Click here toread more from Slate's wedding issue.
But my cynical side sees more insidious reasons for food that is inevitably for worse rather than for better. Wedding couples are different from the average party planners, thinking primarily of themselves, and choosing menus for meals they will not eat. They're far too distracted as stars of the show, and know no one will say anything except how wonderful everything is. Why should they care that the sole amandine goes untouched?
Poke around a few Internet message boards where future brides are wondering how much they can economize on the food, and the feedback is painfully blunt. No one remembers the food, they say, so skimp with abandon; the only thing worse than forgettable is memorable for the wrong reasons—think food poisoning. As long as no one gets sick, they imply, you can be as cheap as you want—and, of course, that leaves plenty of money for ridiculous favors the guests neither want nor need.
Simple is not an adjective any bridal party wants to consider, but it can be the salvation of the reception. I have cooked for up to 100 at parties by sticking to dishes that will hold up as well as the bride is expected to. One big niçoise salad, for instance, would be a better bet than dozens of individual grilled tuna steaks with vegetables. Anyone facing down a catering hall menu would be wise to choose the least embellished options; the more ingredients, the higher the risk of glop. Passed hors d'oeuvres are more manageable for a caterer than appetizer stations. And no matter how dramatic a marzipan-encrusted, rose-bedecked tiered wedding cake looks, what people will remember is the dark-chocolate sheet cake they can actually sink a fork into.
Of course, all that advice flies in the face of reality: Weddings are the rare party not given for the guests. Even birthdays take participants into account more, possibly because pomp and ceremony are not allowed to spiral out of control. Instead weddings are a celebration of the hosts' fantasies, dreams, and ultimately, their competitive streaks—what couple does not want the extravaganza to end all extravaganzas? Girls who spend their whole lives dreaming of being brides see everything around them as an accessory. Flowers enhance their beauty. Food, not so much.
And that brings me to what could very well be the biggest problem with wedding feasts: Brides spend months leading up to the event dieting to fit into the perfect dress. Let's face it: On the big day, they're just not into food.