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Wedding Food - Selecting What to Serve at Your Reception

Weddings Call for Feasting at the Reception

A wedding celebration is steeped in tradition. While you may not be worried about aligning the stars and moons, you do have to decide what to serve your guests that have come to witness and celebrate your marriage. What are the best choices when it comes to selecting wedding food? In other words, what will you serve at your wedding reception?

This answer is based in part on personal tastes and preferences. However, considering the potentially high cost of a wedding, as well as the fact that bad food can set the tone for the entire party afterwards, careful consideration should be made in selecting your menu.

Wedding feasts have been celebrated as long as people have been getting married. In some cultures, they are long, drawn-out affairs. In Israel, for example, a wedding celebration would last up to a week, ending in triumph with a colorful procession, dancing, presentation of gifts to the bride and a feast. Eastern cultures have observed three phases of a marriage, the arrangement, the betrothal, and the date of consummation which would take place at the end of the wedding feast. This date was carefully chosen based on positioning of the sun, moon and stars, as well as the bride's most fertile period.

The Bible contains several stories about wedding feasts, including the first miracle that Jesus performed at the Wedding of Cana, John 1:1-12. It was here that Jesus turned water into wine, to the great relief of the host, and the astonishment of Mary.

Wedding reception table set for our wedding in 2019

Wedding reception table set for our wedding in 2019

Considerations for Planning What to Serve at a Wedding Reception

  1. Buffet or sit-down dinner
  2. Finger foods or hearty fare
  3. Catered or cooked by relatives or friends
  4. Indoors or outdoors
  5. Any appropriate themes for cuisine, i.e. Polynesian, Southern BBQ, Coastal seafood, etc.
  6. Dietary restrictions
  7. Mobility of your guests (elderly people may have a harder time at a buffet)
  8. Cultural traditions
  9. Cost
  10. Number of guests
  11. Time of day
  12. Décor (flowers, candles, ice sculptures, or whatever you fancy)
  13. Logistics of serving and/or buffet lines
  14. Beverage options
  15. Wedding cake and/or other dessert
Wedding Food - what to serve at your reception

Wedding Food - what to serve at your reception

Should You Cater Your Wedding Reception?

When planning a wedding, there are two competing factors that have to be balanced: expense and convenience. If you want less hassle, you must be prepared to pay more. Conversely, if you are looking to save a few bucks, you will likely be doing more of the "dirty work" yourself.

I would consider skimping on expenses other than food in your wedding preparatons, especially catering! You can save money by setting up the reception yourself (setting tables, putting out tablecloths, creating centerpieces), having a DJ instead of a live band, and serving only beer and wine - or no alcohol at all. A professional caterer can ensure that your food will taste good, will be at the right temperature and that enough will be prepared to serve the expected number of guests.

When interviewing a potential caterer, ask for letters of recommendation or references and follow up! Ask for a tasting afternoon or evening when you can try several of the offerings that may be served at the wedding reception.

Be sure to get a clear idea on cost per number of guests, and whether any additional charges will be levied for personal chef service "add-ons" like pasta stations, meat carving stations, or the like. Ask for a contract, review it carefully and make sure that there is a cancellation provision in your benefit. Spell out everything very carefully. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, make sure that special dietary needs will be met. Consider bringing along a married friend, and have her review the contract with you to make sure that you are not missing anything important.

Cater Your Own Wedding!

Homemade Wedding Reception Fare

If you decide not to hire a caterer, but to make your own food, be sure to get lots of help so you are not overwhelmed on your wedding day! There are plenty of brides that choose to go this route, either because of cost, or because they cannot find a caterer that can prepare the types of foods that they desire for the reception. This option may be best reserved for smaller wedding parties, 75 guests or less. Otherwise, the logistics of making enough food, keeping it at the proper temperature, serving it, and more, may make things too stressful for you.

