Wedding Tasting: What You Need to Know
Now that your wedding day is moving closer, it is time to start planning the menu.
The wedding tasting is the process of sampling various dishes from your wedding menu package with the caterer so you can determine the final menu that is served at your wedding.
The tasting is typically centered around the dinner menu (first course, entree, dessert) and the wine part of the wedding package. The food sampled rarely includes hors d’oeuvres or food stations for the cocktail reception.
This article will give some helpful advice about how you should go about the wedding tasting in preparing for the big day.
How And When Should You Do Your Wedding Tasting?
Typically, your catering site manager or outside caterer should contact you to arrange a tasting date.
The wedding tasting should take place at least six weeks before the wedding. You should decide on the final menu at the tasting or submit your final selections the following week.
Plan on possibly odd times for the tasting since the caterer or wedding venue would need to integrate the event into their prevailing business schedule and coordinate with their peak hours.
How Long Does A Wedding Food Tasting Take?
A food tasting should take no longer than two hours to complete.
The kitchen will already have prepared their “mise-en-place” ahead of time and should get you through the tasting process one course after another.
Everyone coming to the tasting must be on time! Nothing can be worse than late-comers. It can unnecessarily stall the entire process since the kitchen may not be willing to get started when everyone has not arrived yet.
Naturally, most of your questions will be related to the menu and what you are being served.
The caterer should be more than willing to answer all questions you may have about the menu, as well as give recommendations for substitutions if necessary.
If you extend the tasting into a myriad of other questions related to further details of the wedding, the entire process could take much longer. It’s in your hands or to the limit of time the venue can afford on that day.
Both you and the catering manager should be mindful of each party’s schedule.
Any weighty wedding planning matters outside the menu planning that are still in the open should be discussed in a separate meeting unless you have agreed on a more extended all-encompassing meeting from the get-go.
Who Goes To The Wedding Tasting?
Many venues and caterers include a complimentary wedding tasting for the bride & groom only in their wedding package. Make sure to find out about your specific situation.
If you plan to bring friends or family, don’t forget to ask if you can invite them, and how many would be allowed.
You may need to pay for additional people (i.e., your wedding planner, parents, maid of honor, bridesmaid) that you want to bring along.
Don’t make your wedding tasting a mini dinner party to impress your friends.
Imagine it as a working dinner or luncheon, during which you want to select a final menu.
Moreover, the more people you invite to the tasting, the more opinions will be present, and the more difficult it will be to reach a consensus.
When wedding planners attend tastings, I have often experienced that they won’t participate in the actual meal or only have one dish. For them, tastings are a job-related routine, and their focus is on you, your food preferences, and giving good advice and guidance.
How Does A Wedding Tasting Work?
Usually, you will attend the tasting along with the venue’s catering manager.
Similarly, an off-site caterer’s representative will attend the tasting with you if an outside catering company does the food.
It is most common that you will be served a full three or four-course menu, depending on your wedding package.
Typically you would be served full-size portions just as you would at your wedding.
Be ready to get three or four different first courses to sample, two or three entree options, and three or four desserts.
If your tasting is in the evening, it’s a good idea to skip lunch on that day, so you have enough room for the tasting.
You typically would have decided on the selections before the tasting since the caterer cannot serve everything on the menu. Neither would you be able to sample all the dishes in one seating.
There will be a lot of food, and don’t feel obligated to finish everything. If there are any leftovers, ask if you could have them packed up and take home.
You typically would also be offered the white and red wines part of your wedding menu package.
If you are not happy with the wine, ask if your pricing allows for substitution without increasing the per-person price or what other options are available if you upgrade and pay a little extra.
Take some mental and written notes during the tasting, take some pictures of the different dishes, and ask any questions about the ingredients, dietary concerns, flexibility to change the starch, vegetables, sauces, presentation.
The chances are that you will be able to meet with the Chef in person.
Find out about the Chef’s favorite dishes, and the dishes requested most often, the most forgiving dishes in a banquet setting, and whether there will be any recommended seasonal items at the time of your wedding.
While you are waiting for the food, you will likely talk with the catering manager about a few other items about the wedding. However, try keeping your primary focus on the food and beverage aspect and leave the heavy-duty details of the wedding for another meeting.
Do You Tip For A Wedding Tasting?
A tip is always greatly appreciated by the server who is serving during the tasting.
Double-check with the on-site catering manager if it is appropriate to tip at their venue.
If you are not paying for the tasting and are not leaving a tip, the venue usually adds a gratuity to the check for the staff charged to the house.
And if your event is at a private club, they may have a non-tipping policy.
Should Caterers Charge For Tastings?
Tastings can be expensive for caterers and venues. They have to hire wait staff to serve the food and wine, hire Chefs to prepare the food, hire staff to clean the dishes and have their catering site manager attend. In addition, the food may need to be purchased specifically for the tasting.
Venues and caterers evaluate whether a complimentary tasting can be incorporated into a wedding package based on the overall revenue from the event.
Don’t be shocked if you have to pay for the tasting if your wedding package price is at the low end. Likely, the cost will just cover the expenses.
