Is it just us or do wedding tastings not get the credit they deserve? We swoon over dress shopping and love nailing down a great design detail—but so often forgotten is the fun (and importance) of wedding food tastings. From knowing your budget and guests’ dietary restrictions to understanding how seasonality can affect your fare, there’s actually more to consider than you may realize when it comes to tastings. Today, then, we’re breaking down our top 10 tips to help you prep for your wedding tasting. Read on...and start sharpening that silverware, brides and grooms!
1. Start with your budget
As with nearly every aspect of wedding planning, having your budget nailed down is where you should start. Knowing what you can (and can’t) afford will save you heartbreak in the long-run. You’ll probably end up falling in love with a ton of tasty options at your tastings—but if you’re on a tight budget, you likely can’t serve your guests everything you enjoyed at the tasting. Keep a solid number in mind and talk to your partner beforehand about how flexible (or inflexible) it may be.
2. Do your legwork
So many couples go into wedding tastings blind, without having done much research, because it is, after all, just tasting some food—how much to it can there be? Turns out, a whole lot. You want to start by working with a professional planner to nail down the top caterers in your area. From there, collect sample menus and pricing information from each, and be sure you understand what they offer when it comes to tastings—some may allow you to do a tasting without signing a contract first, while others may only offer a tasting after you’ve booked their services.
Either way—whether you’re using multiple tastings as a way to nail down a caterer or already have your caterer booked and are attending a tasting to nail down your menu—you’ll want to have your research done first. Know what the caterer’s or restaurant’s strengths and signature dishes are—read online reviews, check out their website, etc. If, for example, tons of past clients are saying their tuna tartare is to-die-for, you might want to make sure it’s included in your tasting. If the chef trained in France, maybe you can ask her or him to bake some samples of your favorite French pastries to try. Knowing a caterer’s background and strengths will help you know what items to focus on as you work to craft the perfect wedding menu.
3. Get on the same page
Before you head into your wedding tasting, talk to your partner about the importance of food at your event. Maybe she or he sees it as simply something to check off a list and is totally fine serving a bland steak-and-caesar option, whereas you want the food to be more playful and exciting. Wedding food tends to get a bad rap (because it’s so often boring and underwhelming), so catering can be a really great place to go all out and wow your guests if your budget allows. But, this is something you’ll want to talk to your partner about beforehand—is she or he willing to dip into your entertainment or design fund in order to make some creative catering choices? Having these conversations beforehand, rather than in front of your caterer and wedding planner, is always the way to go.
4. Go in hungry
This one is pretty straightforward. Though you’ll be tasting smaller options of what they’ll serve on your wedding day, all of those miniature plates add up. Remember to go in a little hungry (though not totally starved) and save room throughout the tasting—you don’t have to eat everything on every plate.
5. Keep the group small
While you may want to bring along your entire bride tribe for your wedding dress fitting, tastings are far different. We recommend keeping the group as small as possible (plus, your caterer may only offer a free tasting for two and charge per-person for any additional attendees). Stick to you, your partner, your wedding planner and the person paying for the affair if it isn’t you. We recommend no more than four people (max) to a tasting, as flavor and food preferences are such personal things—you don’t want to overwhelm the process with opinion after opinion (after opinion).
6. Know dietary restrictions
While you can nail down dietary restrictions and a final guest count as your RSVPs arrive, it’s still a good practice to have a fairly broad idea of dietary restrictions as you head into a tasting—especially if you know a lot of your guests have them. Have a whole slew of gluten-free friends who will be in attendance? It may be a good idea to taste some of your caterer’s gluten-free options, if possible.
7. Keep seasonality in mind
Tasting a mango salsa in June for your February wedding? Be aware that the mangos in February on your Big Day may not be as ripe and delicious as you remember them being at your summertime tasting. A great caterer will always build a menu around what produce is available and in season on the date of your wedding, but it’s also good to have an idea of produce seasonality yourself as you head into your tasting—that way, you can ask the right questions and suggest substitutions if necessary.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Not knowing you can ask for changes is one of the biggest mistakes couples make when attending wedding tastings. Maybe you loved that salmon but weren’t crazy about the sauce. Or maybe you love spicy foods and are wondering if there’s a way to kick up the spice-factor a bit on those tacos. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes or solicit advice from the caterer or chef. Caterers love chances to get creative and flex their culinary muscles so, as long as you’re polite and kind about it, chances are they’ll be more than willing to work with you at your tasting to perfect some of those plates. The key is to ask these questions at your tasting, rather than calling them a week before the event to let them know you weren’t crazy about that ponzu sauce and want to change it.
9. Have a system in place to record your reactions
Was it the branzino you loved or the sea bass? And which one was sauteed versus grilled? It’s so important you remember to take photos and notes during your tasting. You may think you’ll remember it all, but after a few glasses of champagne and twelve small plates, things may get a little...foggy. Snap a photo of each plate and take down some quick notes upon your initial reaction to flavors. This will be a lifesaver when it comes to nailing down your final menu!
10. Know what to look for
There are a few telltale signs when it comes to food quality, and they're pretty much the same as they would be at a restaurant. Is your produce bright, colorful and crisp...or is it sad, soggy and sub-par? Are you noticing discoloration around the edge of hard cheeses (typically, a sign that the cheese was sliced a day prior). Have salads gone soggy? Does the meat taste fresh or like it was previously frozen? If your tasting was a meal at a restaurant, would you go back for more or would it leave you ready to write a poor Yelp review? Knowing what to look for when it comes to food freshness is key in a tasting—this will give you a ton of insight into the chef's level of attention to detail and experience.
Photos courtesy Dallas wedding photographer Stephanie Brazzle