Building a menu for a wedding or other large party is quite different from developing a menu for dinner, but there are still some basic similarities. So if you've planned a dinner party you can plan a wedding reception - whether you're cooking everything yourself (as we are) or working with a caterer.
Here are our five major considerations for building a wedding or party menu. Although this is geared towards the dessert reception we're currently planning for our friend, this process applies to other menus as well.
1. Seasonality: Seasonality matters, both in the ingredients and the recipes. We won't be making anything with early summer strawberries, for instance. We want to stick to fall flavors for this autumn country wedding. It's early in September, though, so some late summer flavors still carry through - we're hoping to use late plums in one dessert.
2. Variety: We try to work in a variety of taste, color, texture, and temperature - cool puddings and ice cream, crunchy cookies and creamy truffles. There will be two kinds of cake, aside from our menu, so we are working around that as well.
3. Scalability: 350 guests are predicted for this wedding! So scalability is high on our list of considerations. We chose meringues and tiny glazed drop cookies as elements of this menu because they scale up so easily. But you have to step through each recipe you're considering and think about the tricky or time-consuming parts; remember that it will be scaled times 10 or 15! So leaving meringues to cool all night in the oven, for instance, takes a little more planning.
4. Cost: DIY parties and receptions, like this one, are already saving a lot by not using a professional caterer. But they can still get pricey, especially without a professional's access to wholesale and bulk discounts. So we are planning a menu that is careful about expensive ingredients. Chocolate, nuts, and some fruits can really increase cost when scaled up, so we are using them judiciously where they can really shine.
5. Storage: Storage is the neglected cost and consideration in much big party planning. We are planning items that can be made over a period of time and frozen. We also are trying to plan menu elements that can be easily stored - ice cream, truffles and meringues can be easily stored in the freezer; they will last for a while and don't need to be specially wrapped or cared for. Big plastic bags are the most economical way to store big quantities; they can be stacked in the fridge or freezer.
Stay tuned - final menu coming later this week.
More On Weddings and Parties
• Good Question: Elegant Wedding Finger Foods on a Budget?
• Wedding Finger Foods
• Desserts for a Crowd