are enough at weddings. A full bar can often, as others have mentioned, just be an opening to problems social and $-wise.

      If you two are open to it, I think some of the suggestions of a casual bbq reception would be fun since you are in Colorado at a ski resort. Could be all kinds of fun. A whole pig on a spit, wonderful sides like roasted corn salad, platters of sliced tomatoes with a basil viniagrette, a really good coleslaw, wonderful rolls, and some killer beans that have been cooked for 12 hours would be fab!

      1 Reply
      1. re: gingershelley
        Karl S Apr 4, 2012 10:19 AM

        Did someone mention butterfish? The only reason I ask is just to warn people that what is often sold as butterfish is actually escolar, which can create nasty digestive problems for folks, so you'd need to carefully vet the supply chain to avoid that concern. Not the kind of problem you want for a wedding reception memory.

      2. Miss Needle Apr 3, 2012 08:41 PM

        I'm sure you know your audience better than we do. Maybe your guests will love raw oysters, foie gras and Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Or perhaps they would appreciate pulled pork, coleslaw and beer. Or maybe they'd like an international melange of braised chicken feet, doro wat and rice wine. But here are my thoughts based on my experience.

        From attending weddings I've realized that beef is really popular -- filet or prime rib seems to go really quickly. And crabcakes and shrimp cocktail seem to always be a hit. Meat on a stick is also popular as an hors d'oeuvre. And raw oysters seem to be a bust (well, at least at my wedding).

        I believe it is possible to have great wedding food. Some of my wedding guests still talk about the food we had at our wedding that was held years ago. They've said it was the best food they've ever had at a wedding. Seared scallops in a blood orange sauce were the appetizer (where many said it was the best scallops they've ever had -- wedding or no wedding). Guests had a choice of halibut or filet mignon for the main. The filet was served with a red wine foie gras sauce which I think helped with the moistness. I'm assuming that the filet was roasted whole and cut into slices. They waiters asked the guests how they wanted their beef cooked. And the halibut was also served with a sauce but I'm at a loss right now as to what was in it. My wedding guests acted very stereotypically with most of the men ordering the beef and the women ordering the fish.

        Personally chicken and salmon are the last things I would want at a wedding because I eat that at home very frequently. I like the suggestion of duck for the poultry course. I think sablefish would make an excellent fish course as it's very difficult to overcook and it's a mild white fish. Many people don't like stronger fish like mackerel. Seared tuna can also be tricky as some less adventurous people refuse to eat the raw part. It may be okay for the hors d'oeuvre course as there would be other stuff to eat if one doesn't like rare tuna. But I don't think it's the best choice for a main course -- unless the waitstaff cooks the fish based on the diner's preference. But I think that well done tuna is not very tasty. And while I love lamb, I've met so many people who hate it because of its gaminess. And I've come across so many people who won't eat pork for various reasons -- religious, dietary, because they feel pigs are "dirty" animals, because pigs are intelligent animals, etc.

        I do agree that most people like free-flowing booze but feel it's unnecessary to get premium wine (unless you have a huge budget). A nice mid-range would suffice nicely. DH is a bit of a wine person and got all this bordeaux and stuff but I think it was really lost on most of our guests. Many of them just wanted to get drunk. I wanted to spend less on the wine but ended up letting him do what he wanted because it meant a lot to him -- well, at least at the time. After the wedding he agreed that a lower priced wine would have been fine for the situation.

        1. Karl S Apr 3, 2012 01:38 PM

          Duck breast is a good option for catering; I've seen that used very successfully at events, because it can be easily prepped and handled en masse and it doesn't require being held over heat for a long time. Not as cheap (or banal) as chicken, but way better than other poultry options while being a good alternative to steak.

          1. e
            escondido123 Apr 3, 2012 01:23 PM

            I think what would make a wedding dinner wonderful would be to have food that was local, seasonal and fresh as can be......in August that would include corn, tomatoes and raspberries to mention a few listed on a site about Colorado seasonal foods: http://localfoods.about.com/od/search...

