Treat your guests to a meal they'll remember for all the right reasons.

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published June 2019.

Most wedding meals consist of the basics—airline chicken with mashed potatoes, anyone?—but some couples want their meal to be a high-end experience.

“The meal is something that people will remember,” says Carly Ziemer, director of sales at Together & Company (formerly Two Caterers).

With Columbus couples spending an average of $6,085 on food and drink, according to The Wedding Report, engaged couples have to find a compromise to offer the best meal to their guests and guarantee the “wow” effect while still staying within their budget.

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“Food nowadays has become such an experience,” says Abby Rose, senior event sales manager at Cameron Mitchell Premier Events. “It’s not OK anymore to feed your guests because you have to.”

Molly and Rob Patridge, who got married on Dec. 8, 2017, made food a major focus of their wedding. They organized their reception at The Athletic Club of Columbus using the venue’s in-house catering, which made the preparation of the wedding stress-free.

The newlyweds and their guests dined on a spinach salad with shaved Napa cabbage, toasted pumpkin seeds, cherry tomatoes, Manchego cheese and white wine vinaigrette to start, followed by a grilled Berkshire pork chop with sour apple compote, chive mashed potatoes
and broccolini.

“I think food brings people together,” Molly says. “For celebrations like this, it’s important to treat people you like the most.”

The couple tasted many meals at different catering companies and venues before falling in love with The Athletic Club’s suggestion.

“They went above and beyond; they made it as easy as it could be,” Molly says.

She and Rob learned some lessons as wedding guests in the years before their big day and applied them to their own event.

“There’s [usually] a selection of chicken or steak, and there’s always this feeling that a meal was a letdown,” Molly says. “So focusing on one thing that they did very well helped make it an intimate experience.”

Offering a single meal made more sense to the couple, who preferred to pay for quality rather than quantity. However, Molly regrets one thing: “I would make sure that I could have more time to actually eat that meal, mingle and socialize with everyone,” she says. “I should have ordered an extra meal so that I could have enjoyed it the next day.”

For their part, caterers always do their best to meet the needs of their customers, even when they make extravagant requests. Together & Company recently made a high-end Mediterranean buffet for a Greek couple where guests could build their salad to taste.

“There were a lot of kids at the event, so it appealed to them as well since it was fun and interactive,” says Ziemer.

CPME once made an 11-course meal that tied in with the day that the couple was married.

“They were all small plates, sort of fusion meals,” says Rose. “You don’t see that a lot.”

Caterers are witnessing the comeback of the plated dinner, even though buffets are still a popular option.

“[Couples] really want a service, [a chance for] their guests to sit down … to have a restaurant experience,” says Rose.

The main challenge is to make each menu unique to couples by bringing a personal touch—usually their favorite food, what they ate on their first date or the first dish they cooked together. The bar can also offer a signature cocktail to highlight a favorite drink.

Both Rose and Ziemer note that their companies’ most popular meals include filet and high-end fish for plated dinner and chicken for buffet. Vegetarian dishes are becoming more frequently requested, as well.

However, high-end produce and proteins, numerous courses and multiple entrée options often are synonymous with high costs, with prices ranging from $80 to $200 per guest. On this topic, caterers want to be reassuring.

“We work with all budgets, and we try to make sure everyone is getting the same experience,” Rose says.

For Ziemer, each menu comes down to the following question: How can you think of ways to work within your budget while still being creative?

In order to impress guests on a budget, caterers may offer options with lower costs through bulk, seasonal and cold food items, says Ziemer.

Another option is to go for more basic but well-presented meals.

“Good presentation when dealing with a budget is key, and there’s typically no additional cost for that,” Rose says of CMPE’s approach to plating. “We like all of our stuff to look pretty.”