Wedding Cake Tastings
Whether the venue is providing the wedding cake, or an outside wedding cake maker, one of the easiest ways to determine what cake best suits your wedding is through a tasting.
Not every venue or bakery will offer a complimentary cake tasting and design consultation unless you fulfill a specific minimum order. This minimum amount could be based on a couple of hundred dollars.
If you don’t meet that minimum threshold, there usually would be a fee for the tasting, or it could be declined altogether if your cake is very small.
The cake tasting would generally be a separate meeting by appointment and won’t be part of the wedding dinner tasting.
Some cake makers provide wedding tasting kits “to go,” and you may just pay for the delivery fee.
A wedding cake tasting typically consists of sampling several flavors (fillings), and layers (sponges). The samples are often displayed in small sample pieces.
You would typically choose from various images on their website or at the cake maker’s bakery from a design portfolio for the wedding cake design. They may even display replica dummy cakes.
Do You Need To Have A Tasting?
You may be surprised to hear that, but you don’t have to have a tasting.
Chances are, you had already vetted the wedding venue or the caterer before you booked, including their culinary history and reputation.
So, in other words, you should have screened the location or the caterer and feel comfortable right from the onset.
In this case, if you are running out of time before the wedding and your schedule makes it impossible to do a tasting, you should be ok.
Work closely with the venue’s catering sales manager and find out what the most popular dishes are, check on their recommendations, and ask if they have any pictures they can email you to show their food presentation.
And if you have any detailed questions about the menu, the catering manager will get you the information directly from the Chef.
Dietary Restrictions And Allergies
Find out at the tasting how the venue or caterer would handle any dietary needs and food allergies.
Find out what options are available for vegan or vegetarian guests and how this would be handled throughout the evening.
It will help the venue/caterer a great deal if you know ahead of time whether you have any guests with special needs concerning their food.
Once you made your table assignments, let the venue know the guests’ names and at what tables they will be seated.
Let The Caterer Know If You Like To Make Any Changes To The Dishes
The purpose of the tasting is to make sure you are happy with the food and get even more excited about your wedding.
Let the caterer and Chef know if you are concerned with any of the preparations or presentations.
Perhaps you just would like a different sauce with the beef or fish or chicken or wanted to add pears to the salad.
It may not be possible to sample it right then, but a few ideas to improve the dish to your taste is always a good plan, and you can capture it at the time rather than leaving and agonizing later.
The catering/events manager will make special notes and highlight them on the paperwork going to the kitchen with the final selections.
Try not to reinvent the wheel when it comes to changing the menu.
If you want to change a recipe, it may not come out the way you envisioned it since the culinary team has been trained in a different style.
It can be wise to stick to the caterer’s most popular menu items since the food production has been committed to the team’s muscle memory.
If you want to be a step ahead of the game, study the menu thoroughly and ask the venue or caterer in advance to modify a specific dish. So, you can have it made for you to try at the tasting.
As a side note, be aware that any changes to the menu could increase the pricing. Make sure you double-check with the caterer.
Wedding planners sometimes also come up with ideas for food preparations that they had seen done at another venue.
Their experience may be a great source of ideas, but again take it with a grain of salt.
Your caterer may not be able to replicate what other caterers are doing. Each venue and caterer is unique.
What To Wear To A Wedding Tasting?
This question sounds trivial, but it does come up from time to time.
When thinking of what to wear for the wedding tasting, get prepared that the tasting could be in one of the following places:
- in the kitchen
- in the venue’s restaurant or ballroom
If the tasting is in the caterer’s off-site kitchen or the wedding venue’s on-premises kitchen, it will make sense to dress casually and comfortably.
Some venues have a special little inbuilt alcove or an intimate annex room in their kitchen expressly set up for tasting with a table and chairs.
At other venues, you might be seated directly at the kitchen line and can watch the Chef right over the shoulder as he/she prepares the food with his team in front of you.
Another option exists at some venues where you would be standing around a hi-top table while food samples come out and are being circled. The venue may offer some bar stools or no seating at all.
Remember, if you are in a kitchen for the tasting, dressing up would be nice but a little out of place.
- Kitchens can be hot, and smells get into your clothes.
But doing the wedding tasting in the kitchen is great fun! You may have never seen “behind the scenes.” Being in a commercial kitchen for the first time will give you a visceral experience of the hustle and bustle that builds around an event.
If the tasting is in the wedding venue’s restaurant, ask the catering manager you are working with what attire would feel appropriate.
If you are getting married in a five-star hotel or a private club, check if they have a dress code.
Also, check if the tasting is during lunch, dinner, or the afternoon when you may be the only table in the restaurant.
When the tasting is in a restaurant, dressing business-casual is usually fail-proof.
Another variant of a wedding tasting is when a venue invites all upcoming wedding clients together. You will find yourself with many other couples in one big ballroom. There would be an extensive buffet being displayed with all the food items for you to select. This setting also calls for business-casual attire.
Doing the wedding tasting will give you greater confidence moving towards the big day. You will notice that things are now coming together and fall into place.
Do you have to have a wedding tasting? No.
Is it the most fun and fabulous distraction from your wedding planning process? Yes.
Once you have settled on your final wedding menu and confirmed it with the venue, you have accomplished a major milestone!