Homemade food is a great option for early in the day weddings, or early afternoon weddings. Receptions can include light brunch fare such as fresh fruit, egg dishes, sweet rolls and assorted meats (if you desire). In the afternoon, your guests may not expect a heavy filling meal at the reception. You may decide to stick with appetizers and drinks, instead. Finger foods such as stuffed mushroom caps, chicken skewers with peanut sauce, prosciutto wrapped melon, and mini crab cakes are all popular choices. You can set up a salad station, as well, serving several cold options such as pasta salad, spinach salad, and fruit salad.

There are many wedding reception food recipes for such fare which can be fairly easily prepared in advance of the big day!

Great Table Top and Decorating Ideas for your Wedding Reception

Buffet or Sit-Down Dinner for a Wedding Reception?

Depending on whether you select a sit-down dinner, or a buffet line, your choices of reception foods will vary. Of course, your bill will be influenced by the menu you put together, as well. For my wedding, I really wanted to serve gulf shrimp and crab legs. Lovely and tasty, yet quite expensive. We decided to choose one, but not both.

A buffet is generally less expensive (saving anywhere from $10-20 per guest if you are having the event catered), and provides greater options from which the attendees can choose. The downside is that lines may be long and difficult to maneuver for elderly people or those with young children. Some people now break up the lines into discrete tables (one for cheese, one for fruit, etc.)

Typical American wedding fare for an afternoon or evening wedding buffet may include: green salad, bread/rolls, a fruit platter, a cheese platter, and then a number of hot dishes from which to choose. The options depend in part on the caterer you select (if any) and their specialties. Some people enjoy having a pasta bar (the chef will toss the selected noodles with sauce of your choice), and/or a carving station (ham, roast beef, turkey, etc.)

Those who choose a sit-down dinner usually send the wedding invitees a response card that includes not only whether they will come or not, but also a dinner selection (poultry, fish or red meat are usual selections; some include a vegetarian meal). With this type of option, your guests may expect to be served a salad course and a main course. Dessert is usually the wedding cake. Bread and/or rolls are often served with the meal. Sit-down is generally more expensive because of the service costs associated.

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Wedding Food - dessert buffet

Wedding Food - dessert buffet

Your Wedding and Reception is Your Day

You are bound to get lots of advice when planning your wedding day. There is no "right or wrong" way to serve your guests at the reception, however. Like other considerations, your personal preference and tastes should dictate what you decide for a menu.

Above all, try to relax and enjoy the anticipation of getting married!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2008 Stephanie Marshall


Shannon Paigah from Irvine, CA on March 12, 2012:

Nice hub! Highlights the importance of hiring a caterer versus doing it yourself.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 29, 2012:

Thank you MT! Lots of different options for planning what to serve at a wedding reception. Appreciate the comment. Best, Steph

Shasta Matova from USA on February 29, 2012:

These are great ideas for choosing the food for your wedding. Thanks for the tips.

robyn on October 14, 2011:

i would totally cater my own wedding if i didn't have to feed up to 120 people and i think i would die from cooking that much but im going to help like ill hire some cooks and waiters and will help get the recpies to the level i want ive been in a relation-ship for 7 years and i personally want the wedding soon but then i dont so me and my partner desided to wait for 2013 so that we can plan it over a long span of time, the venue isn't going anywhere because its this huge old farm that has only a horse stable where we would even get married and the wedding cake well my friend owns a bakery so solved. and you have given me somany ideas for the rest the colours are solved now i was a little iffy.

Jack Darrington on June 08, 2011:

There really is a wealth of great information here. I especially enjoyed what you said about self-catering. It can be a big job, but it is a lot more economically feasible. So many people worry about the big things like the wedding gowns and the cakes and the honeymoons that stuff like the food doesn't get thought of til the last minute. Thanks for the tips.

hewhohn on May 24, 2011:

Wow great idea, glad to found this hub.

ghotla on May 10, 2011:

Great advice and suggestions on catering for your wedding, nice work.

shoes store directory on May 06, 2011:

I think self catering is a big responsibility. Impressive thanks for sharing!

Wedding chair cover hire on May 03, 2011:

Great ideas ande good post!