            1. rockandroller1 Apr 3, 2012 11:51 AM

              I agree that family style has worked very well. Buffet is universally awful and plated almost guarantees everyone will be getting something they don't want even if you do a split plate, because they'll leave 1 of the 2 proteins untouched and both will be overcooked to death. Family style encourages more conversation amongst table attendees as you have to pass plates and it allows for a little more quality control than 80 plates sitting under metal covers awaiting an overcooked protein to be placed on them and wheeled out to guests. The suggestions of beef and pork are very good, and an oily fish. There is no good catering chicken, though if you did something like the aforementioned marsala family-style, that could be passable.

              1. l
                laliz Apr 3, 2012 09:38 AM

                my favorite wedding dinner of all time was served family style to each table and there was no dried out chicken breast. It was roasted meat with vegetables.

                I agree with the idea of lavish appetizers, people love shrimp and salmon
                Serve a green salad with FRICO.
                roasted meats w/vegetables
                roasted asparagus and cauliflower ~~ easy, delicious, great at room temp
                spinach lasagna

                Do not spend too much on cake, really. Really.

                1. e
                  escondido123 Apr 3, 2012 09:29 AM

                  My favorite wedding dinner was at a Portuguese social club in Rhode Island. We were each served a half a lobster and then platters of a sort of paella with seafood and linguica. The woman next to me didn't like lobster so she was happy to give it to me. If I had my way, every wedding would be either that dish or some wonderful pasta--wouldn't turn down a chicken cacciatore or a summer lasagna made with fresh mozzarella, lots of basil and no meat.

                  1. hala Apr 3, 2012 08:45 AM

                    I would consider something that can cook for a long period of time. Do you guys like boeuf bourguignon?

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: hala
                      thegforceny Apr 3, 2012 09:04 AM

                      It's an August wedding - summer. Oh, and it's 2012.

                      i.e too rich for season, too old fashioned, too hokey.

                      1. re: thegforceny
                        laliz Apr 3, 2012 09:33 AM

                        old-fashioned and hokey are great for a wedding.

                        1. re: thegforceny
                          LindaWhit Apr 3, 2012 09:38 AM

                          I agree with the too rich (and as I said above, perhaps a bit heavier than needed for an August wedding), but old-fashioned and hokey? All in the taste buds, I guess. A well-made boeuf bourguignon never goes out of style, IMO. And what one person might consider "hokey" is another person's idea of a great, fun, but casual wedding reception.

                          It all depends on what the OP wants. Maybe they want BBQ; maybe they want a New Orleans-based feast, maybe they want Spanish tapas-like small plates. Maybe they want classical, "old-fashioned" foods all the way. But nothing should be considered out of bounds, based on one's personal opinions, should it?

                          1. re: LindaWhit
                            mtoo Apr 3, 2012 10:03 AM

                            No one should do tapas for a wedding event. I worked a tapas rehersal dinner and the guest were very confused about the smaller portions and the whole idea of sharing plates. I felt sorry for the host because the party wasn't cheap but it came off that way.

                            1. re: mtoo
                              fourunder Apr 3, 2012 10:12 AM

                              I agree with this.....most of the suggestions thus far are opinions of what would be good.....I don't know if it's a regional thing, but most of the suggestions would not be well received where I am from and vastly different from the items we served at our Country Club Catering facility.

                              While I do not agree with others that no one will remember the food....what I will say is that the guests will ultimately remember their perception of what was served, i.e., good or bad.

                              1. re: mtoo
                                LindaWhit Apr 3, 2012 10:15 AM

                                Depends on the size of the wedding reception, I would think, and wedding guests' familiarity with small plates.

                                1. re: LindaWhit
                                  mtoo Apr 3, 2012 10:42 AM

                                  Well I'm gonna guess this guy's great aunt Dottie from Carbondale and the wife's cousin Kevin from Paducah* didn't understand the small plate concept. We'd drop off 4 bowls of shrimp for a table of 8 and someone would say "well, he's gonna need one, too" pointing at their husband and we would explain, "they're for sharing" and then after these people ate several rounds of what they perceived were appetizers, they were all sitting there wondering when dinner was gonna come out.

                                  It was uncomfortable to work.

                                  *I made up the names and locations, but it was clear to us that the majority of the guests were not locals.

                                  1. re: mtoo
                                    LindaWhit Apr 3, 2012 11:06 AM

                                    I don't disagree with you, mtoo, and totally understand the confusion for your particular situation. But the OP *did* say "...guests of varying adventurism flying in from all over the globe." Again - only the OP knows they level of food understanding of their invited guests and whether tapas would be appropriate. I'm not saying it's appropriate in all situations - but a small wedding group of 25? Why not? I've seen wedding parties of that size at my local tapas restaurant, and everyone loved it.

