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Hors d’oeuvres, wedding planners will tell you, set the tone for the rest of the evening. “If presented beautifully, they create a sense of excitement at the beginning of the party, an immediate impact,” says wedding planner Marina Birch, of Birch Design Studio, one of the city’s high-end event producers. Two of the caterers we interviewed reported that cocktail receptions serving hors d’oeuvres only—typically lasting three or so hours—have become popular recently.
With that in mind, we arranged comprehensive tastings with six top caterers serving the Chicago area who have the wherewithal to pull off a large-scale wedding. After making selections from a large menu of choices, we tasted, took notes, and picked the caterer’s best entry in each of six categories: meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, vegetarian, and “wildcard,” a free-for-all grouping meant to capture a particularly novel dish. For each pick, we give a “yes” or “no” rating (Y or N)—based on presentation and taste—to indicate whether we would order it if actually planning a wedding, then explain why. Assuming a three-hour cocktail reception for 100 guests, we also asked the caterers to calculate the cost per person for the six passed hors d’oeuvres (all prices include necessary serving dishes, forks, and trays, as well as cooking and serving staff, tax, and delivery). The results: