Food for Thought

Food for Thought

Now we are getting to the fun part!

Once you have chosen a date and location, it’s time to figure out your reception spot.

Remember — we recommend booking the ceremony site and reception venue at the same time. You don’t want to lock in your beach location without researching nearby reception locales.

Most couples discover that there are plenty of beaches that are the perfect spot for a ceremony. The thing they end up being more persnickety about is where they hold the reception.

So, what are your options?

There are three major categories when it comes to selecting a reception area, and it mostly depends on the size of your party: Restaurants (usually 2 to 35 people), reception halls (35 to 100) and hotels or resorts (100+).

The couples that we work with often fall into the restaurant or reception hall categories.

But first, a word about resorts…

If you have 120 or more guests, we will steer you toward a resort who will facilitate your entire ceremony and reception. Resorts and hotels that host weddings are geared towards larger events, and if you have the budget, they will make it happen.

Want to ride down the aisle on a baby elephant? If you got the cash, saddle up.

But here is where we will offer one word of caution: Holding your wedding at a hotel or resort and expecting to find any deals is like looking for the cheap beer vendor at the Super Bowl.

They just aren’t there.

Don’t get me wrong, you can have a beautiful wedding at a hotel or resort, but these are best suited for couples with a ‘loose’ budget.

The hotel and resort prices help keep us in business. We have worked with couples who, when they realized their special day at a resort was going to set them back more than $30,000 (not including travel costs, dress, honeymoon, etc.), ditched the resort and hired us.

But — if you are set on having more than 100 guests, a resort may be your best option. They are geared to have all guests attended to at all times…you just have to pay for it.


If your beach wedding has 35 or fewer guests (35 is not a hard-and-fast cutoff, more of a general rule) then a restaurant is your best option for the reception.

A few things you may have noticed about restaurants: They have tables and chairs. They are fairly decorated. They have food preparation facilities (also known as a kitchen) on site. They have wait staff, bars and some even have live music.

Why is this important? Because all of those are things that you would otherwise need to bring when you rent out a reception hall or convert some other space into your reception area, they are already provided.

You can create your own reception site, but it’s good to consider just how much heavy lifting it is going to take plus those additional rental costs. Sometimes, you are starting from scratch…

Restaurants are the ideal spot for smaller receptions as they are already in the food services business. Depending on the size of your group and location, some have private dining rooms where you can have a family-style meal served, toast the bride and the groom, and then leave without having to worry about the clean-up.

However, if you have (roughly) 40 or more guests, your group is too large for most restaurants, and it actually begins to become more expensive than it would be to reserve a banquet hall or convert another space into a reception area. Plus, you have the added benefit of a private space.

Reception Venue or Converting a space

If you have between 40 and 100 guests, you will want to rent out a facility to use as your reception area.

This is the ideal option for couples that need to stick to their budget, but also want the bigger wedding and privacy of their ‘own’ reception hall. With this number of guests, you begin to see cost savings the more people you have.

When converting a space into a reception area, keep in mind that you are typically renting an empty room that you will need to turn into your reception hall.  That means bringing in chairs, tables, linens, lighting, decor, flowers, and a sound system. You will need to hire a caterer and set up a bar. You may need to rent a ‘bathroom trailer.’ In short, it can be a lot of work and quite costly, not to mention making all these arrangements from out of town.

This is not the case with Affordable Banquet, our very own reception hall on St Pete Beach, complete with Chiavari chairs, tables, linens, lighting, and a sound system.  There is even a closet full of coastal decor, signs, candles, etc. that couples can use for the day to make the reception venue their own. This facility is ready to go, just add food and a DJ! However, this is the exception…most venues are a blank canvas or offer decor provided by the managing company for a price. If you end up bringing some of your own decor/goods for a one-time use, please feel free to leave on-site and another future couple will gladly appreciate the wedding gesture!

