Reception Food

Last updated: November 22, 2009

Food Food
Who doesn’t love food?!  Mostly likely, your guests are going to come to your reception ready to eat!  Your reception should include food that everyone (including you!) will like.  Also keep in mind that certain guests may have special diets (diabetic, vegetarian, etc.) or food allergies, so be sure to have a nice variety of food.  You might also want to consider a children’s menu.  Most kids don’t want to eat “fancy” food, so if you will have youngsters at your reception, maybe offer a menu of chicken nuggets, fish sticks, french fries, mac and cheese, hotdogs, etc.

There are many questions to ask yourself when deciding on reception food:
Do you want to have a full course meal?
Hors d'oeuvres?
Dessert and coffee?  
Do you want a buffet or sit down meal?  
A certain cuisine, or mix it up?  
Do you want to have wait staff, or self-serve?  

The kind of food you have at your reception can depend on a number of things:

Food can easily be the most expensive part of your wedding expenses.  Plan your budget to see what you can and cannot afford.  If you are on a low budget, consider serving some light hors d'oeuvres instead of a three course meal.  Also, many venues offer special packages where food is included, allowing you to choose from certain menus.    

Guest count
The number of guests can greatly influence your food choice, especially when keeping a budget in mind.  Your caterer may choose to charge per person, or a flat rate for a certain number of people.  If you have a large number of guests, you might want to go with a nice grilled chicken instead of that tempting filet mignon.  

If you decide to go with a certain theme for your wedding, then you might want to serve food that compliments that theme.  Here are some examples of what your menu could look like:

Luau theme- roasted pig, chicken long rice, salmon, coconut pudding
Ocean theme- shrimp, oysters, lobsters, crab, caviar
Fall theme- turkey, corn, roast beef, pork tenderloin, fried ravioli
Country western theme- BBQ, chili, hot dogs, hamburgers, baked beans
Tuscan theme- ham, salami, ravioli, stuffed eggplant, spinach, olives, bread, soft cheese
Your choice of food may depend on the location of your reception.  Will your reception be in a hotel ballroom, outside on the beach, in a garden, country club, personal home, yacht?  For example, a formal meal would be ideal in a hotel ballroom, and a nice cuisine of seafood would be great for a seaside reception.  The type of food may also depend on your geographic location.  For instance, Southern U.S. regions are known for great BBQ, Tex-Mex, and Creole.  Northeast U.S. regions are known for pizza, hotdogs, and seafood.

Popular food (by state):
New England clam chowder- Massachusetts
Pizza- New York
Cajun, Creole- Louisiana
BBQ- Texas
Crab- Maryland
Cheesesteak- Philadelphia

The time of day might influence what kind of food you have at your reception.  For example, a brunch is good for a morning reception (usually between 11am and 2pm), hors d'oeuvres are great for a mid afternoon reception, sit-down meals are great for an evening reception.

Tasty brunch options: frittatas, smoked salmon and veggies, omelets, fruit salad, pastries, bagels
Delicious afternoon options: cheese and crackers, veggies with dip, fresh fruit, tea sandwiches, pasta, deviled eggs
Yummy dinner options: grilled chicken, steak, grilled veggies, pasta, salad

Formal events tend to have a seated meal, whereas less formal events often have a buffet.  A formal meal can be more elegant.  If you have a more informal meal, it allows your guests to feel more relaxed and may liven up your crowd a bit.  Your theme, reception site, time of day, and budget all can make a difference on whether you choose to have a formal or informal meal.

Advantages of a sit down meal:
  • Formal and elegant
  • Especially helpful to elderly guests and guest with small children
  • Guests won’t have to wait in line
  • Each guest gets the same portion of food
Menu ideas: lobster, steak, grilled chicken, garden salad, salmon, marinated roast, potatoes, veggies, rolls

Advantages of a buffet meal:
  • More casual and comfortable
  • Usually less expensive than sit down dinners
  • Guests have a variety of food options to choose from
  • Buffets encourage guests to leave their table and mingle with each other
Menu ideas: Brisket, BBQ ribs, lasagna, meatballs, egg rolls, crab cakes, pasta salad

Advantages of hors d'oeuvre party:
  • Less expensive
  • Allows you to be more creative to incorporate a theme
  • Guests have a variety of food options to choose from
  • Great for more of a snack, instead of a full meal
Menu ideas: Crab dip with crackers, stuffed mushrooms, mini quiche, mini pizzas, cheese and crackers, pigs in blankets, pasta salad, shrimp cocktail, fresh fruit, veggies with dip

Advantages of a brunch:
  • Less expensive
  • Can be formal with smoked salmon, or casual with donuts
  • Most original meal, guests will remember your unique brunch menu
Menu ideas: frittatas, smoked salmon, pancakes, Belgian waffles, donuts, bagels, pastries, omelets, french toast

Find your caterer:
  • Find a caterer in our wedding vendor directory
  • Ask friends and family if they know of any good caterers in your area
  • Large event facilities, hotels, and country clubs usually have in-house caterers
  • Ask your favorite restaurant to cater your reception

Once you have found a potential caterer, make an appointment with them to sit down and discuss details.  Schedule a tasting with them to try the food you are interested in.

Questions to ask your caterer:
1.    What are the menu options?
2.    Can they coordinate with a certain theme (if applicable)?
3.    What is the average price range?  
4.    Is there an all inclusive flat rate, or do costs depends on each kind of food you choose?
5.    What is included in the price? (gratuities, tax, fees, etc.)
6.    Will they provide wait staff?  What is their attire?
7.    Will they prepare the food on-site or transport from their facility?
8.    What is the quality of their food?  
9.    How will the food be arranged?
10.    Do they provide full table service?  Buffet service?
11.    Do they have other events to cater on that same day?
12.    Will they provide tables, chairs, plates, silverware, linens, etc.?
13.    Do they set the table, put out place cards, favors, etc.?
14.    Can they prepare vegetarian meals (if applicable)?
15.    Can they provide alcohol?  If so, what kind and price?
16.    Do they also do wedding cakes? (See our article on wedding cakes)
Find local caterers in our wedding vendor directory.