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Types of Reception Food Service

Your reception should be a reflection of your wedding style, but that doesn’t mean you are limited to a vintage venue if you want vintage flair or specific meal options. You can create that vibe with everything from the decor, lighting and the food service, so don’t feel completely edged in by your theme. Select what fits all pieces of your wedding and your personality the best and you won’t be left with any questions about your final decision.

Once your venue and caterer are selected, you will want to go over the type of service that you’ll be providing your guests. Here’s a brief summary of your options:

Heavy Appetizers

This option for food service is best used for midday events, morning brunches or cocktail receptions. A combination of stationary food items and passed or experiential appetizers is the likely route to ensure guests have time and opportunity to get some food in their belly. Because alcohol is usually part of the event, you’ll want to emphasis having food with a bit of weight using meats and breads as well as considering vegetarian dishes as well. You can liven this up with appetizers that match your theme, colors, or even are presented in unique ways, such as on acrylic trays or in ice shooters.


While this is another more informal way to feed your guests, you need never worry about guests being hungry later, as everyone can fill their plates with however much food they think they need. You can also create a very familiar, cozy environment with guests getting served in a ‘family style’ way at each table, which is a step up from the traditional long buffet line but still allows for bulk food options. There is a myth that buffets can be less expensive than a plated meal, but that is not true. Buffets require extra amounts of food to be bought by your caterer to ensure that they don’t run out as people fill their own plates and portion sizes cannot be controlled.

Carving Stations

This is truly a culinary experience for your guests - getting to select, point and watch as their food is being cut and served. Carving stations do not even need to be confined to meat. You can have potato bar stations, pasta bars, sautéed vegetable and seafood bars, or even an omelette bar if you’re hosting a brunch reception. Carving stations tend to end quicker, so while this is a buffet type of serving style, be sure that your guests are aware that there is an end time to the food being available.

Small Plates

A classy step up from carving stations and ‘help yourself’ bars, small plates are exactly what they sound like: small plates of pre-served food that guests can grab. There are usually several small plate stations throughout a reception room, but they can be fancier items, such as lobster, scallops, certain types of beef cuts or specialized pastas. The pates are expedited by whatever chef is manning the station, so they have the finished appeal of a plated meal but in smaller portions. This is an elegant way to still create the movement in the room you’d get with a buffet or carving stations but offers a more delectable cuisine.


This is the traditional way to serve a wedding meal. Whether you allow your guests to choose their entree table side, on the RSVP cards, or offer one single dish, plated meals are the most formal way to feed your guests at the reception. You will have several servers on hand to make sure tables are served relatively at the same time, allowing guests to dive into a fully created and executed meal with proper proportions and final design. It is still possible to have unique dining experiences with a plated meal. Offer an amuse bouche, sorbet before the entree, or have a cheese and fig course before offering cake. You are the masters of the menu at your reception: have fun, even when doing something traditional.

View our curated list of wedding reception venues and caterers here!

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