The style of wedding receptions, just like everything else, goes through cycles. 40 years ago, couples got married at a church, then had a small cake and punch reception outside afterwards to celebrate. Total cost – maybe $500. Today, guests generally expect a much more lavish outlay, including a full meal. There has been a gradual shift in the past few years, with some brides leaning more towards a smaller reception that features appetizers or small food stations. Like many elements of your wedding, stations can either add or detract from your guests’ experience.
So, what are the benefits of doing an appetizer and/or food station reception? First, you can provide more choices for your guests in terms of food. It’s generally a good idea to combine them and offer passed appetizers and supplement with a few well-chosen stations. Second, if you or your partner is a foodie, this type of reception gives you the opportunity to really play fast and loose with the type and style of food you offer. Third, this allows for a more mix and mingle type atmosphere, which a lot of engaged couples are looking for today.
An appetizer reception, though, requires an entirely different perspective on the reception, for you, your guests, and your caterer. There can definitely be drawbacks. One of the key things to remember is that this is not an option that will save you money, by and large. Appetizers are not a meal, true. However, if you are following the most common timing pattern for your wedding (late afternoon/early evening ceremony, followed by reception that goes through dinner into the evening), you’re still going to need to provide enough appetizers to constitute a meal. Be sure to work with your caterer to figure out a reasonable number of pieces per appetizer. A good place to start estimating is 10-12 pieces per guest. This is where something like a carving or pasta station can come in handy – a simple sandwich or plate of linguini can easily supplement an array of fancier passed hors d’oeuvres. With the higher per piece counts and the additional labor of a passed reception, the bill will probably add up to a similar price tag (or higher) to a buffet or served dinner, depending on the size of your guest list and your caterer.
The most important things to consider if you’re doing a reception with appetizers and stations is logistics, logistics, logistics. Consider the flow of the room. You want your stations to be far enough apart that crowd control isn’t an issue. Also, be sure that your guests are adequately prepared for the lack of a served meal. Many guests will forego appetizers if waiting for dinner – which may lead to plenty of hungry and grumpy guests when dinner never arrives. I suggest a fun message on your reception card, signs on the bar or water tables, or framed notes on each seating table, to ensure that guests are aware that the stations are open immediately and this is the “main course” so to speak. Make sure you and your caterer or venue coordinator discuss the number of plates needed (you’ll want smaller plates and more than if a buffet or seated dinner), the seating arrangements (do you mix cocktail and seated tables? or do you want to provide full seating for everyone), and ways to minimize the guests’ buffet line mentality (they do love standing in line!). Also, on a broader level, consider how this affects the non-eating elements of your reception and discuss with your DJ or band leader ahead of time, to make sure everyone is on the same page.
It takes a little extra planning, but when stations are done well, the reception can be a memorable and unique experience for your guests!