                              2. re: LindaWhit
                                thegforceny Apr 3, 2012 10:17 AM

                                Fair points, but come on....The couple is two 20-ish foodies "..from the east coast with guests of varying adventurism flying in from all over the globe."

                                They aint about to serve boeuf bourguignon at their wedding. In August.

                                1. re: thegforceny
                                  LindaWhit Apr 3, 2012 10:26 AM

                                  Perhaps not, but it doesn't mean it's hokey to them. Perhaps it hadn't occurred to the OP, and it's a dish that is reminiscent of one of OP's or fiancé's grandparents and they can now serve it as a tribute to "the old country" relatives. Who *knows*?

                                  Curious - do you have any appropriate menu ideas for the OP?

                          2. mtoo Apr 3, 2012 07:31 AM

                            I got married last month at a local restaurant in town. We had about 30 people at our party and offered a choice of 4 options (beef filet, salmon, pork medallions and some kind of chicken breast prep). When we got the itemized bill, it turns out that only 1 person ordered the chicken, 2 ordered the pork and the rest were evenly split between beef and salmon.

                            I realize this is anecdotal, but it seems to me that people do not want to eat chicken at a wedding.

                            I agree about the good booze comment. We offered appetizers, a choice of soup or salad and mains and still spent more on booze than we did on the food.

                            Also, I don't think that 80 people is that many that food will be sitting for a long time. A good caterer shouldn't have a problem with that.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mtoo
                              fourunder Apr 3, 2012 08:29 AM

                              A good caterer shouldn't have a problem with that.

                              I agree with this......however, a restaurant may. Caterers are in the business of running large parties ....restaurants are not. they in the business of preparing for tables..

                            2. JungMann Apr 3, 2012 07:20 AM

                              The best wedding dinner I ever had was at friend's wedding in Texas. The parents of the bride were proud Texans and their dinner showed it with chicken fried quail and stunning venison tacos. If you're in Colorado, it would seem a shame not to take advantage of Colorado lamb by offering perhaps some spice rubbed lamb chops or a braised shank as others have recommended.

                              1. KarenDW Apr 2, 2012 10:45 PM

                                Hmm. Summer at a ski resort in Colorado? Have you considered having an upscale backyard bbq theme? Include some great salads, and maybe an option for chlii or some other hot dish in case of suddenly cool weather.

                                9 Replies
                                1. re: KarenDW
                                  porker Apr 3, 2012 07:39 AM

                                  I agree with tastesgoodwhatisit - the best wedding meals I've had were at large, hotel based Chinese weddings. I remember them with gusto and fondness, but this is an un-likely option for a non-chinese couple in Colorado...

                                  I have a weak spot for BBQ and would suggest whole hog. I only half-agree with Roland above; people *usually* don't remember wedding food. Mostly because its chicken and or fish and or roast beef *wedding food*.
                                  I was served whole hog at one wedding and provided one at another wedding. People remembered it (I'm asked to do the same, years after the fact).

                                  Whole hog can be done by specialty caterers and be the centerpiece of the meal, or a part of the meal, depending on size.

                                  1. re: porker
                                    melpy Apr 3, 2012 10:24 AM

                                    Another post that my most memorable wedding was a Chinese feast (at a restaurant not hotel). Many course all serves family style. If you can do it, family style seems one of he better options.

                                    People remember interesting cakes and desserts. Best cake ever was a cremesicle flavored one. The Pittsburgh wedding with the cookie buffet all night was also high on the list. The sundae bar was memorable but would have been better if it actually tasted good. Most meals are not memorable at a wedding, and I generally have an excellent food memory. The cold lobster claw on my salad I remember but I have no idea about the entree.

