Club chefs are personalizing menus for newlyweds who want their wedding-day feast to be as unique as their relationship.
Every bride wants her day—and the menu for her reception—to be unique.As a result, more couples are ditching the canned banquet menu and instead working directly with club chefs to create a custom wedding menu tailored to their individual tastes.
“Customer service, both externally and internally, has been pushed to the forefront at our club,” says Brian Jason, Executive Chef, Rockford (Ill.) Country Club. “Building relationships with our brides and grooms is a big part of that message.”
Jason encourages couples to consider custom menus and reports that more than half ultimately do so. “It’s their day, and the food should be representative of them,” he says.
Catering to specialized requests has its challenges, though. One of the biggest occurs when a couple has its heart set on something, but doesn’t take all of their guests into account.
“It can be a challenge when a bride or groom holds onto a ‘want’ that you know won’t work for the majority or is in complete contrast to the rest of the menu,” says Jason, whose club books roughly 30 weddings annually. “It’s important to guide your couples through the process. It’s one thing to say, ‘Tell me what you want,’ and quite another to say, ‘Let’s figure out a way to tell your story on the plate.’”
Too Many Cooks
With so many people involved in what is ultimately a single meal occasion, it’s easy for the process to spiral out of control.
“It’s a balancing act,” says Jason. “You want the bride and groom to have the wedding of their dreams—but you are the chef and you have the knowledge and experience that they don’t.”
So it’s imperative that chefs establish themselves as the culinary expert early on, to make it clear to the couple that when a suggestion is made, it’s intended to be helpful, not critical.
“Instead of telling a couple why their vision of barbeque spare ribs and mint jelly is bad, your job is to reinforce your culinary expertise, offering alternatives to make their vision work,” says Jason.
It’s also the chef’s job to keep the planning on track and under control, while acknowledging that the couple will always have the final word.
“I once worked with a couple who came into their menu-planning appointment laden down with so much advice that they ended up contradicting themselves throughout the meeting,” says Jason. “Sometimes the best way to guide a couple like this is to focus on how they respond when tasting food.”
Paul Riedman, Executive Chef at Cherry Valley Club, Garden City, N.Y., agrees that the tasting plays a big role in the menu development process, especially for custom requests.
“Sometimes a couple will request a dish or a technique they’ve never had or seen before,” he says. “The tasting is where we can navigate these issues and come up with a menu that’s cohesive and functional.”
Cherry Valley does anywhere between seven and twelve weddings annually, with most couples opting for custom menus.
“The banquet menu is a great jumping-off point,” says Riedman. “From it, we can customize the entire experience.”
Cherry Valley reports an upswing in couples leaning more toward traditional dinners and instead customizing either the cocktail hour or adding in a late-night snack.
Belvedere Golf and Country Club (BGCC), Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada, is also seeing more couples opt for unique end-of-night fare. “Recently, I had a couple ask me to recreate a McDonald’s cheeseburger,” says Darren Malko, Executive Chef/Food & Beverage Manager.
“It’s cost-effective to make the cocktail hour a little more special,” says Riedman. “We’ve seen a lot of couples add a raw bar or a chef-manned action station to this part of the night.”
Because the timing is tighter and there is less demand on cohesion between dishes, this allows for greater flexibility with the menu, too.
“Many couples put their custom spin on the cocktail hour, when it is more pleasing to find mini-cheesesteaks and clam chowder shooters on the same plate as brie tartlets and potstickers,” notes Jason.
Menus with Benefits
All three chefs agree that custom wedding menus not only please a bride and groom, but also help to underscore a club’s desire to extend special service to members and give them another reason to be proud of their club.
“The customer satisfaction that comes from personalized menus can’t be beat,” says Malko, who notes that most weddings at BGCC average 150 guests.
“When a couple creates a custom menu, they express a part of themselves to their guests, giving them something better to talk about the next day beyond Uncle Fred’s bad dance moves,” says Jason.
“Customizing menus furthers the club mentality,” says Reidman. “You typically can’t go to XYZ catering hall and have a highly trained chef create an entire menu based on your preferences. But at a club, you can.”