How to Feed Your Picky Wedding Guests

The secret to pleasing the dietarily demanding at your wedding.

Illustration by Britt Spencer.

The groom is a foodie who wants the menu to be locally sourced. The mother of the bride has gone vegetarian. And her mother insists that it isn’t a wedding without those little pastry-wrapped hot dogs.

It’s enough to give a bride heartburn.

Thankfully, there are solutions to most reception dining dilemmas. If the groom wants field-grown tomatoes in January, he’ll have to go pretty far afield. But there are enough chicken raisers, cheese makers, vintners, and other purveyors close to Washington to give your reception a home-grown ambience. Your caterer can help you devise a farm-to-table menu, and even serve it family style.

The vegetarian mother? She isn’t an obstacle. Special-menu requests are on the increase—low-fat, gluten-free, vegan— and customizing your menu may be as easy as changing the ingredients of a sauce or offering a wild-rice pilaf instead of a potato gratin.

As for Grandma and any other family member with a very specific request—my son-in-law staked his claim to steak—that’s why God invented hors d’oeuvres. Cocktail hour is also the place to indulge the couple’s passion for food that run-of-the-mill palates might eschew. Bring on the eel sushi—as long as it’s one of several choices.

Many brides ask their guests to mention special dietary restrictions in their RSVP, and some invitees on a restrictive diet will tell you even if you don’t ask. Your unflinching caterer should be able and willing to make accommodations. She also will know not to hide the nuts or bury the shrimp in any dish she prepares—there’s nothing like a case of anaphylactic shock to ruin a good reception.

And the guest who shows up and makes on-the-spot demands? You can’t expect the kitchen to instantly produce a kosher meal, but there should still be something on the menu that can fill in. If all else fails, the troublesome one can eat the garnish.

One question wedding couples should ask, but rarely do: How much food do we need to serve? Menus can be unnecessary budget-busters, so keeping an eye on the length of the guest list and on portion size is a smart move.

You do need to offer enough food with cocktails so that guests don’t stagger drunkenly into the reception, and after all those canapés, you may not need to provide an appetizer. And assuming your wedding cake tastes as good as it looks, an additional dessert isn’t required. All the recent hoopla over dessert bars and candy corners—even cupcake food trucks—doesn’t mean guests are expecting anything beyond the traditional tiers.

A bride and groom should go above and beyond in accommodating their guests, but there is a limit when it comes to pleasing unreasonable people. One couple stated specifically on their wedding invitation that the affair was adults-only. A wedding guest brought her children anyway, and then complained about the lack of kid-friendly food at the reception. My advice for that astonished bride: Suggest that the mother and her offspring head to the nearest fast-food establishment with all deliberate speed.

And ignore the counsel of a certain French queen: Don’t let them eat the cake.

Are You Engaged? (Congratulations!) Get Our Wedding Inspo Newsletter

Advice, inspiration, and ideas for your Washington wedding.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.