                                    1. re: melpy
                                      porker Apr 4, 2012 04:14 AM

                                      I think people forget the usual stuff, but remember the unusual.
                                      I remember a wedding meal 8 years ago. Not 'cause it was great, but rather 'cause it was so awful (unusual in its own right). It was a young couple who wanted to pay for the wedding all on their own and refused anything from both sides of the family. There were >100 people and it was catered. 1st course was a watery broth noodle soup. 2nd was rusty iceberg lettuce salad, 3rd was chicken-a-la something which truly tasted like cardboard. Dessert was a dollop of vanilla icecream (best part of the meal).
                                      But you know what? We didn't really care.
                                      I also remember a wedding meal that never was: my best friend was planning his wedding. The reception was going to be a small, 40 person, backyard affair with a lobster boil. Mother-in-law stepped in and it went to a 350 person, hall/catered event with traditional wedding food. I was an usher and don't remember the food, but I do remember Plan A......

                                      Yeah its your wedding and you want everything perfect. Being foodies, you are going to invest heavily in the food (dollarwise, thoughtwise, decisionwise, anxietywise).
                                      I think if you want it memorable, its gotta be out of the wedding box a bit.
                                      Problem is, as posted elsewhere in the thread, way outta the box will disgruntle some folks (but then it *will* be memorable, right? {;-/ ).

                                      I really like the free-flowing booze plan and agree w/ Miss Needle - it don't have to be premium. The booze is a good equalizer if something isn't quite perfect (the food, the cake, sitting next to Uncle Cleetus, etc).

                                      Don't fret *too* much, but try to let us poor saps know what you decide, and if the process doesn't institutionalize you, try to report back on the final verdict after the big day (you know, do a bit of CHing on the honeymoon).

                                      1. re: porker
                                        melpy Apr 4, 2012 04:31 AM

                                        Haha uncle Cleetus!

                                        1. re: porker
                                          escondido123 Apr 4, 2012 08:44 AM

                                          I have to vote against the "free-flowing booze." I've seen brides throwing up from too many margaritas, a groom so drunk he passed out at the wedding table, ushers having fist fights over bridesmaids...well I could go on and on. Wine and beer, fine, but once people start having shots at the bar you are looking at a wedding supper that will certainly be remembered--at least by those not too hammered--for something besides the food.

                                          1. re: escondido123
                                            ocshooter Apr 4, 2012 09:28 AM

                                            I would never do an unlimited hosted bar at a wedding. There just isn't a need for it. You can have a cocktail hour if you do passed appetizers, but even that isn't needed. A couple of choices on wine, all mid-priced and decent, decent champagne, which a great bottle for the bride and groom, and a selection of 2-4 beers that runs from the mundane to the micro-brew.

                                            I have two overriding suggestions for major life events. Never celebrate the birth of your child with cheap cigars and never toast your own wedding with cheap champagne.

                                            1. re: escondido123
                                              porker Apr 4, 2012 11:48 AM

                                              Sorry, I use "booze" as a catch-all phrase for alcohol (wine/beer/spirits).
                                              I meant free-flowing as gratis.
                                              How you'd like to limit spirit consumption would be up to you.

                                              1. re: porker
                                                ocshooter Apr 4, 2012 05:55 PM

                                                I am with you on free flowing wine and beer, not for the harder stuff. A wedding is a celebration, not an occasion to get drunk. And while you can certainly get drunk on beer and wine, fewer people will. Plus the hard stuff adds so much expense to teh wedding.

                                                1. re: ocshooter
                                                  porker Apr 5, 2012 02:57 AM

                                                  I agree.
                                                  Tongue in cheek, the lighter side of me wants to add :
                                                  "A wedding is a celebration, not an occasion to get drunk" - not in all cases
                                                  For some people, "celebration" = "occasion to get drunk".

                                    2. r
                                      Roland Parker Apr 2, 2012 09:39 PM

                                      Take my word for it when I say you won't remember the food at the wedding. Oh, you may remember the menu but you won't remember the taste of the food. Every single married couple I know say the same thing. For the bride and groom the day is simply too hectic and rushed and despite that I agonized over the wedding menu I think I may have had barely a quarter of a plate of food at my reception.

                                      I also don't remember what I ate at pretty much every other wedding I've attended even though several of them featured well-known caterers. No one goes to weddings expecting to have a wonderful feast unless the reception is at a very small gathering at a well-regarded restaurant.

                                      People will remember the cake if it has a knockout appearance but most guests won't care if it's only a basic yellow/white cake as long as the decoration is nice. At my wedding we went for a very expensive cake by the most highly regarded French bakery in the region, featuring multiple layers of genoise and flavored (real) buttercream and my mother later commented that many guests only nibbled at their cake slices and many left their plates unfinished. It was a sheer waste of money although it made for a pretty photograph.

