Your words are my food, your breath my wine. SARAH BERNHARDT

After the all-important bridal gown, the catering is one of the most important ingredients for a memorable wedding. There are two options here: find a reception venue that has excellent food, or locate one that will let you bring in the caterer of your choice.

The chief factors to bear in mind when looking for a caterer are: quality of food, level of service, and ability to deliver on the finer details. You need to find someone who listens to you and understands what you consider most important. At the same time, you also need a caterer with the experience to be able to take your ideas and create a winning wedding day formula!

Start looking for a caterer at least nine months prior to your wedding. Ask your venue whether they have a list of preferred suppliers; consider your options, find out who’s available on your chosen date, and arrange a meeting. Look at their portfolio, enquire as to whether they have adequate facilities and are backed by a professional team, and find out where they source their produce. Ask whether they are able to meet specific menu requirements, such as Halaal, Kosher or vegetarian.

If your budget is limited, let your caterer know what it is so they’re able to work out a package to suit your needs. Check whether things like VAT, tableware and linen are included in the price, and when the deposit and final payment is required. Organising a tasting is also a good idea as this lets you sample the food and assess presentation first-hand.

On the menu

With in-house catering, the typical choices are either a buffet or seated dinner. Using an independent caterer tends to give you much greater flexibility. Tasting stations are very popular as they allow your guests to sample an assortment of party food. While Italian and Greek delicacies are always favourites, so too are Middle Eastern dishes from regions like Morocco, Turkey and Israel. Spicy food is a ‘hot’ choice, and includes Korean and Latin American inspired menus. And how about your very own sushi bar complete with a sushi chef?

Whatever your final choice, try to ensure that the menu features a wide range of different tastes, satisfying your personal preferences as well as providing guests with food that they’re comfortable with.

Look for menus that work well with the time of year; for example, light, fresh dishes in spring and summer and heartier, more robust meals in autumn and winter. Another idea is to put a menu together that reflects the different backgrounds of the bride and groom, or particular dishes that are of special significance to them, with family-style food very big news right now.

In addition to (and sometimes instead of) a wedding cake, some couples are now opting for a decadent dessert table with pies, éclairs, truffles and tarts. Dessert stations might comprise milkshake or gelato bars, custom-made crepes or a decadent chocolate fondue, while plated desserts could include exciting flavour combinations such as apricot and basil or salted caramel.

The wedding cake

The traditional wedding cake is a large, multi-layered or tiered affair made from a heavy fruit mix and decorated with icing (often over a layer of marzipan) or fondant.

These days, however, anything goes! A naked cake dusted with icing sugar and berries is perfect for a rustic wedding, while a delicious coffee-flavoured creation would suit a morning wedding, and a rich and sophisticated chocolate cake with an orange flavour accent would do well for a formal affair.

Flavours can also be chosen according to the season; for example, a light lemon cake in summer and a creamy mocha, praline or fruit cake in winter.

The textured look is very on-trend, and includes cakes patterned with lace, pleats and ruffles, feather or flower details. While pink is still a favoured colour, shining metallics – seen in Baroque-style cakes gleaming with golden frosting – are the latest word in wedding fashion.

Bright and bold floral motifs are also very contemporary, and organic floral designs comprising climbing vines and flowers are one of the forecast trends for 2016.

Liquid refreshments

Guests are traditionally given a drink or arrival, such as a glass of rum punch, champagne or a Pimms cocktail. There should be both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages available. At the table, it is standard to provide white and red wine (usually a 50-50 split, although this depends on the season and time of day), as well as still and sparkling water, and a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine for toasts.

Prosecco or pink champagne is a favourite, as are champagne cocktails infused with fruit purées or liqueurs such as Aperol or crème de cassis. Beverage stations could offer anything from craft beers to signature cocktails, sangria or flavoured lemonades.

While an open bar will take up approximately 15 percent of the total wedding budget, this figure could drop to as little as 5 percent if you’re limiting drinks to beer and wine, or supplying alcohol and other beverages yourself.

If opting for a cash bar, it’s still a good idea to put a set amount towards wine and beer, and include a complimentary welcome drink. Two bartenders and three servers are recommended for every 120 guests.