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Good eats for your wedding reception

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POSTED January 24, 2013 6:09 p.m.

While the "I do's" may be a wedding's main event, the edibles at the reception are a strong second place. Food not only serves as a "thank you" to guests who've given you gifts and gathered to celebrate your union, it helps sop up the alcohol and can keep the festivities going all night long. A great party is as simple as finding the right food to match an event's style.


Food service options include plated and family-style dinners, buffets, stations and heavy hors d'oeuvres. Each one helps set the tone of an event, says Bridget Pelster, a sales and catering manager for St. Louis-based Butler's Pantry. Seated dinners are typically more formal and elegant, family-style meals are more intimate, buffets are more relaxed, stations are more interactive and hors d'oeuvres allow a lot of flexibility.

First, determine the style of service you want based on the vibe you'd like to create, and then start playing around with menu ideas based on your budget and the timing of the event. "If you're having an evening wedding and you think the reception will last more than three hours, you should plan on serving something fairly significant," says Molly Schemper, co-owner of Chicago-based FIG Catering. "At the minimum you want heavy hors d'oeuvres with a couple protein options, and it's a good idea to make sure guests are aware there won't be a full meal."

If the budget is limited but food is a priority for you, consider opting for a Sunday soirée, an off-season wedding date or an afternoon affair, when you can usually get more bread for your buck.


Catering costs can vary widely, from as low as $20 per person at a banquet hall up to $200 per person at a luxury hotel, says Schemper. The city, the venue and the menu all play a part. Big towns are often more expensive; standard venues may have minimums; nontraditional locations may require additional rentals; and no matter where the event takes place, the quantity, variety and style of cuisine will drastically affect price.

In general, the most expensive options are multi-course plated dinners and stations, says Pelster. The next level down is typically limited-course plated dinners and family-style meals, followed by buffets. And the most affordable option is heavy hors d'oeuvres, either passed or served buffet-style.

The caterer can help you determine what style works best for your budget and will often adjust a menu to meet your needs, such as forgoing coffee service in exchange for an additional appetizer or two.

*Stations: Brides like this less formal setting because it allows guests to mingle, says Dieckmann, and they can customize stations to reflect a theme.

*Ethnic Options: Even if you opt for the classic beef-or-chicken dinner, you can showcase your heritage with ethnic stations or hors d'oeuvres, says Schemper.

*A 'Couple' Favorites: Newlyweds are serving quirky items that they really enjoy or have a history with, says Sheldon. "One couple served their favorite McDonalds hamburgers as a late-night snack, while another couple who actually met at 7-11 served drinks in 7-11's plastic glasses."

*Farm-to-Table: Everyone is interested in fresh, local foods right now, says Pelster. "It's a great way to give your guests a taste of your hometown."

*Comfort Foods: The down-home trend continues strong: mac-and-cheese in tiny dishes, gourmet sliders, pigs-in-a-blanket and mashed potato bars, says Brooke Sheldon, owner of Lilybrooke Events in Kennebunkport, Maine.


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