                                      My suggestion: spend the money on good quality alcohol and provide an excellent selection of wines. People will remember how wonderful the wines were long after the wedding but never the food. Just serve roast beef and shrimp and a pasta dish for the vegetarians. Have platters of canapes and cheese and fruit on standby. Caterers tend to have an easier time churning out good canapes/appetizers than mains.

                                      If you're having a small dinner the night beforehand for the wedding party following the rehearsal, that's the one opportunity to have a truly special meal.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Roland Parker
                                        The Oracle Apr 11, 2012 12:43 PM

                                        I respectfully disagree. I remember how the food tasted at my wedding... and I ate it ALL :)

                                      2. w
                                        wyogal Apr 2, 2012 07:46 PM

                                        Beef tenderloin, or a game version (elk); roasted or grilled salmon.

                                        1. t
                                          tastesgoodwhatisit Apr 2, 2012 07:42 PM

                                          If I were picking what I'd like to eat, I'd say to go with catering by an Indian or Italian restaurant. Meat curry, veggie curry, rice pilaf, salad, raita and naan would be a fantastic meal. Or lasagna (veggie and non), antipasto platter, salad and garlic bread.

                                          By far the best wedding meals I've had have been at Chinese weddings, which are inevitably done at venues that specialize in Chinese banquets. The food is served family style, and comes out at intervals, and they do a good job of balancing stuff that can be pre-prepared (cold and stewed dishes) and freshly cooked stuff.

                                          If you don't have a good idea of the capabilities of the catering staff, and you have a variety of guests, you're going to have to go pretty lowest common denominator. I would avoid foods that are sensitive to being cooked just right, or where timing is a big issue, or that get less tasty if not served fresh. I think that's why steak tends to be so bad - steak at it's best needs to be grilled to just shy of its desired doneness, let sit for a few minutes and served promptly. Doing this for 80 people simultaneously is non trivial.

                                          Chicken, on the other hand, tends to be chicken breast, which unless prepared with skill manages to combine tastelessness and dryness into bland genericdom. I agree that risotto is risky. If done well it would be fine, but you have to be sure the cooks can handle it.

                                          Stewed main dishes could be an options, as stews often taste better after they've sat for a while.

                                          For simplicity, you could go with a non-chicken meat dish, and a veggie option, and ask for preferences on the invitation.

                                          1. m
                                            mojoeater Apr 2, 2012 06:57 PM

                                            Congratulations! We had our wedding this past fall and got rave reviews on the food. We went with family-style and everything was hot and fresh when served. Everyone was able to take as much of the items they wanted and nobody had to eat something that sounded good months ago but looked less interesting in person. We went Regional with local pulled pork, Chesapeake crabcakes, quinoa and herb stuffed tomatoes, mashed sweet potatoes with a honey beer gravy, roasted seasonal veggies and cole slaw. This was after some heavy passed apps.

                                            If this sounds too casual, the biggest suggestion I can make would be to avoid chicken as a main. As someone who has been to over 4 dozen weddings, I have never had a chicken dish that was more than fine. Most were terrible. It is easier to create beef or pork dishes for a crowd. If you have one of those kind of meats, a decent fish option that would be widely accepted, and tasty sides, everyone will be happy.

                                            1. b
                                              bsims76 Apr 2, 2012 06:46 PM

                                              First, congrats!

                                              Second... you and your soon-to-be better half more than likely won't remember the meal - that is, if you even get a chance to eat. No, not kidding - but make sure you get a sweetheart table if you want a shot at relaxing a bit. People don't feel like they're interrupting if you are already in a group at the head table, but might give the bride and groom a bit more space if they're sitting alone together.

                                              So...when dealing with that many people, unfortunately you are really stuck with dealing with the lowest common denominator, adventurous palette-wise. You know, that part of the family that thinks Olive Garden is fine dining. So... don't necessarily be surprised that what are ultimately the best options for the crowd may not necessarily excite you. Yeah, I realize it's your wedding, but the fact is you aren't going to remember the meal (if you even get to eat - no, not kidding) - nice, expensive, relaxing, and memorable meals are what the honeymoon is for. Or, if you don't have a big wedding party, the rehearsal dinner.

