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Hi, y’all! I’m so sorry for the unexpected delay in “Emily Plans a Wedding” posts! Can I make it up to you with a loooong post about food, full of pretty photos and even a pair of guest experts? Yes? Okay, let’s go!

When we ask our real wedding couples what their top three wedding priorities are, food and/or drink is almost always one of the areas listed. For all the time we spend thinking about the pretty details, the food is often what guests remember most about the wedding – whether it was tasty, whether it was served at the right temperature and at the right time, and whether there was enough. Food and drink also account for the largest portion of most couples’ budgets, so it only makes sense that we’d all want to serve something that shines!

All that being said, I am VERY excited about what we’ll be serving at our wedding!! What will we be dishing up? In a word (or two): mini food. What does that mean? A little something like this:

From top to bottom and left to right: Baby Greek salads via Martha Stewart Weddings, mini grilled cheese sandwiches from Fresh Tart, mini chicken and waffles by Cru Catering (photo by Bryan Johnson via Southern Weddings), sliders photo by Jose Villa, fancy pigs in a blanket photo by Thorsen Photography via Weddingbee, fancy deviled eggs by Cru Catering (photo by Bryan Johnson via Southern Weddings), mini lobster rolls from Martha Stewart Living, mini crocks of mac and cheese by Martha Stewart Weddings, shrimp BLTs by Cru Catering (photo by Bryan Johnson via Southern Weddings), mini tacos and tequilas by Peter Callahan, mini pulled pork tacos photo by SMS Photography via Style Me Pretty

Fun, right? In addition to some of the small bites pictured above, we’ll be serving small plates of composed mini meals at our evening reception. I don’t want to give away all of the details, but let’s just say I think our guests will be verrrry excited.

Once we had decided on mini food (full disclosure: it took a bit of convincing to get John on my side on this one!), it was time to find a caterer who could bring our somewhat unusual vision to life. We were looking for a few specific things in our food provider:

1. Someone in whom we had complete confidence. We knew that if our plan was executed incorrectly, our grand idea for a meal of minis could, quite literally, leave a bad taste in our guests’ mouths. Not exactly what we’re going for.
2. Someone who was willing to work with us on budget. We were prepared to pay a bit more per person than we might have for a traditional dinner, since more staff is required, but definitely needed to keep the overall cost within our budgeted amount.
3. Most importantly, someone who was open to our “mini” ideas, and who could run with them and make them even better than we had imagined.

On one whirlwind weekend home in Connecticut, we interviewed three caterers in a row. We almost immediately crossed off the first option, as we felt like they were a bit hostile to our ideas, instead wanting us to simply pick from their list of standard appetizers. We were pleased with the second option based on our first meeting, but they ultimately lost us as customers in the way they followed up after said meeting. The third option, however, was just right.

From the moment we stepped into the kitchen of A Thyme to Cook, we felt taken care of. Could it have been from the welcoming sign on the front door? Why yes, I think it could!

Our meeting, too, was exactly what we were hoping for. Instead of nailing down a menu right then and there (which would have been a bit absurd), Linda, the owner, spent considerable time getting to know John and I, asking specific questions about what type of wedding we’re planning and what type of foods we love and loathe.

I also loved Linda herself — she was, honestly, a tiny bit intimidating, but that’s what I’m looking for in a caterer! Someone who gets things done. Bonus points for feeding us (yay!), and for reminding me of Martha Stewart — Linda built her business from the ground up twenty five years ago, and it’s now housed in an adorable building behind her house. We also couldn’t have been happier with their follow up time: we received a menu and budget proposal within two weeks of our meeting, and it was clearly crafted with John and me in mind, and not cookie cutter. We are so happy to be working with A Thyme to Cook, and know we are in very capable hands!

Before I wrap up this post, I wanted to share a few tips from Maria Cooke and Kelly Seizert of Ritzy Bee Events. It was actually one of their weddings featuring a “strolling small plates” menu that inspired me to try something similar for our wedding, so I figured they’d be the perfect people to help any readers who might be curious about what pulling off an event like this entails. Here are a few of their expert tips:

What are your suggestions for making the food seem like a well thought-out meal, and not just a parade of appetizers?
We suggest you work with a caterer that is well-versed in this type of food service. It is important that enough of each item sweep the floor at the same time so that guests feel like they are taken care of. Work with your caterer to offer composed plates that are essentially a mini entree. Each plate should contain layers of flavor to keep things interesting. An example of a plate we love comes from Design Cuisine in Arlington, VA: braised beef short ribs and gnocchi with black trumpet mushrooms, baby carrots, and English peas.

How much and what type of seating would you recommend?
We suggest about 60% seating to help keep guests moving and out on the dance floor! Cocktail style seating is best. We suggest mixing 3′ cafe tables with chairs, bar height cabaret tables, and some furniture groupings to encourage guests to mix and mingle. It is always considerate to reserve a few cafe tables for any elderly guests that might not be able to be up-and-down as much as others. Be sure to let those guests know in advance that they have a reserved seat.

