Reception Food and Drink Guide 

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You have set the budget, created the guest list, found an excellent reception location, but now have no idea where to begin when it comes to serving your guests.  Whether you envision your perfect wedding as a simple and small gathering or an all-out, all-night bash, we are here to help you.  

Planning: Theme and Style

If you have chosen a theme for your wedding, it is best to keep your food and drink to match that theme and formality. 

  • Think about location.  It is best to think about where you are having your wedding and when, and do your research before choosing any kind of menu! 
    • Consider the food of the season in addition to your locale. 
    • If you are planning on a destination wedding, look into incorporating the local flair into your dishes. 
    • Countryside weddings  may want to put comfort foods or various types of game on the menu.    
    • Urban weddings may choose to have trendy food or the latest gourmet designs present. 
  • Size matters.  Think about how large your guest list is, as you won't want to be feeding 200 people a filet mignon dinner  if you cannot afford it.
    • If you are planning a smaller wedding, the food will certainly be important and you will want to make it count.
    • For weddings with a larger crowd, you will want to serve foods that will stay for a long time.  There's nothing worse than presenting food to the last table that is already cold or mushy.  
    • You may have to sacrifice that big fancy meal for a larger guest list .  You don't want to create problems by going over your budget.  Just be flexible and reconsider your options.
  • Remember the seasons.   Be sure to check up on what is in season.
    • Cold weather calls for heartier dishes that warm the belly, while warmer days warrant lemonade  and fresh salads. 
    • Consult your caterer.  He or she will be happy to provide lists of seasonal items  and can often help you with the planning of your menu.  
  •  Go with the presentation.  It's just as important as the taste.
    • Make sure that your food looks as good as it tastes, and tastes as good as it looks. 
    • Sample a variety of caterers until you achieve the look and taste that you want.

Planning: Time of Day 

Planning your menu begins by thinking about the time of day that you will want to hold the wedding reception.  There is nothing set in stone saying that you HAVE to have a sit-down evening dinner.  There are many options out there and with them come many ideas for food and drink; there is only one style appropriate for you and your budget, so once you have that settled you can move forward in the rest of your planning.  

Breakfast or Brunch

If you envision your perfect wedding to take place at sunrise or in the early morning hours, a reception that calls for breakfast is in order.  

Pros: 

  • Save money! Finding a reception site will be easier and it will cost less to have the party in the morning.
  • Guests won't drink as much in the morning as they will at night, so this will cut back on your alcohol bill.
  • Breakfast foods are significantly cheaper than dinners.
  • You can get a head start on your honeymoon!  An earlier reception allows you time to leave the same day.  

Cons:

  • You won't have very long to get ready in the morning.  Rise and shine and up and out.
  • Guests travelling from far away may not be able to get to the ceremony on time.  If  you anticipate guests from out of town, look into renting rooms for them.  It will be easier on everyone if they fly or drive in the night before the wedding.

Food:

Drinks:

Cake:

 

Lunch

A luncheon works well for those getting married in the morning, but who want more time on their hands before the reception. 

 Pros:

  • Reception sites and caterers often charge much less to work during the early afternoon hours, which is always bonus to you. 
  • You have a range of flexibility, from a sit down meal to a casual buffet.  
  • Your guests will be able to travel in the morning if they desire and more people may be able to come to your wedding reception.

Cons:

  • If you aren't planning to leave for your honeymoon that day, then you are left figuring out what to do with yourself and your out-of-town guests for the rest of the day.
  • The reception may become dull in the afternoon, as it is a tired time for everyone.  Be sure to hire a DJ or wedding band to get the party going. 

Food:

Drinks:

Cake:

  • Tarts ,brownies , and cookies  are always safe desserts.  You won't want to serve anything too heavy. 
  • Select your cake based upon what works for the season.  Look at our guide to Seasonal Weddings for some ideas. 

Afternoon Tea

Having the reception as a high tea or low tea is a great way to save money and bring in an aura of sophistication at the same time. 

Pros: 

  • You can have fun and you won't break the bank.
  • This reception is perfect for adding hand-crafted  or vintage  touches. 
  • An afternoon tea  is perfect for more intimate wedding receptions, and those with a smaller guest list will enjoy this option.
  • You can decide whether to make your tea formal or fun!

Cons:

  •  An afternoon tea can sometimes feel very feminine, so you may have to work to make sure that all of your guests are feeling comfortable.
  • If the guest list has many children on it, this may not be the way to go.  As the more elegant option, this kind of reception may not have any crazy dancing, and you run the risk of the kids getting bored and rowdy. 

Food:

Drinks:

Cake:

Cake and Champagne

This option was once the norm for all wedding receptions and is easy on your wallet and your guests. 

Pros: 

  • It's a classy way to celebrate a new union, but without a big bash.  Be ready for a lot of toasts!  
  • Guests will only need to go to one location, as this kind of reception can be done in a garden of the ceremony venue or even in the same room.
  • This reception is perfect to hold on the beach after a beach wedding, as it's short and sweet and gets everyone quickly out of the sun. 

Cons:

  • Some guests might expect more.  It's best to phrase the wording on the invitation with a simple phrase like "cake and champagne to follow" so as not to cause any confusion about a reception.
  • This reception may come and go, and be over faster than you would have liked it to be.
  • You may miss out on some of the traditional aspects of a wedding reception. 

Food:

Drinks:

Cake:

  • The cake is the centre of this kind of reception, so you will want to choose something nice and in season. 
  • Look at our guide to Seasonal Weddings for inspiration.

Cocktail Reception

Going with a cocktail reception can be fun and stylish, as it allows you and your guests a chance to really mingle. 

Pros: 

  • You can have more people present, even if your venue is small.
  • It's often shorter than a sit-down meal and allows for everyone to have a good time.
  • Your guests will really get to know each other and you can circulate and enjoy the party. 

Cons:

  • Though you might have thought it would be cheaper, think again.  Your guests are likely to drink more here than at any other kind of reception, so be prepared to foot the alcohol bill.
  • Most guests will not be seated for the length of the party.  Think about older or disabled guests who may need to be more comfortable.
  • Some couples may want a longer time to celebrate, and these types of receptions are usually limited to 2-3 hours.

Food:

 Drinks:

Cake:

  • You may want to think about a heavier cake, as guests will only be eating finger foods along the way. 
  • Chocolate cake  or rum cakes  pair well with most kinds of alcohol  You can also plan according to the season.  

Dinner

The most traditional choice for wedding receptions, this option can be a great time, but will be much more expensive. 

Pros: 

  • You can celebrate your wedding with a huge party, full of food, dancing, and bouquet tossing. 
  • You guests will really feel as if you went all out.   
  • With a longer reception, you won't feel rushed or hurried at all. 

Cons:

  • It's expensive.  Think about all of the costs that go into a large dinner reception: the music and entertainment, the cake, the catering, the decorations, the rental of tables and chairs, the cost of the hall, etc. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration.
  • You may be exhausted by the time you get to your hotel room that night.  It will be late and you will have danced the night away, leaving you with very little energy for much else (wink). 

Food:

  • Five Course Meals
  • Ethnic Dishes

Drinks:

Cake:

  • Your wedding cake should be large enough to feed all of your guests and will most likely be an elaborate masterpiece of a dessert.
  • Look to incorporate your wedding theme into your cake.  If you are going ethnic, stick with an ethnic cake .  If you are going gourmet with dinner, keep dessert gourmet  as well. 

Related Guides

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