Bridal Section: Right food, wine make for memorable reception

Your reception will most likely be the most expensive part of your wedding, especially if you opt for a sit-down dinner and an open bar. But there are other alternatives. Here are some tips to help you get the most bang for your buck.

An experienced caterer is your best resource as you plan your reception. If you don’t already have a caterer in mind, don’t resort to the yellow pages. Instead, ask friends and family to recommend caterers they’ve used. The reception hall may also have some recommendations for you.

The caterer can help you choose where to spend your food dollars—what to splurge on and where to cut back without people noticing. You should be able to sample the food that will be served at your wedding, and, at the very least, to see photos of how it will be presented. In addition to the quality of the food, guests will also notice the level of service, so make sure the caterer has enough staff on hand to ensure smooth sailing.

If you are looking for ways to save money on your reception, consider hosting a cocktail reception, afternoon tea or dessert reception. These can all be lovely affairs, and much less expensive than a formal sit-down dinner. If you do opt for a sit-down dinner, be sure to advise the caterer of any menu alterations for guests with special needs, such as your vegetarian cousin or your diabetic great-aunt.

A trend that has been gaining ground for wedding receptions is food stations. These are similar to buffet-style dinners, but with more pizzazz. Stations feature several tables highlighting different foods. Food stations offer a more casual atmosphere and give wedding guests a chance to mingle while getting their food.

Now you need to decide on a cash or open bar for the reception. Offering a cash bar is obviously the least expensive option, but be sure to inform your guests ahead of time that they will need to bring money to pay for drinks. If money is no object, you can host an open bar where all drinks are free.

A nice compromise is to provide beer and wine only. This way guests can enjoy a drink or two at the reception, and you can stay within your budget.

When choosing wine to serve at your reception, consider the menu as well as the guests. If you’re serving beef, consider a merlot or cabernet. For fish or seafood, a crisp sauvignon blanc is a good choice. And chardonnay is a safe crowd pleaser that pairs well with chicken and pork. To make it easy for guests to help themselves to their wine of choice, consider placing a bottle of red and a bottle of white at each table.

Of course, you’ll want to have a sparkling wine on hand for the obligatory toasts and to serve with the wedding cake. “People typically serve dry champagne with wedding cake; unfortunately, the sweetness of the cake brings out the sourness of the champagne, basically making the wine taste awful,” says David Frakes, executive chef, Beringer Vineyards.

As an alternative, consider serving Beringer’s Sparkling White Zinfandel. “This wine has some residual sugar and sweetness, and therefore is a much better match—the wine tastes like the winemaker intended, and the cake tastes good, too,” says Frakes. Not only that, but the lovely rose color adds a festive look to the table.

The price will make you happy, too: Beringer’s Sparkling White Zinfandel sells for less than $10 a bottle. Since one bottle of champagne will fill five to six glasses, you’ll be able to serve a delicious, versatile sparkling wine for less than $2 per glass. And as a side benefit, you’ll get to enjoy it every time someone offers a toast in your honor!

For more info on Beringer’s Sparkling White Zinfandel, visit

From the April 27-May 3, 2005, issue

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