                                              We're foodies, too, and started down that same path - the owner of our reception venue really reeled us in when we started talking carpaccio, tuna tartare, and oysters for hors d'ourves. Not because they cost any more than some other, more pedestrian offerings, but because they don't always appeal to the masses.

                                              Still, it's certainly possible to avoid the standard (really fatty) prime rib/salmon(because fatty fish a little more forgiving to overcooking)/chicken breast. We did filet mignon/crab cake/a hazelnut crusted chicken breast (unfortunately, some sort of chicken breast is usually unavoidable) and some vegetarian dish that I forget. The owner of our venue "threw in" the veg dish as statistically less than 5% people end up ordering it, so he wasn't going to make us "waste" a choice on it.

                                              So... what we chose wasn't really particular exciting for a foodie, but did the trick for most of our guests. What -did- grab everyone's attention was not needing to choose when replying to the invite, but rather from a printed menu, upon seating for the dinner - just like a restaurant... but admittedly fewer choices. That wouldn't be possible for a large number of guests, but the venue maxed out at ~120 and we only had 75. Of course, many venues don't offer that possibility at all....

                                              1. c
                                                centralpadiner Apr 2, 2012 06:21 PM

                                                Honestly, the only thing I regret about my own wedding was deciding to offer vegetarian, fish, and chicken choices. It was just way too confusing for the kitchen to be responsible for so many different options, and it took forever to get the meals out with people not remembering what they ordered, or moving around and not sitting where expected. The chicken was dry, only a couple people got vegetarian, but, fortunately, at least the salmon was good.

                                                Except for one very phenomenal wedding food experience where 250 guests were actually presented with menus from which to order and the resulting meal came out fresh and beautiful (I doubt there are many places that can pull this one off, and I shudder to think what it cost my friend's father even 15 yrs. ago), all the best wedding meals I have had are a surf and turf or some other combo (often a filet and crab cake). When given an option, my husband and I now always go for the beef after too many a dried out chicken breast. I've only be severely disappointed once (with the beef choice), at a wedding where the bride's family favored well-done meat.

                                                8 Replies
                                                1. re: centralpadiner
                                                  cleobeach Apr 5, 2012 08:01 AM

                                                  Except for one very phenomenal wedding food experience where 250 guests were actually presented with menus from which to order and the resulting meal came out fresh and beautiful (I doubt there are many places that can pull this one off, and I shudder to think what it cost my friend's father even 15 yrs. ago)
                                                  My best wedding meal ever was the same scenario and I also sudder when thinking about the cost. It was in NYC and easily could have been featured on one of those dream wedding TV shows. The people that attended are still talking about it 5 years later!

                                                  The second best wedding food memory was one we attended where they didn't have a sit down meal. Food was set up in stations through out the venue and the food and drink featured local specialities with enough "safe" choices to satisfy everyone - like a fresh, cooked to order pasta station. At first I thought it was strange but it was actually great because the bride and groom mingled with all the guests and all the guests mingled together as well.

                                                  1. re: cleobeach
                                                    fourunder Apr 5, 2012 08:08 AM

                                                    I think the standard of food served at catering facilities has much to do with the wedding venue and where the location is, i.e. regionally. I'm actually quite surprised at most of the responses here. In the NY/NJ area, most of the suggestions would not be considered, for example, the liquor......it's always a full service bar with wine choices.....limited liquor as an option would not even be considered by the facility

                                                    1. re: fourunder
                                                      cleobeach Apr 5, 2012 08:26 AM

                                                      Definately agree location comes into play.

                                                      At our "best" wedding, we were offered different wine choices with each course and the servers were constantly refilling the glasses. I like wine enough to recognize the offerings were good, they weren't cheap. The other one also had open bar.

                                                      On the other hand, in my area of PA open bars at weddings are pretty rare. Limited hard alcohol, draft beer and a red or white wine is "fancy" and draft beer, pitchers of a "special" drink like whisky sours or cosmos are most common.

                                                      1. re: fourunder
                                                        mpjmph Apr 5, 2012 09:10 AM

                                                        On the other hand... I'm from rural Eastern North Carolina. Many weddings are still just cake and punch, served in the church fellowship hall. One of the older women in the church will make butter mints. No alcohol. A "fancy" reception might include pimento cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off. If the extended family is really involved in planning, there might be a cover dish meal.

