17 Wedding Day Food Mistakes A Southerner Would Never Make
Don’t let the cake melt! Serve biscuits warm! Give guests a cold drink upon arrival!
Some Southern wedding day feasting guidelines have been embedded in our minds for as long as we can remember. Others may not be so obvious.
Southern food is always a highlight of weddings, but it’s easy to lose sight of some important rules when you’re planning the day’s catering. If you’re anything like us, you’ve also been dreaming of hush puppies, succotash, and grandma’s pecan pie since the day your partner popped the question. To help you out, we tapped Southern chefs and wedding planners to spill their insider advice. And yes, always make sure there’s more ice on hand then you think you’ll need. It’s a Southern wedding, after all. Read on for our list of the worst offenders.
Not using mama’s recipes!
“Always share personal details with your caterer, it adds to the meaning of the day,” advises Jennifer Goldman, Chief Operating Officer of Charleston’s Patrick Properties Hospitality Group. With that being said, take the seasonality of family recipes into account. Papaw’s She Crab Soup may be your all-time favorite, but on a hot July day it won’t get the appreciation it deserves, notes Goldman.
2. Insisting on grits.
It’s one of the most requested dishes at Southern weddings, but numerous wedding insiders advised against serving them at your reception for taste, mess factor, and how they look on your plate (hint: not too pretty). “For groups larger than 200, they don’t tend to hold very well in extremely large portions for buffet-style, and they aren’t the best option for a plated dinner,” says Carole Sala, Catering Director for The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City Hotel in Arlington.
3. Overdoing the bacon.
Do you dream of wrapping every appetizer in bacon? It’s tempting, we know. “We suggest one selection will do so guests with dietary restrictions can enjoy your hors d’oeuvres, too,” says Lillian Rojas, Director of Catering at STARR Catering Group in South Florida.
4. Frying off-site.
“If you’re having something on the menu that’s fried (of course you are), make sure your caterer can fry on-site. Having food fried fresh at the venue makes all the flavor difference in the world,” advises Whitney Franklin, Director of Event Sales and Services at Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
5. Not taking care of potato salad properly.
You see this fan-favorite dish at many Southern weddings, but it also can spoil very easily, so beware. “It’s crucial to keep it at the correct temperature in order to remain edible. This is especially important in the warm summer months during outdoor wedding receptions,” says Farah Saint-Jean, Co-Owner of Spectacular Affairs. “The ingredients within—mayonnaise, eggs and cheese products—need to remain refrigerated before serving and remain on ice when being served outdoors.”
6. Letting your cake melt in the heat.
You don’t need us to tell you how hot a summer wedding in the South can be. “Many frostings cannot stand up to the heat and humidity. I’ve seen cakes slide, bend, flow, fall, sag, and collapse,” offers David Leffew, Director of Food and Beverage at Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island. “Don’t pick a frosting that cannot hold up in the heat.Talk to your bakery and ensure that you are choosing the right cake for the conditions.”
7. Cramping food stations too close together.
“Food stations are very popular in the South, and the location of these stations are equally important to the food being served off of them,” says Reilly Mariotti, Senior Catering Director of Charleston’s Cru Catering. “Stations within a close proximity of one another tend to cause lines and become congested. Spread out stations throughout the reception space to reduce lines, and help guests navigate easily.”
8. Overloading your menu with heavy, southern go-tos.
"You don't want everyone too stuffed and lethargic to dance from the beginning of the night,” offers Renee Glemboski, wedding planner at Four Seasons Hotel Austin. “Instead, substitute grilled vegetables or a salad bar for one or two comfort food items. If you’re intent on having [rich] dishes like chicken and waffles and pigs in a blanket, [they] can always be served as a late-night snack.”
9. Serving messy staples.
“A good southern pulled pork or pulled chicken might be your favorite, but [avoid] the temptation of serving this southern favorite at your wedding reception as there is always the possibility of you and guests’ dirtying clothes while eating,” advises Carine Saint-Jean Co-Owner of Spectacular Affiars. “Selecting messy foods such like these, sloppy joes and the likes, is never a wise idea.”
10. Sending out beignets at the wrong temperature.
“Beignets are a favorite for dessert, but they do not do well sitting out on a station—make sure to pass them piping hot out of the kitchen so they stay warm and crispy and don't get cold and soggy,” says Shannon Leahy Rosenbaum founder of Shannon Leahy Events, which specializes on Southern weddings.
11. Forgetting to label shellfish dishes.
“Shrimp, crabs, oysters and lobsters are all Southern favorites used in many varieties of dishes that are at times undetectable by sight,” says Saint-Jean (like the curried shrimp tarts pictured here). “It is a necessity to label and identify the dishes containing these food items as some of your guests may have life-threatening allergic reactions to them.” In general, always label all foods that may contain a major food allergen.
12. Not having a disposal plan.
“Trash may be the last thing you're thinking of, but it shouldn't be. Having the proper receptacles and plan for disposing of trash (particularly for outdoor weddings) is a must,” advises Chef J Jackson, Owner of D.C.-based Entrée Metropolitan.
13. Serving the groom’s cake at the wedding reception.
We Southerners love our sweets, but it can be too much of a good thing. “Serve it at the rehearsal dinner so guests will be able to enjoy it without taking away from your other cake (or dessert) during the reception,” suggests Alan Newman, Event Sales Manager at Pérez Art Museum Miami.
14. Serving passed hors d'oeuvres that are awkward to eat.
“Guests love Southern-inspired passed appetizers during cocktail hour like hushpuppies, sliced ham on rosemary biscuits, and fried chicken and waffles, but since a lot of these foods are filling and messy to eat, make sure they are small— no more than one or two bites,” shares Leahy Rosenbaum.
15. Skimping on the pimiento cheese.
“It’s vegetarian, and when served with crudités or rice crackers, gluten-free,”offers Brandon Sharp, Executive Chef at The Carolina Inn, A Destination Hotel in Chapel Hill. Beyond being enjoyable for a variety of diets, it also happens to be affordable and delicious.
16. Not covering your food.
Friendly reminder: The south has bugs, even in the winter. “People put out a great spread but neglect to cover it once everyone has been served,” says Jenifer Gay, Owner of Southwest Florida’s Blue Flamingo Weddings. Make sure the food is covered so bugs don’t ruin it, especially right before guests arrive to a cocktail hour with cheese platters, hors d'oeuvres, and other appetizers, or if you’re serving your food buffet-style.
17. Not leaving enough time for hitting the dance floor!
“Dinner needs to be remembered forever, not take forever,” quips Leffew. “Each course you add is going to take over 25 minutes and is going to cut into the party and dancing time. Doing a long and involved dinner service combined with the introductions, cake cutting, toasts, etc., could leave your wedding guests with an hour or less to enjoy the party. If there is one thing I’ve learned about a great Southern wedding, it’s that we always make sure to leave plenty of time for dancing and partying.”