If you’ve been to Spain in the past, then you have experienced delicious 3-course lunch specials menús del día (that are the norm for any spaniard), delectable café con leche served with a scrumptious bocadillo de jamón or mind-blowing tapas that can be found in any run-of-the-mill, ordinary neighborhood bar.
Spaniards are extremely demanding about their cuisine – nobody can beat them when it comes to cooking up a delicious meal! Unsurprisingly, the meal is the most important part of a wedding for locals. Spaniards remember a specific wedding because of the delicious meal they had rather than the location or décor.
If you are a foodie and want to have superb food on the day of your wedding, look no further – Spain is the right place for you! Given Spaniards’ high culinary demands, you are guaranteed that only the best catering companies are present in the Spanish market. It’s as simple as this: if the catering company doesn’t provide a delicious meal that wows the wedding guests and will have them talking for years to come, they won’t be in business for too long!
When you begin working on your wedding and receive quotes from caterers, however, you may be surprised to see that the per person costs are much higher here in comparison to catering costs in other countries. Especially in northern Spain, where pricing starts at 150€ per head (give or take), it’s important to have a clear understanding of what is included as part of the per person catering costs.
But before we go into the nitty-gritty details of everything that is provided as part of the catering service, let’s bear in mind that on average, the catering costs will make up roughly 70% of your total wedding costs. So, once you’ve decided on a caterer and have decided on your wedding meal, it is smooth sailing from then on. The rest of the services required for a wedding such as photography, videography, décor, etc., will add up the remaining 30% of your wedding costs.
What does a traditional wedding menu in Spain consist of?
Appetizer and appetizer open bar: This is also known as the cocktail hour in many countries. This is served before dinner, and it consists of an abundance of warm and cold dishes, served in small portions. The appetizers are very relaxed, laid-back and informal. This is an opportunity to mingle, chat with different groups of people and explore the venue. An appetizer open bar is provided throughout the entire duration of the appetizers, which is about 1,5hours. A traditional appetizer service includes:
- 16 to 20 hot and cold appetizers: These are small portions of large main dishes, served in convenient yet cute bite-sized portions. They’re unlike hors d’oerves, finger food or canapés in that they are actual local dishes (you won’t find “pigs in blankets”, for example). You can also opt to have traditional tapas. The appetizers are cooked on-site, and are served on appetizer tables as well as by waiters. The waiters walk around the appetizer area and politely ask the guests if they would like an appetizer. Each waiter serves one to two types of appetizers at a time, and if a guest wants to know what it is, the waiter is happy to explain.
- 1 or 2 buffet stations with show-cooking (optional): These are in addition to the appetizers. The buffet stations are arranged in the appetizer area, on various tables. Each buffet station is tended to by a waiter. The guests walk up to the table, ask the waiter for a plate of food, and the waiter serves them. The caterers take into account that this is served while the guests are standing and mingling, so the small portions are quite comfortable for them to eat while they mingle. One of the most popular buffet stations for the appetizers is a paella buffet station, with show-cooking. The chef brings out the partly-cooked paella in a large pan and finishes cooking it in front of the guests (which they love!) The show-cooking is thought to be something fun and interactive without taking away from the wedding. Another very popular appetizer station is a leg of Spanish ham, sliced in front of the guests by an expert.
- Appetizer Open Bar: The open bar included in the appetizer is quite varied and includes soft alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Cava, white wine, red wine, beer, soft drinks and an assortment of juices are just a few of the beverages in the appetizer open bar.
- What else do we need to know about appetizers? The appetizers are not all brought out at the same time; rather, they are brought out little by little. That way, the guests can enjoy all of the appetizers during the entire time. In terms of the set-up, the caterers arrange small tables and high bar tables in the appetizer area. Since it is an informal part of the reception, there are chairs provided for only half of the guests. The rest of the guests remain standing.
Sit-down dinner and dinner beverages: Traditionally, this is the more formal part of the wedding; however, many Couples are now opting to have an informal dinner rather than a protocol-driven seated banquet dinner. Pricing varies from a sit-down dinner in comparison to an informal dinner, however it is not necessarily more affordable. I have addressed this in part 2 of this post, click here for the full article.
As part of your wedding dinner, you will enjoy the following:
- Starter & main course: A starter can be quite varied, from a fresh cherry gazpacho soup to a hearty fish entreé. A main course in a standard wedding is usually beef, duck, lamb or suckling iberic pork. Chicken is considered to be inappropriate for a wedding banquet meal, as Spaniards regard it as blue-collar food.
- Quantity of food: Each course is quite abundant. The presentation on the plate is not minimalist with a lot of decorations on the plate, unless that is, of course, your preference. At the menu tasting you can see how the food is presented in the plate.