                                                        1. re: mpjmph
                                                          Karl S Apr 5, 2012 11:35 AM

                                                          How civilized.

                                                          1. re: mpjmph
                                                            wyogal Apr 5, 2012 03:05 PM

                                                            That's what we did when we married, cake, punch, cookies, nuts, mints in the fellowship hall. Then we had a party for the out of town guests at my parent's house after, deli meats, buns, salads. and booze. We left that party early and the relatives from both sides had a grand time without us!
                                                            There were several weddings the same night, with overlapping guest lists, so some folks were able to attend parts of each celebration. Some went to just the ceremony, and then another reception after. It worked out.

                                                        2. re: cleobeach
                                                          centralpadiner Apr 5, 2012 12:31 PM

                                                          Cleo, at this same wedding they actually had a "cocktail hour" that had "around the world food stations" ie: pasta, stir-fry, mexican (with tequila shots), russian (think caviar) with flavored vodka shots on ice, a traditional carving station, traditional Eastern European foods (stuffed cabbages, and others I'm sure I can't remember. These circled the room with a full open bar located at about every 3rd or 4th station. In the center of the room was the longest crudité table I have ever seen in my life which included not only your usual veggies and cheeses, but deviled eggs topped with caviar (yes, more). In addition to all of this, waiters walked around with hot appetizers, including lollipop lamb chops with mint sauce. I think my husband (fiance at the time) walked up to me about 5 times with a new drink and new lamb chop in his hands saying, "are you sure there is a full dinner after this? there can't be." But, oh yes there was, and it was good enough to actually knock our socks off . . . while we listened to a pretty amazing 13 piece band.

                                                          I was in the wedding, and busy, so didn't get to eat at anywhere close to every station. I remember at one point walking around thinking about what entire 3rd world country could be fed with all that food. At a certain point, it almost felt embarrassing.

                                                          BTW, this was in NJ. And it was my understanding that the parents of the bride did the ceremony (did I mention we were all greeted with glasses of champagne upon arrival?) and main dinner (of course, including all the entertainment) but the groom's wealthy parents wanted the opportunity to provide something special as well, so they contributed the "cocktail hour".

                                                          1. re: centralpadiner
                                                            cleobeach Apr 6, 2012 05:07 PM

                                                            That sounds so similar to our best wedding experience except it was totally Italian, with station after station of all sorts of Italian treats for cocktail hour. We still say that we will never attend another that will top it.

                                                      2. ocshooter Apr 2, 2012 01:35 PM

                                                        I would never do a chicken for a group of 80, especially from an unknown source. Frankly, red meat is the easier way to go here for good food. Braised short ribs with mashed potatoes, or lamb shank or rack of lamb would be my three out of the box suggestions. All of them can be cooked in grater quantities and should not suffer from dryness as they plate the party all at once.

                                                        There might be a nice local trout or other lake fish that the crew is used to handling. If not, a good line caught salmon or even a seared tuna steak.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: ocshooter
                                                          LindaWhit Apr 2, 2012 07:28 PM

                                                          For an August wedding, I'd think the braised short ribs and/or braised lamb shanks would be too heavy for the wedding guests, although a petite filet is never out of style.

                                                          For the OP, salmon would keep its moistness (and as someone else suggested, en papillote would help keep it that way), and perhaps a mushroom moussaka for the vegetarians? And what about heritage pork as a replacement for the chicken? It's *much* more flavorful than "regular" pork (tastes the way pork used to).

                                                          1. re: ocshooter
                                                            laliz Apr 3, 2012 09:14 AM

                                                            I would never serve lamb for a group of 80. Many people (myself included) do not like lamb.

                                                            1. re: laliz
                                                              LindaWhit Apr 3, 2012 09:23 AM

                                                              Whereas it would be my choice over anything else. But I do agree with you - it's one of those that has a love/hate relationship with people and probably isn't the best choice for a wedding dinner. :-)

                                                              1. re: LindaWhit
                                                                ocshooter Apr 3, 2012 01:41 PM

                                                                With 2 other options, you are not locking people into lamb if they don't like it. Steaks are too difficult to do in large numbers; while I can't stand anything beyond medium, I know people who won't eat anything less than medium rare. How do you do that for a large group? What I like about lamb shank and beef ribs is that you do them at basically one temp. Even if they get overcooked, the sauce keeps them moist.

