Get Creative with Your Reception Menu

Nancy Byron
Ashley and Albert Watson's reception dinner included comfort foods like candied yams and stuffed chicken.

This story first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Columbus Weddings, published in June 2018.

Grilled cheese. Short ribs. Eggplant lasagna. Tacos.

Many local couples are steering away from the traditional chicken-or-beef choices for their wedding reception menus, embracing the chance to personalize their big day down to the last detail.

“I decided that the only thing I really needed to eat at my wedding was macaroni and cheese,” says Jordan Guinn, who chose City Barbeque to cater her outdoor reception in October 2017. Pulled pork is her husband’s favorite food, so the menu included those two items as well as brisket, baked beans and a salad.

“Everyone said it was delicious,” Guinn says. “People were going back for seconds and thirds.”

Any concerns Guinn or her husband, William “Preston” Guinn, may have had about dripping barbecue sauce on their wedding attire were allayed when two servers intercepted them as they headed for the buffet.

“They got each food that we wanted and served [it to us], so we wouldn’t accidentally ruin what we were wearing,” she says. “They carried our food back to our table for us, as well, which was great for me considering I’m clumsy and would have wound up tripping or something on the way back.”

For Becky and John Shaffer, wanting food they like and plenty of choices to accommodate guests’ diets prompted them to put new twists on more traditional reception entrées. The couple, who wed in October 2017 and held their reception at Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center, served chicken saltimbocca, brown sugar honey mustard salmon, eggplant lasagna, beef tenderloin, tricolor fingerling potatoes and tricolor carrots.

“That saltimbocca business is delicious,” says Becky. “And I’m personally not a big chicken person. My husband hates salmon and actually loved the way this one was prepared and ate all of it at the tasting. I was kind of floored by that. The eggplant lasagna really surprised us both. [Being] the meat-and-potato people we are, vegetarian isn’t really our gig, but this was an excellent dish.”

Their guests raved about the food choices, too.

“No one was disappointed with their dinner,” Becky says, adding that her only regret was not being able to eat all the food she wanted that night because her wedding dress was too tight and her stomach too small.

For Emily Cutright Kopco and husband, Jeff Kopco, a food truck provided a more casual atmosphere at their reception and gave guests plenty of options. The menu also incorporated their favorite food: tacos.

“We were planning a backyard wedding, but it rained and we had to find another venue and switch most everything at the last minute, but we decided to keep the food truck,” Cutright Kopco says. “It was more relaxed, and people could eat at their own leisure.”

Since the weather was wet, the food truck operators provided door-to-door service.

“They were nice enough to come in, take orders and then bring the food back in when it was ready,” Cutright Kopco says. “That was really good customer service.”

In addition to brisket tacos, the menu included grilled cheese, brisket sandwiches, chicken wraps, chicken sandwiches, hummus with vegetables and salad.

“We got married Labor Day weekend and these were perfect end-of-summer, barbecue-style foods,” Cutright Kopco says. “And the food was phenomenal. We were at another wedding the weekend after ours and people were still raving about our food.”

Bob Selhorst, president of Bosc + Brie, says these couples are not the exception, but rather the new rule in wedding reception menus.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and when I started, everything was so traditional,” he says. “The millennials are less stilted. It’s more of a party. Things are getting more casual. The food is, too.”

For example, Selhorst is catering more brunch receptions for those choosing to marry on a Sunday morning.

“We’ll do scrambled eggs, thick-cut maple bacon, French toast or waffles with pecan sauce or peach sauce, sausage and a fruit bar,” he says. “For appetizers, we’ll do a cereal bar with almond milk and soy milk, and a yogurt bar. People love the cereal bar.”

Selhorst says modernizing old mainstay entrées is also popular, so instead of traditional beef options like prime rib, roast beef or a filet, couples might opt for his short ribs.

“We do three different sauces with it: an espagnole sauce, a mushroom and demi-glace and a tomato-based hunter sauce,” he says. “People just love them. We also do a lemon-oregano chicken everybody likes and a blackberry balsamic chicken with goat cheese that’s very popular.”

“We’re also doing more and more full-on, unabashed vegan wedding receptions,” he continues. “For those, we find some creative ways to make a carrot taste like bacon. I have a chef who can do that.”

Some couples are even incorporating family recipes into their reception menus.

“We’ve had people ask, ‘Can you do my grandmother’s cabbage rolls?’ or ‘Can you make my mother’s wiener schnitzel?’ For the bride and groom, it’s a great way to say, ‘Thank you; we’re going to do this in your honor.’ Those things are fun. We get the recipe and go with it.”

Becky says couples shouldn’t be afraid to personalize the food at their wedding reception.

“Go with what you love to eat,” she advises. “It is your night and ultimately should be everything you want it to be. No one says you have to serve certain foods on your wedding day. You do you.”

Selhorst agrees.

“I tell couples to get what they like,” he says. “It’s their day. We’ll adapt and do what they want us to do.”

Just be sure your guests are fed in a timely fashion, Cutright Kopco adds.

“We went to a wedding once and had to wait until 10 o’clock to eat,” she says. “I understand it’s your day, but when you’re planning your food, you have to think of your guests as well. Have appetizers if you’re going to do a late sit-down dinner. And, if you’re having a bigger reception, offer three or four meal choices so there’s something for everyone.” 

It’s not just the main entrées at wedding receptions that are getting makeovers. Couples are branching out in new directions with their cakes and even adding late-night snacks for guests who stick around until the wee hours.

Becky and John Shaffer opted for both doughnuts and cookies in lieu of a traditional, multi-tiered wedding cake at their reception.

“I don’t even remember seeing the doughnuts,” Becky says. “Those things flew off the table.” The couple also brought in pizza and hired an ice cream truck for some late-night sustenance at their Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center reception.

Le Méridien Columbus, The Joseph offers an ice cream sundae bar, a miniature dessert bar and made-to-order bananas foster and cherries jubilee as alternatives or additions to a traditional wedding cake.

The hotel’s late-night snack options include sliders, flatbreads and even German Village-inspired foods such as bratwurst, homemade pretzel bites and mini cream puffs.

“Late-night snacks are perfect for re-energizing guests who have been dancing and drinking and now want something informal and fun to nibble on as they socialize,” says Sheri Brock, catering sales manager for The Joseph.

The slider station includes gourmet fries and mini chocolate shake “shots,” she says; another fun pairing is tomato soup shooters with a mini grilled cheese wedge.

“More couples are opting out of wedding favors and prioritizing some of the budget with creative menu enhancements,” Brock says.

Let Them Eat … Doughnuts?