Couples may find it hard to agree on what to serve at their wedding day dinner, but free menus for wedding receptions can help narrow the choices. Using free menus as a guide will not only help resolve disputes, but provides a starting point for customizing a menu to suit your personalities and tastes.
Ideas for Free Wedding Menus
Though many caterers will offer you menu ideas for your reception, most will still want to know what sort of food you had in mind to serve. Some will take your ideas and expand upon them, such as a side dish you just have to serve. Others will create a menu based solely on what your preferences are, so be prepared to offer ideas for different courses.
Couples who are planning a self-catered wedding reception need to plan their menus accordingly. Take into account your tastes, cooking skills, and time available before setting your heart on a particular menu. Find inspiration using these menus:
Even if you aren't planning a beach wedding, you can still give a tropical flavor the overall reception with the right menu. This is ideal for couples planning on heading to the tropics on their honeymoons, or for those who live in climates where a little bit of the tropics is an exotic addition to the night.
Appetizers: Coconut shrimp, fruit kabobs, pineapple salsa on toasted sweet rolls
Salad: Coconut fruit salad
Main Course: Mahi mahi grilled fish or pineapple and mango glazed ham slices
Side Dishes: Steamed asparagus, grilled plantains, baked yams
Traditional American Menu
Traditional menus have become tradition because they are almost universally liked. This type of menu works well for weddings on a budget because most of the items are easy to get and easy to prepare.
Appetizers: Shrimp cocktail, breaded mushrooms
Salad: Waldorf salad
Main Course: Hand-carved roast beef with gravy or barbecued baked chicken breasts
Side Dishes: Seasoned green beans, garlic mashed potatoes, grilled sweet corn
For those going for a minimalist or a modern wedding reception, an Asian inspired menu fits right in. Serve this light menu for a meal that is followed by lots of dancing.
Soups: Egg drop soup, sweet and sour soup
Salad: Mixed green salad with mandarin oranges, crispy noodles and sesame seed dressing
Main Course: Sesame chicken or mixed stir-fry vegetables in soy sauce over noodles
Side Dishes: Steamed broccoli, white and brown fried rice, egg rolls
Give your reception a slightly exotic air with this Spanish-inspired menu. If your wedding features bold colors or Latin music, this menu should fit right in.
Appetizers: Spanish tortillas, artichoke hearts pan fried with clams and served in a white wine sauce
Salad: Broccoli and cauliflower with diced ham served with vinaigrette
Main Course: Paella with shrimp or garlic tilapia
Side Dishes: Saffron rice, oven-baked plantains, potatoes in garlic mayonnaise
Italian food is viewed by many as comfort food. Give your wedding a comfortable and laid back feeling by serving a menu that invokes those thoughts.
Appetizers: Tomato and basil bruschetta
Salad: Italian salad, antipasto salad
Main Course: Eggplant parmesan or Italian sausage lasagna
Side Dishes: Garlic bread, Alfredo pasta
French food is often seen as the epitome of romance and elegance. For ultra-romantic or formal weddings, consider serving a French-inspired menu.
Appetizers: Quiche Lorraine, chutney-topped baked brie, assorted crêpes
Salad: Niçoise salad
Main Course: Almond-crusted chicken or ratatouille
Side Dishes: Baked zucchini, almond potato croquettes
Warm up your winter wedding with some hearty winter fare. This heavier menu is aimed at bringing a sense of comfort and well being to your guests.
Appetizers: Stuffed mushrooms, cheddar potato soup
Salad: Salad of mixed greens with cranberries, walnuts and goat cheese
Main Course: Filet mignon and stuffed peppers
Side Dishes: Risotto, roasted butternut squash, wasabi potatoes
If you're having an outdoor summer wedding, the menu should be in keeping with your surroundings. Serve light, summer-inspired dishes to complement the day seamlessly.
Appetizers: Fruit and cheese platter with in-season fruits and a light yogurt dipping sauce for the fruit
Salad: Chicken salad served on a bed of mixed salad greens
Main Course: Grilled steak or swordfish served with a light, lemon-herb sauce
Side Dishes: Grilled vegetables, rice pilaf, rosemary new potatoes
Informal Daytime Small Plates Menu
If you want to host an informal wedding reception, it may be a good idea to have a daytime event. The dark tends to make a reception feel more formal. Daytime receptions can be held outdoors, making it feel more like a barbeque or a picnic. If you hold a daytime reception, you can serve small plates, finger foods, or tapas, rather than a large dinner.
- Stuffed mushrooms
- Assorted tea sandwiches
- Flatbread pizzas
- Crackers and cheeseball
- Biscuits with jam
Bar and Buffet Menu Ideas
Instead of going the seated dinner route, look for free menus that revolve around a buffet or bar concept. These menus usually have mixed green salads and dressings included, along with a fruit salad and possibly a side dish. Many popular buffet bar menus often revolve around a theme, like:
- Dessert bars: Serve miniature desserts in shot glasses or cake plates. Offer single servings of puddings, bars, cookies, cakes, tarts, and cheesecake bites to your guests if the reception is midday.
- Baked potato bars: Set up a baked potato bar with toppings that appeal to everyone. Ideas include cheddar cheese, broccoli, butter, seasonings, bacon, chili, and salsa.
- Taco bars: Say olé to a taco bar that includes chips, salsa, soft and hard shell tacos, seasoned beef and chicken, lettuce, olives, tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole, onions, and hot sauce.
- Bread bowl bars: Purchase a variety of round bread loaves with the center cut out. Serve chili, chicken noodle, minestrone, and French onion soups along with the breads.
Create the free menus yourself or look for a wedding caterer that can execute your bar buffet ideas.
Selecting Caterer Menus
When you are looking for a wedding caterer, ask to see sample menus they have made for other clients. This is important for three reasons:
- To make sure the caterer can put together an array of foods that complement each other
- To learn what your options are for the menu if you book that particular caterer
- To see if the caterer has created menus that match your ideas and expectations in the past
Before you settle on a caterer, make sure you speak to them about your expectations and what ideas you may have for the menu. These ideas may include, but are not limited to:
- Wedding theme
- Reception theme
- Reception location
- Honeymoon location
- Bride and groom's heritage
The caterers you speak with should be able to provide you with several menu plans their services offer on a regular basis. If not, this may be a sign you want to continue looking for a wedding caterer. Ask for a copy of the menus to keep with your wedding planning guide. Compare the menu ideas, costs, and tastings in the guide before making a final choice. Remember that the caterer should be working with you and your ideas, not the other way around. If the caterer you are speaking to cannot pull together a menu around your theme, move on.
Celebrate Your Day
From choosing the dishes to creating menu cards, your wedding reception meal doesn't have to cost a fortune. Have fun with a themed menu or opt for classic dishes everyone can enjoy, and you'll enjoy the sweet taste of breaking bread with family and friends on your special day.