Sara on March 29, 2011:

The last picture is so funny ...i love it:)

A Silverware Affair on March 24, 2011:

You can visit our website for lots of great info for all types of ways to cater your event! We have menus and suggestions for all sorts of receptions! If you are in our area, we'd love to help!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 20, 2011:

Sounds perfect cyoung! I bet you enjoyed your wedding even more while you saved money and hassle with wait staff fees (and probably also the seat assignments) ;-) Congratulations!

Chad Young from Corona, CA on January 20, 2011:

You are right on the mark with this hub. We went buffet style at our wedding as we didn't have the resources to have a sit down type serving. Not only did we save on the food prices but also on the wait staff fees as this requires less service than a sit down. I think most people remember the overall experience and food is an important decision because if your guests don't like it that will stick in their mind.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 22, 2010:

Great comment, Dave! I agree. You want to remember your special day, and keeping a wedding reception small and intimate is the perfect way to surround yourself with the people that really matter.

Dave Mathews from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA on September 22, 2010:

I found this to be interesting reading, to learn what to avoid doing. Personally I think that something small and intimate with the parents sort of a really get to know you dinner is better than some lavish and expensive party. OK you will lose out on all the wedding gifts, cuz no food = no gift but gifts and seeing you friends getting drunk is not what the day is supposed to be all about.


Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 05, 2010:

Thanks Theme Wedding Planner - I hope these reception tips will help any overwhelmed bride or groom plan the perfect party. :)

Theme Wedding Planner on September 05, 2010:

Very comprehensive and informative article...up to your usual standards. Great tips for brides and grooms on a shoestring or just looking for other options.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on September 04, 2010:

Thanks so much! I hope your followers enjoy the article, as well! Best, Steph

SirDent on September 03, 2010:

Very good. Shared it on facebook and will share it on Twitter and Blogger also.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on August 30, 2010:

Hi Teresa - keep up the good work! With time, you'll get lots of readers. I'll head over to your event planning hubs now to take a look. Cheers, Steph

eventsyoudesign from Nashville, Tennessee on August 30, 2010:

I like your article. Very easy to read. I just started writing on hub pages. My articles are about event planning. I don't think they are as well written as yours though. Great article! I will read more.


Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on August 09, 2010:

Hi Cynthia - thanks for passing along the article! Hope it helps your friends with their wedding planning. I agree that it often makes more sense just to have the event catered, if you can find a great price like that. Cheers

Cynthia Davis from United States on August 09, 2010:

Thanks Steph, this is a great hub - I'll be sending some of my friends to get some ideas for their upcoming weddings. We had our wedding catered and it was such a good decision for us. For $20 per head, our guests were more than satisfied and it was one of the talking points of our reception. I would've been tough to do the catering ourselves for 250 guests!

Ollie on August 05, 2010:

nice page with good information - thanks.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 27, 2010:

Hi Robie - I just love weddings! And if I'm not attending one, why not write about them? But seriously, receptions are fun celebrations and even more so when you are serving wedding food that makes you and your guests happy as you start your new life. :)

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on July 27, 2010:

You have packed a lot of great information into this hub. It is just awesome and I particularly love the photo of the wedding couple clicking their heels and going down the road of life. Great job:-)

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 19, 2010:

Its always great to take pride in the do-it-yourself options for weddings. When you can save money and take control over details like food and wedding invitations, more fun is practically guaranteed!

Make Your Own Wedding Invitations on July 19, 2010:

I agree with the comment above! The food is essentially the most important things - besides the actual people getting married. ...but you know what i mean!

wedding marquee on June 02, 2010:

You need to get the food right. It is what everyone remembers!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on April 29, 2010:

Good luck with your wedding alethea - glad to hear these ideas helped you plan your reception!

alethea on April 28, 2010:

This has helped me alot i think i will cater my own wedding even tho i cater other events and wanted to try something different i think a money saving thing to do is to cater it myself and then i can have what i want for food thanks y'all

belliott on April 22, 2010:

Very practical tips. With the economy the way it is people are looking for creative ways to save on weddings. Lots of good information here. You can save money and still have a fantastic celebration. Thanks.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 15, 2009:

Thank you TKs! I appreciate you passing the wedding advice along!

TK's Wedding Photography Launceston on November 15, 2009:

Great information. We have made notes on your advice to make sure our customers make the right decisions.

michelle.dragon99 on September 06, 2009:

hi...i love those tips that you've's pretty is very important to serve the right food for wedding dinner as food always become the topic for people...if you did it right, means select the right food for the occasions then you get praise, if not it will turn to another way round....however, i enjoy reading your hub, thanks:)

Jude Wedding Celebrant on September 05, 2009:

Great advice and suggestions on catering for your wedding, nice work.

Nisha shan on August 30, 2009:

I prefer having Buffet system for my wedding,as it seems to be a cool idea...

Great post, had a great time going through it... thank you.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 09, 2009:

Hi Gypsy, Excellent ideas for managing the reception attendees. It sounds like a wonderful party that saved you a lot of stress and money! I'll have to check out your trifile hub recipe. :) Steph

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on May 09, 2009:

We divided the wedding feast in two. The older people came to tea and wedding cake and could stay on for the party in the evening if they wished. I bought a huge joint of beef and made salads etc to go with it. We all had a fab time. Oh, I made several English trifles for dessert, easy to make and best done the day before. I have hubbed the recipe! Obviously it was a small wedding with only eighty guests. I wouldn't like to self cater for more!

Dorset Catering on April 25, 2009:

I think self catering is a big responsibility and shouldn't be taken lightly but will ultimatley save you a fortune. Great hub.

Lady LaShonda from Atlantic City, New Jersey on April 05, 2009:

Very good hub. Very enlightening.

2patricias from Sussex by the Sea on March 04, 2009:

Pat says - I got married a zillion years ago and we had a sit-down meal that cost a fortune. I picked food that I thought the height of sophistication. Now (what I can remember) it seems like a really silly meal because I was very young and had hardly been to any weddings. My husband had never been to a wedding - ours was his first! (We are still married).

My advice now would be to stick to a fairly simple buffet.

zeke0711 from Ohio on February 01, 2009:

Excellent information in this article...

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on December 01, 2008:

Thank you Mike - hope you found it helpful!

Mike on December 01, 2008:

Great article!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 15, 2008:

Hi betherickson! Thank you so much. I hope that your friends can get some good wedding food ideas. There is so much to plan and prepare when getting married. :)


betherickson from Minnesota on November 14, 2008:

You have a great hub! this one is really fantastic and I'm gonna recommend this to my friends for their upcoming weddings. 5 thumbsup for you! I'm now your fan!

sherlynavia from United States on October 14, 2008:

Great hub!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 25, 2008:

Thank you Party Girl! I appreciate your stopping by.

Party Girl on July 25, 2008:

Wow, what a great hub

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 23, 2008:

Thanks for the comments - good luck Priceless Sam. Planning a wedding is a lot of work! Tasting food is the way to go (IMHO)

De La Mothe - thank you. Weddings are just the party before the rest of your life. :-) Steph

De La Mothe from In Her Own Little World on July 23, 2008:

Wow! great hub love the last picture!

Priceless Sam on June 24, 2008:

This is a great hub - excellent advice. I'm getting married next year, and food seems to continue being the thing I can't decide on!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 16, 2008:

Kerry, I love your wedding cake story! I totally agree about wedding cakes in general. Overdone, too much frosting, etc. What a wonderful alterantive - I am going to pass that one along to a friend of mine who is getting married in Hawaii in September. Regarding vegetarian options - yes. I think that is something that is getting more and more frequent these days, even vegan diets. Things are certainly different these days than 15-20 years ago. Thanks for sharing your great story. Steph

kerryg from USA on June 16, 2008:

We got married at a restaurant on their balcony overlooking the river. Made dealing with food very easy! There was only one disaster. We'd chosen beef, chicken, or salmon options, but my best friend is vegetarian (the only one among our 40-some guests, to my surprise), so we ordered her a pasta dish off the regular menu. What came out instead was this really big metal tin full of steamed veggies and rice, not even any sauce!

We still have no idea what happened there, but I hope dessert made it up to her. I hate angelfood, and cheapo cakes in general, so instead of spending $800 on a pretty traditional cake that tasted like sugared sawdust, we got three $30 cakes from this insanely good cafe/bakery in my hometown of 7000 people: german chocolate, key lime cheesecake, and a lemon cake with fresh strawberries. Not so traditional, but five years later people are still talking about how good they were! :)

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 16, 2008:

Annette, that is funny you say that. My husband and I didn't get a single bite of our wedding reception food either! Most of it was gone by the time we got there, anyway. Definitely worth considering when you are planning your big day. Some brides will have the caterer or family members put together a plate for her and her husband so that they get at least something to eat, even if much later in the kitchen. It can be exhausting and draining! Thanks for the comment.

Ann Martin on June 16, 2008:

thanks for your great hub! As someone who just got married, i went through the whole process of choosing the caterer and taste testings etc etc, I was told the food was great, but honestly neither my husband or i got to taste it, we were too busy dancing... something to keep in mind when you spend that massive fortune of money!

Decrescendo on May 28, 2008:

I don’t think I can do this diet.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 15, 2008:

Congratulations! I hope you get some great ideas here!

drummer boy from Kirksville,MO on May 15, 2008:

Nice hub, I am getting married next April. Thumbs Up

sunshine44 on May 14, 2008:

those are some great idea, thanx

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 13, 2008:

LOL - great idea, funnebone!

funnebone from Philadelphia Pa on May 12, 2008:

Not that anyone will every marry me, but if i should find that special mail order bride, I would go with the buffett. What better way to size up your inlaws than an all you can eat crab leg competition

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 12, 2008:

Oh yum! That sounds wonderful! Thanks for the delicious comment, Rodney.

Rodney Fagan from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City on May 11, 2008:

On catering my youngest son got married and we decided to do the catering ourselfs, so we did a lamb braai on a spit.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 10, 2008:

Thank you both - Cailin and msms! I really appreciate the comments. More than anything else, I hope that brides and grooms can find some good help for their weddings!

msms on May 10, 2008:

Doctor of Marriage Planning stephhicks68!

Congrates You made a great Hub. Great

Cailin Gallagher from New England on May 10, 2008:

Very comprehensive and informative article...up to your usual standards. Great tips for brides and grooms on a shoestring or just looking for other options.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 10, 2008:

Thank you for reading and commenting, crownrahul

crownrahul from india on May 10, 2008:

very nice website.. hope this help all


Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 10, 2008:

Hi tjmum - thanks for sharing your great story! It is so great when people pull together. I'm sure you have some lovely memories of your wedding day as a result. Steph

tjmum from Isle of Wight on May 10, 2008:

We had to plan pur wedding very quickly as my mum was very ill. Our worst problem was finding a reception venue that would take a wheelchair and had specialist toilet facilities! We opted for the cater yourself as money was difficult (all this was done in 2 months!), but my husband and some friends helped and it went fine. We put on a buffet and could actually choose food that we knew would be eaten - when my sister had her wedding, all catered for, the seating was worng, the food came out cold and wasn't really that nice! I'm glad we did it ourselves. Yes, it was on a shoestring and wasn't the big wedding I'd hoped for but we had a fantastic day and all the planning and work we did together bought us closer.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 10, 2008:

Thanks for the great tip, Lady Luck! I love that website. :-)

lady luck from Boston on May 10, 2008:

for those who are cooking for their own is always MY saving grace.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 10, 2008:

Good luck luckymurari! Hope this helps!

Thanks Amy! I had to include your wedding hubs with this one. :-)

amy jane from Connecticut on May 10, 2008:

Wonderful, comprehensive hub, Steph! Thanks for the link too. :) I will link back to it immediately!

luckymurari on May 10, 2008:

My best friend's bro's wedding is the most memorable one for me....I think with this post I could plan some one of my relative's marriage to that level..

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