Your Wedding Food and Drink Etiquette Questions Answered
No matter the size of your celebration, serving a group (and especially your wedding guests!) can be difficult. Cater to even the pickiest of appetites with these solutions to common challenges our readers have encountered when putting together their wedding menu. From cocktails to dinner, we've got you covered on all things eating and drinking.
We don't drink wine but would like to serve one white and one red at our reception. Which varieties are affordable and pleasing to a crowd?
No matter the time of year or location, you can serve a Pinot Grigio from Italy or a California Chardonnay as your white, plus a Napa Merlot as your red, says Liz Barrett of Terlato Wines. All are palate pleasers and taste delicious with dishes from salmon to rib eye. Because white tends to be a fan favorite, plan on serving a 60–40 ratio of white to red. If you can foot the tab, also offer a sparkling wine, like Prosecco. "It's fun to serve at a wedding without the investment that Champagne requires," she says. And remember this guideline: "The day is about celebrating with friends and family; doing that with bottles priced at $10 to $20 each is just fine."
We can't afford an open bar. Is it rude to charge for drinks at our reception?
As a general rule, guests shouldn't have to pay for anything at your wedding. Fortunately, an open bar isn't the only way to get the party started. To save money, limit the selection: one or two kinds of beer, a red and a white wine, and a signature sipper or mixed vodka drinks. If your venue allows you to bring in alcohol purchased wholesale, stock up on hard liquor, which offers more bang for the buck. Or, set up an interactive bar, like a mix-your-own mojito station complete with muddled herbs, simple syrup, and rum, which spotlights experience, not variety.
We won't be serving alcohol at our wedding. Should we let guests know beforehand?
Even though your choice of what to serve really doesn't require an explanation, it's not a bad idea to give your guests a heads-up about alcohol. The best way is by word of mouth. Ask your family and your wedding party to pass along the information as they would any other details about the wedding and reception. You could also casually mention it to guests with a simple, "By the way, there won't be any alcohol served at the reception."
If your guest list is large or you prefer to let people know in writing, add a discreet note on the reception page of your wedding website: "Please know that alcohol will not be served." The same wording could also unobtrusively appear on any insert you include with your reception invitation, such as directions to the venue or other logistics, but this should be a last resort. Never include it on the wedding invitation itself.
How do you word the invite for an hors d'ouevres-only reception?
To clarify that you're hosting a cocktail party, not a five-course meal, clearly state "cocktail reception" or "cocktails and hors d'oeuvres to follow." Set the soirée earlier and include an end time by saying something like, "Cocktail reception to follow, 5 to 8 p.m." That leaves ample hours for mingling and noshing, while still allowing time for hungrier guests to grab dinner afterward.
We need to give our caterer advanced notice of how many of each main course he must provide. How can I get this information?
Through it tends to interfere with the design of your stationery suite, the best place to deal with information like this is on the reply card. Keep it as simple as possible, opting for single words like chicken, vegetarian, etc. Include some sort of instruction and a black line in front of each choice so guests can fill in the number of meals. You could also include a separate enclosure in the invitation.
We're vegetarians, but our family is not. What do we serve for dinner at our wedding?
Whether you avoid animal products, alcohol, carbs, or anything else, "your wedding is not the time to try to convert people to your way of living," says Elise Mac Adam, author of Something New: Wedding Etiquette for Rule Breakers, Traditionalists, and Everyone in Between
. The trick is to be true to your beliefs without making guests feel deprived. For example, rather than serving seitan, tofu, or other unfamiliar foods, consider a non-meat pasta. Or offer a choice of vegetarian and non-vegetarian entrees.
Mac Adam recalls one bride whose parents wanted to serve a kosher meal, although only a handful of guests required it. The bride hired a second, kosher caterer to prepare that food. "There is usually some sort of middle ground," Mac Adam says.
Do kids need a special menu?
When it comes to food, children's meals make kids happier and are often less expensive. Becker suggests a small buffet or individual meals with kid-friendly foods like spaghetti, chicken fingers, and fruit cups. Children 13 and up should be able to eat adult fare, though you may want to ask parents about this ahead of time.
We want to hire a food truck to serve dinner at our reception, but we're concerned that our older relatives won't be game. How can we make the idea work for everyone?
As the offerings—and variety—of food trucks explode, they've become a fun way to serve up delicious, and often gourmet, fare at a casual soirée. "But asking hungry guests to wait in line, often by standing outside, can be a pain for those in heels and a real problem for a less mobile person," says senior editor Julie Vadnal. Consider a compromise that lets you have your truck while still catering to guests' comfort. "Hire waiters from an independent company to support the event," says contributing editor David Stark, of David Stark Design and Production in Brooklyn, New York. "They'll not only help serve drinks and keep the room and tables tidy, but they can bring dinner from the trucks to your older guests so they don't have to get up or wait on a queue." Hiring multiple mobile food vendors with different specialties (think gyros, barbecue, and tacos) will also prevent long lines forming at one truck—and appeal to diverse taste buds in the process. If you're still apprehensive, limit the meals-on-wheels to late-night snacks, suggests Julie. "I can't see anyone complaining when a truck pulls up with midnight mac 'n' cheese!"
Will serving a small cake at each reception table save more money than one big cake?
Not really, says contributing editor and New York City pastry chef Jason Schreiber, and multiple cakes may even end up costing you more. That's because you're paying for labor and work-intensive add-ons—like sugar flowers and piped icing—not size. "The time and effort that goes into making 15 small custom cakes is not remarkably less than that of a single larger one," explains Schreiber. "Plus, if your order takes over a bakery's fridge space, you might be charged extra for lost business."
The more cakes you have, the more accessories you might be responsible for, too—there's the cost of renting a dozen stands instead of just one, for instance. There's also the additional slicing fee charged by some venues, which can be anywhere from $1 to $8 per slice; table cakes almost always give you more servings than needed and you may have to pony up for the difference. If you just love the look of table cakes, however, there are ways to keep costs down. Buy standard buttercream-frosted cakes from a retail bakery rather than ordering custom and decorate them with a simple topper. Display them in lieu of floral centerpieces and you'll reduce your flower tab, impacting your overall budget.