Examples of a clever “floor plan” from a Ritzy Bee cocktail-style reception, and a reserved seating sign from the same event (photos by Kate Headley).

How would you recommend altering the flow of the reception to accommodate the unusual food service?
It is a great idea to begin the event with more traditional cocktail hour with beverages and 1-bite passed hors d’oeuvres. Then, consider introducing the bridal party and kicking off the remainder of the reception with a speech or two and perhaps the first dance. From there, introduce the small plates in “flights” of food as opposed to offering every item at once. This will simulate the same dining experience and timing as a multi-course plated dinner. It will allow the kitchen and servers plenty of time to plate and stroll with each item and your guests will have a nice variety of food offered throughout the event.

What are your recommendations for making food and drink easily “walkable”?
— Serve fork-friendly food that is perfectly portioned to be eaten in a few bites.
— Keep plates small. 5″-6″ is a great size. Be sure to pass a reception fork and fresh cocktail napkin with each plate.
— Use big trays that hold 8-12 plates each and make sure that you have enough waiters that you can easily feed half the guests in “one sweep of the room”.
— For every server on the floor passing plates, make sure you have another server following behind to bus empty plates and flatware.
— Keep in mind that food, service, and rental costs are generally a lot higher for this style reception due to the quantity of people and items needed to provide an exceptional experience for your guests.

Thank you so much, ladies! Readers, can’t get enough Ritzy Bee? Be sure to preorder their new wedding planning book, due out in January!

My stars! If you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back! Then tell me: What sort of food will you be serving at your reception? Breakfast? A buffet? A sit down meal? Just dessert? I’m dying to know, so please comment and fill me in!

P.S. In case you missed a post…
The main characters
Where we’re getting married
I go dress shopping
We choose a photographer
I ponder bridesmaid style

emily Written with love by Emily
  1. avatar Madelynne Miller reply

    We are having Jim N Nick’s BBQ! There will be bbq chicken and pork, buns, cheese biscuits, spinach and artichoke dip, baked beans, mac&cheese, and tater salad! Don’t forget the tea and lemonade! Nothing healthy, but definitely nothing gross! I grew up eating there and my sister had them cater at her wedding as well. It’s affordable AND yummy!

  2. avatar Kathi reply

    We had the tiny cups of tomato soup and mini-grilled cheese sandwiches at my daughter’s wedding earlier this month, during the cocktail hour. They were a huge hit, probably the most popular thing served.

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Kathi! That sounds amazing! There’s just something about mini food that people LOVE, isn’t there?

  3. avatar desiree reply

    ahh this post couldn’t be better timing for me :) I am coordinating my first ‘5 hour cocktail party’ wedding reception…Dec 18th. I have be so excited to work with this couple and bring their vision to life and Ritzy Bee’s guidelines totally help (and actually make me feel better about the decisions I’ve made thus far)! I have already play low and high-top cocktail tables…lounge areas, too. BUT I didnt think to reserve tables for the elder members of the family…BRILLIANT! The couple are not doing any assigned seats, but I love the idea of still have reserved seats for grams and gramps :) THANK U for posting this…so glad I checked todays blogs. :)

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Desiree! The reserved seating is a good idea, isn’t it? This was actually a concern (and a solution!) that my Mom thought up, too! If Grandma’s happy, everyone’s happy :)

  4. avatar Joanna reply

    I am curious if you are concerned about people not being able to sit with people they know. That if one of your high school friends straggles in late, will get placed at a table with your (very new) husband’s college friends and feel out of place. I know the goal is to mingle, but what happens when people put their jackets and clutches down and claim their seat. They could obviously catch up over in the area with higher tables, but no place to sit and have long conversation (unless there is a lounge area). Weddings are also often a time that your friends who haven’t seen each other can get together and spend time connecting. How are you dealing with that concern?

    • avatar Emily reply

      Hi Joanna! That is a great question! My best answer is that no one will be “seated” anywhere, so no one will end up placed with the wrong people. We’re hoping people won’t try to claim seats, so we hope it won’t be that much of a concern. (As for the coats and clutches, that is definitely a concern, and so we will be offering a cubby-type system so people have somewhere to stash their stuff other than a table!) Also, we will be having two lounge areas, so that should help with somewhere to have longer conversations!

    • avatar Joanna reply

      Emily: The cubby system is interesting. How are you doing that without it looking like a pre-K room? I like the idea though. It would save that concern, save the hassle of a seating chart, and keep people’s stuff out of the way. I have a lounge space in my venue and will have high top tables, but I am just wanting everyone to feel really welcome and that they are wanted. I don’t know if we will end up with assigned seats or not, but who knows. Thanks for this post it was super helpful for the yummy station, mingle, foodie reception thoughts!

  5. avatar Kathleen reply

    We’re having a buffet with food you don’t normally get on a buffet (sit down dinner type food) and we will have a carving station. We haven’t picked our menu yet, but when we were looking at the choices we couldn’t pick just one thing to serve so we wanted the option of serving a few different items and letting people pick how much or how little to eat. I’m so excited to go to our tasting in May! :)

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