There are many factors to take in consideration when planning for your wedding catering. Just as with all other things associated with your wedding, keep in mind that your catering should match the mood and feel of the proceedings. (Basically, don’t have a full sit-down three-course meal for an informal wedding with a few friends!)
The most important factor to take into consideration when deciding whether to have a full meal or a cocktail party is the budget of whoever is paying for it. Politely discuss this with that person and decide the best route to take from there. Even you’re paying for your own wedding, stay in budget. A wedding is not a reason to go into debt.
Once you’ve established which way to serve food based on the budget (and, of course, which one your preference is), the next move is to plan your wedding day based on this information. If you’re planning on a 3 p.m. wedding and a 5 p.m. reception, your guests are going to expect a sit-down dinner, even if it’s a small one. For morning weddings, brunch would be a nice touch for a reception. Heavy hors d’oeuvres are fine for a reception after a noon wedding. For an evening wedding, a cocktail party would be a nice way to end the day.
Then, choose who is going to cater to your wedding. If you’re going to go with a professional caterer, remember that he should respect your wishes about what should be served. (That doesn’t give you carte blanch to treat your caterer horribly and make last minute changes.) Also, just because your mother’s cousin’s boyfriend’s sister’s roommate knows how to cook doesn’t mean you should trust her to your wedding catering. There’s nothing wrong with having family members cook, but make sure it’s someone you know and trust to cook a large meal or large amounts of hors d’oeuvres.
Finally, set an appropriate menu for your reception. Even for the most formal of dinners, don’t let the caterer twist your arm into serving roasted duck spleen or some other odd delicacy. Keep the menu simple to make sure to appeal to most people. You’ll never be able to please everyone or meet everyone’s dietary restrictions, so keeping it simple and giving a bit of variety will help.