Designing the perfect menu

Let’s face it, everybody remembers an event by the food served. It can make or break any celebration. It’s a matter of quality and quantity, taste and spectacle. You don’t want to leave your guests feeling hungry and you don’t want it to cost the earth either. In this blog we explore some of the formats, trends, hints and tips for designing the perfect menu to suit you, your guests and your hip pocket.

Signboard direction wedding

When planning your menu, first consider the format of how you want your food to be served. If you’re hosting a sit-down affair, most venues allow you to choose from banquet, where all food is served at a buffet for guests to help themselves, alternate drop, where you choose two to three dishes which are served to guests alternately (and they can choose to switch between themselves), or a la carte, where each guest orders a meal of their preference (usually from a defined list of options). Let’s have a look at the pros and cons for each option.

Banquet style caters for all appetites big and small, however guests sometimes need to queue or wait for food to be refreshed. Alternate drop is a popular option as the kitchen can prepare a set range of meals for a speedy meal service, however the range is usually limited to two or three dishes. A la carte allows guests to choose something specific to their tastes. Depending on the venue, this type of meal service can sometimes be slower, and you will need to allow time for the waiters to take each guests order. The sit down format is certainly the most popular option for weddings and larger events, however the costs can be steep. This is because of the number of waiters required, as well as the equipment (chairs, cutlery, etc.).

If you want to create a more relaxed atmosphere, or perhaps have a tight budget to work with, consider a cocktail-style menu. Cocktail menus typically include finger foods such as tapas, platters and canapés, or small meals which can be eaten with limited cutlery (think noodle boxes). Cocktail menus leave a lot of room for creativity and flare, and can be just as satisfying as a sit down meal. A cocktail menu is generally served on platters by waiters who mill around the room offering food to the guests who are usually standing. For this reason, it’s important to choose bite-size dishes that aren’t too fiddly to eat, or too saucy and likely to drip.

Waiter carrying plates with meat dish
If you’re planning a cocktail-style menu, choose easy-to-eat, bite-sized morsels.

Food displays are a big trend at the moment. Similar to a buffet, food displays are a culinary feast for the eyes, designed to tantalize your guests tastebuds. Unlike buffets, food displays don’t have to be reserved for the main meal.

Popular options include lolly, dessert or cocktail bars. Food displays are all about presentation. Think about incorporating a specific colour scheme with matching serving wear such as straws and napkins, and using an array of interesting platters and stands at different heights to add depth and interest to your display.

Sweet holiday buffet selection of sweets
Delicious lolly buffet with cupcakes, meringues and other desserts.

If you’re planning a cocktail bar, include a variety of interesting glassware, garnishes such as lemon and lime, shakers, plenty of ice and of course plenty of booze and mixers. Why not create a signature cocktail for the event and send everyone home with the recipe printed on a cute card?

Cocktail bars are a welcome addition to any special event, Daschund optional.

You could try something different like an ice cream bar with little cups and sticks along with all the toppings you can think of, or serve up popcorn in barrels along with scoops and paper bags. Both are easy to DIY and budget friendly to boot. Some tea light candles and floral displays will add that extra something to your food display which is sure to be a talking point.

Cheese table - various types of cheese
Food displays don’t have to be expensive or complicated, why not try a simple yet delicious cheese theme?

We all know the old adage ‘quality over quantity’ and this could be no truer than when it comes to food. However, when it comes to a party, the motto must be ‘quality AND quantity’. You certainly don’t want your friends having to swing by Maccas on the way home. Often it’s the budget that tempts people into choosing either quality or quantity, so here are some tips to help you achieve the best of both worlds:

  • Serve soup for the entree. It’s hearty and tasty whilst being inexpensive to produce.
  • If choosing a cocktail menu, start with some cold platters such as vegetables crudites and breads served with dips and cheeses.
  • Pick produce that’s in season. This will guarantee fresh and cheap eats.
  • Serve your celebration cake for dessert. Jazz it up with some cream or a sauce.
  • Turn cheaper cuts of meat into stars by serving slow cooked wonders. Curry bar? Yes please!

When it comes to pleasing a crowd with your menu, taste is an important factor. But how can you possibly please everyone? Think about your guest list and what you think is going to work best. If you’re going with a buffet or cocktail menu, include a variety of offers to suit all tastes i.e. not all spicy or all seafood. If you’re having an alternate drop, the best bets are a chicken and beef dish. Some may say this is boring, but I have never had anyone complain when this is served to them (unlike lamb or fish for which I would often have people ask for an alternative). Don’t forget some of your guests will have allergies or intolerances that need to be catered for. Simply ask them to advise you when they RSVP and be sure to notify your caterer well in advance.

So there you have it, how to design the perfect menu. I hope it has inspired you to try something new at your next event.

Wishing you happy planning,


Founder & Director, Franke & Co.