The MANual: Food and Drink

Wedding Main Courses: Chicken, Steak, or Fish?

By Lola Mendez

Food is honestly the most exciting part of a wedding for guests, it’s half they reason they actually show up. Never underestimate how far one might travel for a free meal. This is the main event of the reception so serving crowd-pleasing main courses at a seated dinner (or even buffet style) will help temper any boozing at the cocktail hour and fuel your guests for the dancefloor. Whether you’re a foodie or not, figuring what to serve your guests is going to be one of the more challenging decisions of your wedding planning process. More people means mo food, which means mo money and potentially mo problems. There are so many (too many) options for entrées but it always seems to come down to the tried-and-true trio of of chicken, steak, or fish. There’s good reason for this: they never seem to disappoint.

Why Chicken, Steak, or Fish?

We live in an age of grass-fed every meat and the most curated culinary choices. So why does this trifecta still dominate the wedding menu? Well, these dishes are reliable, versatile, commonly consumed, and cost-efficient. Renée Strauss, the founder of Wedaways, says there’s a simple reason why these work so well for the majority of people’s estimates. “Chicken, beef, and fish are the most commonly served main course items as they can maintain their heat when served to large groups and all work well with sauces,” says Strauss. So, don’t go wild and ask your caterer for more obscure meats like quail, rabbit, duck, rack of lamb, or pork chops. These meats may be tasty (and interesting) to some but they just don’t have that universal appeal.

Sarah White, the founder of The I Do List, notes that female wedding guests prefer the lighter choice of fish while men like to indulge by choosing steak. White says it’s impossible to predict what guests will want until you get RSVP cards back. “Most guests will choose the chicken dish with beef being a close second. If you’re offering all three, fish will be the least likely chosen dish as most people are particular about types of fish they will eat and won’t want to risk it,” says White.

RSVP cards with a meal selection area are a must for accounting for which guests will want which entrées. Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa’s director of catering, Donna Vaughn has a few tricks up her sleeve for keeping everything in order the day of your wedding. She suggests labeling escort cards with corresponding meal choices. To do so select different to colors to represent each meal. Place a sticker in the color that coordinates with the selected meal on the back of each escort card. This will make it easy for wait staff to know which entrée to serve.

Beef: The Top Choice

Beef reigns supreme among wedding guests. The top-selling meal at weddings held at Kimpton Lorien is a filet and crab cake with pommes puree, french beans, and Béarnaise sauce. Other popular beef selections include beef tenderloin and red wine braised beef short rib. Vaughn encourages focusing on the quality of the meat and allowing that shine rather than fussy preparations. Simple is key when serving beef to wedding guests who are most likely to choose whatever dish seems to be the biggest splurge, such as a sirloin steak. But keep in mind beef tends to be the most expensive entrée to serve with beef filet mignon or Kobe beef costing top dollar prices.

Chicken: The Safe Choice

Chicken is the safest option to serve at weddings, that doesn’t mean your main course has to be boring. Cluck that! There are many inventive preparations and pairings to choose from. Chicken cordon bleu is a common dish to serve but can be rather heavy for wedding guests that want to celebrate your union and dance the night away.  A simple seasoned chicken confit can be a great alternative. Chicken is usually the most affordable entrée but Strauss points out that the destination of the wedding can alter which meats are more cost-efficient.

Fish: The Unexpected Choice

The lightest and healthiest of the typical proteins served at weddings are fish dishes. Grilled salmon with lemon caper sauce is a common fish entrée but halibut or sea bass are also popular. Crustaceans like lobster and crab are going to be the most expensive fish dishes to serve. Wedding expert Suzanne Reinhard advises that with a fish entrée you’ll have the opportunity to create a special presentation like table-side deboning, which can also get very messy very quickly. Vaughn states that it’s possible at times for fish to be even more affordable than chicken, depending on the season and your location. Ask for your chef’s recommendation on a fish that’s the best market price your wedding’s season.

Double Up The Options

Some couples are taking guest preference out of the equation by just offering a single duo plate. According to Brittney Davis, wedding coordinator for Hilton Mystic, offering a duo plate no longer requires giving advance counts for each meal resulting. That’s one less thing you have to worry about. If you have the budget, offer guests a luxurious duo entrée that they may not typically splurge on for themselves such as a filet mignon and lobster tail. One potential con to the duo is that the plate presentation can be compromised with the merging of sauces and side items. If how this meal looks before anyone digs in is something you care about, keep that in mind.

Picky Eaters

You also need to consider whether any of your guests have dietary restrictions. A few wedding guests may be gluten intolerant, have religious restrictions on certain foods, or have specific diets such as vegan or raw. To get a grasp on who can and cannot eat what, include a section for food restrictions on your RSVP meal card. Then you’ll easily be able to account for how many alternative meals your caterer will need to prepare. Work with your caterer to come up with an extra option that can suit both vegetarian and gluten-free eaters. Vaughn recommends serving a risotto with baked butternut squash, asparagus, and Ratatouille Jus. She mentions that any great venue should be able to accommodate dietary restrictions as long as the kitchen is altered far enough in advance.

Don’t stress too much if not every wedding guest is happy with the options of chicken, steak, or fish. What matters most is that you and your bride are happy with the entrées served at your wedding. But here comes the tricky part, there’s a good chance that you’re only going to manage a few bites of that main course. It’s not uncommon for the bride and groom to miss out on the main meal because, after all, they are the stars of the evening and everyone wants to talk to you. But at least your guests enjoyed the meal. And don’t forget, there’s always cake!  

Bottom Line

The trio of steak, chicken, or fish are the safest entrée options to serve at weddings with seated dinners. Whether you have a guest list of 10 or 100, it’ll never be possible to please all palates.

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