It’s not just the flavor of the food that makes your wedding dinner (or lunch or brunch or what have you) successful. First, you have to start with the right model. Depending on the formality of your wedding, your budget and the other events planned for the reception, you may want a sit-down dinner, a buffet or maybe just appetizers. Here’s your guide to figuring which of these top 4 wedding reception food ideas is best for you.

Sit-Down Dinner

Vibe: Traditional, elegant, formal

Why choose it: You want people to take their time with the food. You don’t want people to have to work for it (especially important if there are many children and seniors attending). You want the full monty. You want to do wine pairings.

Great for: Dinner

Cost: Usually more expensive than buffets, but ask your caterer for a comparison. Because the caterer will know exactly how much food is needed, and because the range of food provided is smaller, a sit-down meal could be cheaper.

Keep in mind: Fewer options for guests means what you do serve should be top-notch, since guests won’t have the choice of taking more or less depending on what they prefer.

Wedding Receptions Sit Down Dinner

 

Buffet

Vibe: Relaxed, casual

Why choose it: You want to provide lots of options. You want to encourage mingling. You want the food (i.e. the buffet table) to literally be front and center. You want to keep things moving so there is time for other activities.

Great for: Brunch, dinner

Cost: Buffets can be cheaper than sit-down dinners because there are lower-cost options like salads, quiches

Keep in mind: Organization is key. Especially if you have a large wedding, have the MC dismiss people in increments to keep a long line from forming.

Wedding Buffet Food

 

Cocktail Reception*

Vibe: Classy, lively

Why choose it: You have a huge guest list. You’re getting married at night. You’re on a budget. You love finger-foods. You want the focus on the party, not necessarily the food.

Cost: This is your cheapest option. There are lots of appetizers that are elegant yet low-cost.

Great for: After lunch or after dinner

Keep in mind: Make sure it’s clear to guests that a meal won’t be served, so they don’t arrive ravenous. Serving tons of appetizers could cost as much as feeding guests a full meal if they come prepared to chow down.

*A cocktail reception can mean hors d’oeuvres only, dessert only, or hors d’oeuvres and dessert.

Cocktail Wedding Reception

 

Food Stations

Vibe: Fun, casual

Why choose it: You want the food to be part of the entertainment. You want guests to be able to personalize their experience.

Cost: You’re paying for several chefs to be on-site, which will up the price. On the other hand, you need fewer wait staff since guests are serving themselves.

Great for: Brunch (think omelet stations). Themes (think one country’s cuisine per station, for example).

Keep in mind: Food stations take time – watching the chef cook and compose the meal is part of the wedding entertainment. Guests who patiently await their food to be made fresh shouldn’t be rushed to gulp it down in order to be ready for the next reception activity.

Wedding Food Bar

 

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