Don’t discount VA halls, city and municipally owned spaces and pavilions.  These too, with a little bit of creative flair, can provide the perfect venue or space for the reception at a fraction of the cost of a full-on reception hall.

Creating your own reception space is one part of the wedding that many couples love. It gives them a chance to put their unique stamp on the event, with decor, music and toasts that match their personalities. You’ll have more privacy than you would at a restaurant, and you won’t be sharing your space with strangers who popped in to grab a burger and find themselves in the midst of a wedding party.

If renting a reception venue is the route that makes the most sense for you, we’ve got the connections and we can steer you toward some of the best venues on the Gulf Coast.

One last note, most halls/venues rent by the day, hourly, or time block (For example 6 or 8 hours).  So be prepared and factor in setup time/tear down following the event.  If you only have 6 hours total, this leaves 1-2 hours for setup and 1 hour for take down (and only 3-4 hours for the entire ceremony and reception).  Full-day rental is the ultimate option if available.

And remember — on the day of, take a deep breath, sit back, and enjoy all the time, preparation, and planning that went into your special day. Expect to encounter some hiccups, but these should not prevent you from having the most magical day.

That doesn’t mean a catastrophe is imminent, but florists get lost, PA systems can have static, weather is too hot or too cold, an electrical outlet isn’t in the right location, or that slide show of the bride and groom didn’t save properly on your laptop.

Whatever it is, there are going to be some hiccups throughout the day that you should be prepared for mentally. When converting a space into your reception area, there are even more variables in the day’s equation, so be ready to roll with the unexpected.

Catering and Food Options

About half of the couples that we do weddings for here at Gulf Beach WeddingsÒ had their reception at a restaurant. As we’ve said, that is the optimal choice if you have 35 or fewer guests.

But what if you are going to have a larger ceremony? The couples that go this route will need to hire a caterer for their event. We have connections with the best caterers up and down Florida’s Gulf Coast, and we can help you put together a reception that leaves your guests stuffed and happy.

A few things to keep in mind:

Folks who haven’t been to a wedding in a while might have a skewed impression of what the typical reception meal looks like. Movies and television often show plated dinners, where guests are served “the chicken” or “the fish” as part of a meal with several courses.

The truth is, no one does plated meals anymore, and that is a good thing.

Rather than a dry chicken breast that has been sitting on a plate for 30 minutes before it is placed in front of you, most caterers set up buffet stations with food that is marinating in a sauce and gets tastier with time.

Plus, a formal meal served by waiters doesn’t really fit with our laid-back beach vibe. You want your guests up and mingling, piling their plate high with the delicious options you’ve picked out.

As you work with your caterer on creating the perfect menu, you may think you already know exactly what you want to serve your guests. Maybe your mouth still waters when you think back to the mashed potato bar at a friend’s wedding, or the fondue station at your aunt’s wedding when you were seven that seemed like something out of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Here is our advice: Listen to the Caterer

Most of them have a handful of dishes that they have mastered. They know exactly how to scale the recipe based on the number of guests, how to ensure it comes out at the right temperature and consistency.

Most of all, they have received enormous amounts of feedback on what large crowds like. They know what’s popular, and what dishes they end up throwing away because no one will touch it. It is a constant feedback loop, and you would be wise to listen if they try to steer you away from a certain dish.

As a rule, don’t ask for something that is not on the menu. If you ask them to try something new for your big day, you may not like the results.

Also, remember that everything is prepared off site, so opt for a menu that travels well.

Pulled pork, stuffed mushrooms, lobster mac and cheese, brisket with mashed potatoes, chicken cordon bleu, Mediterranean pasta’s or anything ‘stuffed’ – are popular dishes that taste better after sitting in a warming container during the drive from the caterer’s kitchen to the reception site.  Fried foods and premade sandwiches get soggy during transport, and dishes with a lot of components like eggs benedict rarely survive the drive.

Catering prices can begin as low as $18-20 per person. But if you want filet, lobster, sea bass or tuna, expect to pay more.

In recent years, we have received more and more questions about food trucks. Well, let’s talk about it.

A word about food trucks:

Food trucks have exploded in popularity over the past decade. They are the charming spawn of the Great Recession, when out-of-work chefs took to the streets to sell gourmet bar-be-cue, sushi, and tacos.

And while we have nothing against a good taco served out of an old school bus after a night out with friends, we do not recommend a food truck for your reception.

Wedding receptions are what caterers do. They know how to serve large crowds and how to put together a menu to please an array of palates. Their entire business model is based on feeding many hungry people at once.

Food trucks have a totally different mode of operating. Most food trucks are not set up to serve 50 people that show up at once. Your guests may end up spending half the entire reception waiting in line for food. They also are likely to have a limited menu.

The explosion in popularity of food trucks has also led to a decline in quality. Cities like Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon — both foodie heavens — are where food trucks got their reputation as Michelin 5-Star restaurants on wheels. But just because food is being served out of a van doesn’t mean it is good or fresh. We’ve seen food truck receptions where the guests waited an hour in line for a sub-par meal that cost more than what a caterer would have charged. If you do plan to go this route, make sure they have a local business license and are registered with the Department of Professional Regulation (for Florida) having the applicable Catering License.

Bottom line: If someone is good at serving large crowds at once (which is what you will most likely want for your reception), they are not doing it out of a truck.

Let them eat cake!

It’s going to be one of the sweetest days of your life, so bring on dessert!

More and more couples are being creative with dessert – options like cupcakes, doughnuts, and ice cream. Instead of a traditional wedding cake, they’ll have a dessert or ‘candy’ station. This fits with the non-traditional nature of a beach wedding.

But — many couples still want the traditional wedding cake, so here are a few pointers for you:

  • Bakers typically have one or two flavors that they can do perfectly, and you are paying for their secret sauce. For example, one local caterer specializes in a marble cheesecake, and they are known throughout the area for this delicacy. In other words, you don’t want your wedding day to be an experiment.
  • A word of warning — wedding cakes can be expensive because you are not just paying for a cake. You are paying for the skill and artistry that goes into creating something both tasty and beautiful. There will probably be some customization. You need someone who knows how to transport large baked goods. You need it to be safely made. And you want it to be delicious.
  • Cakes are priced on a per-slice basis. If your caterer serves the cake (even if you buy the cake from a separate baker), you will get charged a cake-cutting fee. This is standard throughout the industry.
  • If you are on a tight budget, the beloved Florida based grocery chain Publix is your solution. Publix-baked cakes are delicious, and we’ve never seen anyone unhappy with a piece of Publix cake in hand. More and more, their selections rival serious bakers.
  • If you end up bringing your own cake, make sure it stays refrigerated in the hours leading up to being served. Remember, it is Florida, and you don’t want the icing to liquefy when you cut into the cake because it’s been baking under the Florida sun for the last few hours. The best location to ensure the cake is safe is the restaurant or reception venue, these locations typically have very large refrigerators and are used to this request.

To smear, or not to smear?

Should we smear cake in each other’s face?

Witnessing thousands of cake-cutting ceremonies, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. For some couples, it is a silly and lighthearted moment.

Generally, these couples don’t go overboard, and they don’t seem hell-bent on smearing icing all over their new spouse’s face.

But, trust me, we’ve seen it go sideways.

Brides in tears, cakes ruined, and a couple’s first fight coming mere hours after the ceremony. It’s fun in the beginning…but turns messy quickly!

Keep in mind that – most likely – the bride has spent hours preparing her waterproof makeup. You two just proclaimed your lifelong commitment to one another in a sacred ceremony. Is it really the best time to start a food fight?

As a happily married man who did not slam my wife’s face into our wedding cake, I might say no. As a spectator, I might say yes.

If you do decide to go the food fight route, make sure you keep it civil.

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