                                                                In college, we had a faculty club that used student waiters and hosted events throughout the year, in addition to M-F lunch and dinner service. I used to work 2-3 weddings most weekends, so I have been to 100s of weddings. Prime rib was a popular choice, but I really don't care for it as a cut. But it was pretty much the only meat (maybe also lamb chops) where you can ask for a certain 'doneness' in a large group. A waiter can look through a tray full of plates and make sure that the few folks who insist on a temp can get something close. There is no way to do that with steaks. Chicken is almost always dry, unless you slather it in a sauce or do it Cordon Blue, and I don't eat ham, so that isn't my style. You could do a beef or salmon Wellington, but that gets pretty pricey and is at least as heavy as the ribs or shank.

                                                                The two best weddings I attended, food wise, were at a Teppan Restaurant and at an estate in the English countryside where they served Thai food, since the bride was Thai. But I doubt the resort in Colorado has 8 Teppan grills they can roll out and I would not do Thai for a large group without a thematic reason.

                                                          2. melpy Apr 2, 2012 08:36 AM

                                                            My uncle does a lot of catering for a crowd with his Italian American men's club. His chicken Marsala is great and stays moist while not separating etc. He starts them on te stove and finishes them in the oven. You could fancy it up with local mushrooms instead of the traditional ones or change up the type of wine (and not call it marsala). Braising chicken is another way of avoiding te dries out. A caciatore would be another way to go using chicken , perhaps thighs?

                                                            Fish can usually be saved by a great sauce, so whatever you decide, be sure it isn't just fish on a plate.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: melpy
                                                              rayrayray Apr 2, 2012 02:06 PM

                                                              I agree with the chicken marsala idea. I went to a wedding where this was served and it was pretty tasty and not dry from all that yummy sauce. A suggestion for fish might be a white fish prepared en papillote? Keeps the fish very moist and it has a lovely presentation.

                                                            2. f
                                                              fourunder Apr 2, 2012 08:27 AM

                                                              When I think of Colorado..... Prime Lamb and Beef comes to mind, not chicken. I'm no etiquette expert on wedding invitations, but consider asking your guests to provide their preferences for their entree on your wedding day. The way costs are determined for your menu has to do with what you decide to make available. If you offer fish, then they have to prepare a large amount of fish...whether any guests order it or not.. a smarter route would be to have fish available for Pescetarians or a vegetarian option for the Vegetarians.

                                                              1. w
                                                                wattacetti Apr 1, 2012 07:40 PM

                                                                First of all, congratulations.

                                                                I can't recall a wedding reception meal that wasn't horrible, and "memorable" would be in the negative sense. You might wind up having to shoot for "doesn't suck".

                                                                Chicken: unless you can guarantee that your guests are open-minded, chances are you're going to be serving chicken breast (or supreme if you think they'll go for the attached wing bone), which in wedding-speak is generally overcooked and quite dry. Sous-vide might solve some of the overcooking issues, but I'd apply the KISS principle after that and go with a good jus and whatever's seasonal in Colorado. Morels come to mind, but that's more a spring thing.

                                                                Fish - go for something with a higher oil content since it's going to have less of a chance drying out when it's overcooked (and it will be). I'd suggest something like sablefish; there are producers in BC which produce a really nice lightly-smoked one which can be transformed beautifully under a variety of steamed or moist roasting applications.

                                                                I was thinking pork belly as another protein that doesn't suffer too much, but it's a bit heavy for August.

                                                                Exactly how formal will your reception be?

                                                                1. j
                                                                  jaykayen Apr 1, 2012 06:42 PM

                                                                  I think the idea that risotto cooked for a crowd can't be edible is foodie snobism.

                                                                  My friends and I universally agree that the second helping of risotto is always better than the first, having sat for at least 10 minutes. What other dish is there where seconds actually taste better?

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: jaykayen
                                                                    pastaguy Apr 1, 2012 06:51 PM

                                                                    Could be. I've just had too many dry, gluey risotto servings at weddings that I'd rather not subject my guests to that. We're probably going to do a pollenta cake with red pepper coulis for the veg entree unless we arrive at something better, but the non-vegetarian protein entrees are worrying me. Thanks again for help!

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