WESSINGTON SPRINGS — Planning a wedding can be both an exciting and frustrating process. There are invitations to send out, a wedding party to be outfitted, venues to be selected and budgets and prices to be balanced. And often, there is a reception meal to plan.

While traditional wedding receptions often host hundreds of guests celebrating the big day, COVID-19 upset many of those plans during the 2020 wedding season, causing postponements or outright cancellations out of concern for health and safety. Now, as active cases of the disease continue to ebb and vaccine distribution is ramping up, some couples are hoping to celebrate their big day with a group reception.

Heather Larson, owner of Sweet Grass in downtown Wessington Springs, has been catering large events for years after she opened her eatery and bakery in 2012. She has catered many weddings, receptions and graduations, as well as other events such as cattle shows and bull sales. The COVID-19 pandemic took a cut out of her catering business last year, but that aspect of her business has slowly begun to pick up again.

Larson gave some advice recently for first-time wedding planners on some of the ins and outs of creating a successful reception meal. She said it is good to have a general idea of the style of meal the planning party wants served.

“Most of the time, people come to us and ask us about prices and what we cater. One of the questions I have for them is — is this a sit down event that is being served, or a buffet line where we’re trying to hold food?” Larson said. “That can depend on what kind of meat I recommend, as some hold better on a buffet line than others.”

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Another consideration is where the event will be held. Some venues require receptions to use their own in-house catering. So if the future bride and groom prefer to work with a particular caterer, it is prudent to coordinate to make sure the caterer and venue will work together.

Sweet Grass will cater events within a 150-mile radius, Larson said.

“We go out pretty far, but of course some venues require that you actually purchase the meal from them. That’s another thing to consider,” Larson said. “You may have to consider a different venue or catering option.”

Once those decisions are made, it comes down to the personal taste of the planners and the desired tone of the meal. Larson said she prefers to have the food and tone of the event to be in close harmony.

“It is down to individual tastes. What is their style of wedding? If you have a laid back event, you may want to go with smoked meats. If you have a more upscale event, you may want the prime rib or French dip. It depends on the atmosphere of the wedding,” Larson said. “I like everything to match. I like (the food and style) to all collaborate together — the designs match the wedding cake and the feeling to match the food.”

Some caterers can replicate particular family recipes or other dishes the couple may request, Larson said. Requests for specific recipes have increased as people explore online sources like Pinterest or shows on the Food Network.

“For us, in general, we do (recreate requested dishes). If someone has an actual recipe for the wedding, we will do it,” Larson said. “We tailored one that was all based on Argentine food choices. Working with smaller caterers can allow you to specialize.”

There are other things to consider, as well. Larson said planners should consider their catering options as far as eight months out before the wedding, to allow for flexibility in booking and coordination with potential venues. She also said planners should really only prepare for who is expected to attend and not worry as much about those who may show up or those who may have to bow out at the last minute.

“On the dessert and cake side, don’t plan on extras, just stick to who you have coming. For the meals, maybe just go slightly above the number of people you have reserved,” Larson said. “There are always people who don’t show up, and it’s about the same number of people who show up unexpectedly. To avoid extra cost, just stick with the number you have and it should regulate itself out.”