- Beverages during dinner: All of the beverages are included as part of the catering service. There are no hidden corkage or “per bottle” fees in Spain, unless you specifically request to be billed per bottle. Traditionally white wine and red wine are provided, although your guests are free to ask their waiter for a different beverage, such as a soft drink or beer. You will be given various options of wines to choose from at the menu tasting; the wine you choose at the tasting will be provided on the day of the wedding. The caterer will not bring an unlimited supply of wine; before the wedding, the caterer will confirm the amount of wine that will be provided for your wedding, to ensure that you will have an abundant supply of wine throughout the wedding.
- What else do we need to know about the sit-down dinner? Contrary to what is customary in other countries, guests are not given a choice on the day of the wedding. Everyone has the same starter and main course, which you will have decided upon before your wedding day. In order to please all of your guests, however, we recommend that you ask your guests to choose their meal ahead of time and let you know if they have any specific request in terms of the meal. Once you’ve gathered this information from your guests, you should notify the caterer so that on the day of the wedding they can foresee how many guests will want the beef, fish, vegetarian or vegan meals. Another huge difference: a traditional Spanish wedding does not include dancing in between each course. Spaniards sit down for dinner and do not begin dancing until after they have had dessert, Cava and coffee.
Wedding cake: Due to its symbolism as being the first task done by the Couple as husband and wife, the ritual of cutting the cake is quite important in a wedding. However, in a traditional Spanish wedding, the style and look of the cake is not as important as in an American wedding, for example. Spanish Couples prioritize flavor over aesthetics and most of them opt to have a tasty, delicious wedding cake made of traditional recipes such as Sacher, Black Forest or Meringue, among others. The wedding cake is provided by the catering service with a large variety of cakes to choose from, which vary from one caterer to another:
1. You can opt to have a non-edible dummy cake that is presented for the cake-cutting ritual but is not eaten. There is usually only one type of dummy cake for you to choose from, which is provided free of charge. The wedding cake seems edible but it is in fact a dummy (hollow) cake. Dessert is provided as per your selection at the menu tasting.
2. An edible cake that is presented for the cake-cutting ritual, taken back into the kitchen, cut and served as part of your dessert. There are various types of cakes for you to choose from, free of charge; however, the style of the cake is always the same. For example, you can choose a Massini cake, but the caterer will always present it in the same style: 3 rectangular cakes on a cake tower composed of 3 levels – this is just an example!
Of course, you can opt to outsource a wedding cake that is designed based on your wedding colors, style and personal preferences – the sky’s the limit! This service is outsourced to a pastry chef, either through the caterer, your wedding planner or you can search for a pastry chef on your own. The caterer will then deduct the cost of the traditional wedding cake from the per person price.
What else is included as part of the per person catering costs? Other elements provided by the caterer for a traditional Spanish wedding service includes:
- During dinner: The caterers provide freshly baked bread during the starter and the main course. There are different kinds of breads that can be offered. Cava is offered during the cake-cutting ritual. Coffee and Tea is offered after the dessert or cake. Petit fours, which are small sweets, are served with coffee and tea. After-dinner liqueurs such as Schnapps, Kahlua, and Bailey’s, among others, are provided, free of charge, after your guests have finished their dessert or cake, and before moving to the dance floor.
- Open bar for the Party: Upon finalization of Dinner, an Open Bar service is provided during the Party. The duration of the open bar service is agreed upon with the caterer beforehand, as well as the type of bar and beverages (i.e., premium brands, signature cocktails, etc.) to be offered to your guests. Alcohol is always included in the menu price; I will address the costings of the open bar service and all alcohol-related concerns in part 3 of this post.
- Special menus: The caterers can provide special menus upon your request. They are able to create vegetarian, vegan, celiac or other menus based on your guests’ specific needs. The caterer will have to be notified of the number and the type of special needs menus required for your wedding, at least one month before your wedding. Children’s menus are also provided, at a reduced rate. The menus include kid-friendly food, such as hamburgers, pasta, breaded chicken cutlet, french fries, ice cream, etc.
- Kitchen, set-up, cleaning and breakdown staff
- Standard linens for tables and chair covers
- Standard printed menus and seating chart
- Large (round) tables for dinner
- Small tables and high bar tables for appetizers
- Chairs for dinner
- Chairs for the appetizers, for about half of the guests
- Tableware, crockery, cutlery and glassware
- All other necessary equipment
- Transport to the Venue
- Set-up and breakdown
Now that you have a clearer understanding of what a traditional Spanish wedding menu consists of I hope it is easier for you to see why catering costs will make up a large chunk of your wedding budget, and properly assess which catering company will offer you the best deal for your budget. Enjoy your destination wedding in Spain!
Photo Credits: Sensacions Catering, Andrea Ferrara & Marcelo Augelli