Choosing the Style of Meal

So many decisions will go into planning your reception- after all this is the party "they" are referring to when you hear that it's 'The Biggest Party of Your Life'. One of the bigger decisions will be the menu, and how you will serve it. When I meet with a bride, I always ask questions that go beyond just how they want their reception to look- I want to get a picture of the feeling they're after. Are you picturing coziness with lots of mingling? Or maybe you've got your heart on the grandest of White Tie affairs. The dinner portion of your reception will take up a good hour or more of your reception, so you'll want to be sure to match the style of meal to the style of reception you're after.

Family Style

This is a growing trend, and it's a fresh take the buffet style dinner. Instead of having your guests wait in a line with their plates to grab their food, your caterer will place the food in the center of each guest table. This style of meal encourages your guests to chat with one another since they will be passing dishes. If you have a large guest count, a family style meal will cut down on line and wait time, thus lowering the amount of time you have to allot for dinner. If you are planning a semi-formal to more casual event, this is a great option.

Cons: because the entire meal is placed in the center of the table, you will have to cut down considerably on the amount of items on the table- centerpieces, favors, etc.

Heavy Hors D'oeuvres

Many caterers and brides alike consider a buffet with heavy hors d'oeuvres a great meal option, and it's especially popular here in Idaho. While this is a buffet style meal, it's a popular option because you're able to offer a wide variety of food, with the cost being comparable to a single entree meal option. This style of meal is good for a semi-formal event, and is fine to serve right at normal dinner hours. Just be sure to pick out true heavy hors d'oeuvres- filling items like sandwiches, quiches, meat kabobs, etc., as your guests will likely eat and drink the same as they would at an event hosting a full meal.

Cons: Many brides automatically choose heavy hors because they think it will cost less. Because your caterer will naturally have to gross up the amount of food by about 10% (no one follows the "two per person rule". Trust me. It's just a good formula to get a base calculation of the amount of food you're looking at), and you'll have to provide enough of a variety to fill your guests up, the cost will almost always be the same, if not more, than a full entree meal.


The plated meal is best for the formal evening wedding. Your guests will likely have assigned seating, and each course of meal will be passed by servers. Other variations on the plated meal would be to have the salad and bread course already placed by the time your guests are seated, or if you're opposed to having full separate courses, servers can bring plates with small portions of the full meal to your guests.

Cons: While not really a con, more of a reminder that you'll have to allot much more time for the dinner portion of your timeline to allow adequate time for your guests to finish each course and for the passing and removal of plates in between those courses.

Light Hors D'oeuvres or Dessert Style

The least formal style of meal options, the light hors and dessert receptions are best offered at times other than the normal dinner (or lunch) hours. A dessert reception is great if you're planning a later wedding and reception, say 8 o'clock. The light hors option is great for either a later party or even a day-time wedding. In either case, choose times other than 4-6 pm (normal dinner hours) or 12-2 pm (normal lunch hours). No matter what, I think it's always a good idea to mention the meal style in your invitations: "Light snacks and beverages to follow" or "Desserts and Champagne to follow" are good ways to make sure your guests don't show up starving.

These are just some of the options you can consider when planning your reception meal. What other ideas have you (or your caterer) come up with? If your wedding has already passed, what did you like or didn't like about the style of meal you chose?

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