Every bride has her own preferences. Some want a sunset wedding on the beach. Others want full-blown church weddings. Some want slinky sheath dresses, while others want Cinderella ballgowns. Some want laid-back parties, and some want swanky black tie affairs. But every bride wants to make sure she, her new husband, and their guests have a fabulous time. And when it comes to receptions, there are so many ways to do that.
The thing is, your reception is going to take over at least half your wedding budget. That’s just the way it goes when you’re feeding several dozen or several hundred guests. At receptions, some type of food is mandatory, but by choosing your reception time and style, you can find food that fits your budget.
Following an early morning ceremony, nothing beats an elegant breakfast or a creative brunch. For intimate affairs, consider hosting the party at home or in your back yard; for larger celebrations, a country club or boutique restaurant should fit the bill. You’ll save money by not serving hors d’ourvres, and it’s a rare guest that will expect alcohol (unless you make it a champagne brunch) before noon. While you’ll still need tables, linens, and centerpieces, you can go simply elegant for a breakfast or brunch — the over-the-top “wow” factor of many dinner receptions would seem out of place in the cheery daylight. A breakfast or brunch reception is a lovely way to cap off a sunrise beach wedding, a quiet chapel or garden wedding, or a ceremony at home.
In the early afternoon, you can bypass multi-course meals and serve a simple buffet or offer a dinner meal. For lunch, many venues offer the same quality food in slightly smaller portions, and at a lower price. But, seeing as it’s lunch, instead of serving filet mignon or sea bass, you could put out a gourmet spread of cold cuts, artisan cheeses, crisp fresh fruits and vegetables, flavorful dips, and unique microbrews. At small, casual gatherings, you can bypass assigned seating, saving money on escort cards and table numbers. And your guests will likely feel at ease, more relaxed and laid-back than at a fancier nighttime gathering. If you’re hoping for a no-nonsense fun time, a lunch reception could be your dream party.
Taking place any time from mid-afternoon to late evening, cocktail receptions are heavy on alcohol and finger foods and light on silverware and seating charts. You won’t need arranged seating at a cocktail reception, which will save you money on escort cards, and since your guests will be mingling the majority of the time, you can keep tables to a minimum as well — slashing the number of linens and centerpieces you’ll need to purchase or rent. (Just be sure there are plenty of seats for guests who want to rest their feet!) Keep in mind that guests will likely consume more alcohol at a cocktail reception than at a dinner reception, simply because mixing — with cocktail shakers and with other guests — is the main objective. You’ll have to keep the hors d’oeuvres passing and the liquor flowing, but the fun festivities of an upscale cocktail party might be just what you ordered.
Buffet Dinner Reception
Traditionally less expensive than a seated dinner reception, but heartier than an hors d’oeuvres-only reception, a buffet can be as formal or casual as you make it. Buffet servers in tuxedos lend an air of refinery, while a do-it-yourself approach can make your dinner reception less expensive than breakfast at a country club. Keep in mind that you will need table space for all your guests, and assigned seating, as well as designating which tables may serve themselves first, is a good idea. That way you can ensure your elderly grandparents don’t get stuck standing at the end of the line. In some parts of the country, buffets are more expensive per-person than plated dinners, but you can all but guarantee your guests will get as much food as they’d like. If your guests’ comfort and a variety of mouth-watering foods are your top priorities, providing a buffet may be your best bet.
Seated Dinner Reception
The traditional seated dinner reception is most commonly associated with black tie celebrations — but it can also be a cozy, down-home shindig, if you’d like. In some parts of the country, seated dinners are less expensive than buffets. Just remember that you will be paying more in your gratuity, because you will need approximately one server per table, versus one server per ever twenty or thirty people at a buffet. One benefit is that your guests will be able to remain comfortably in their chairs, keeping the reception room traffic jam-free, as servers bring out their meals. Ideally, assigned seating ensures your guests share a table with other acquaintances, or at least other guests they’ll get along with, so prepare to pay for escort cards or a seating chart. Many brides also choose to provide their guests with a menu card, one per guest or one per table, if the guests have not previously been offered a menu option. But if you’re hoping for an elegant, hassle-free meal at your reception, the seated dinner is what you’ll want.
Following an evening wedding, a dessert reception is a chic way to cap off the evening. Whether you choose to provide a wide array of unique desserts, or simply some sweets, wedding cake, and coffee, guests will have plenty of time to mix and mingle, as well as dance. Like a cocktail reception, few guests will want to sit throughout the reception, so you can use fewer tables and save on linens and centerpieces. Similarly, assigned seating and escort cards are unnecessary. Brides who want a reception that’s out of the ordinary and heavy on sugar but light on alcohol should consider offering just desserts. (Just make sure your guests know they should eat dinner before they arrive!)
While you might see this frowned upon in some bridal magazines and blogs, potluck receptions can be a beautiful and personal way for a couple to celebrate with their loved ones. That said, keep in mind — potluck receptions are probably best celebrated only with very close family and friends. Extremely easy on your budget, because of the many contributors, potlucks allow you to enjoy old favorite family recipes. But if there’s a chance your Uncle Ted will bring his infamous chili corndog stew, you might want to pass — or set up a potluck theme, which would give you a tad more control over the dishes served. Think ethnic to celebrate your heritage(s), or a Hawaiian luau theme if you and your new husband are headed off to the South Pacific. Assigned seating would seem pretentious at such an intimate gathering, and your decor could be as plain or as fancy as you’d like. For a couple who prizes family and simplicity, hosting a wedding potluck would make a wonderful new memory.
I’ve attended or at least known people who have held each of these types of receptions — and every kind has been a great and happy successes for the families involved.
Happy reception planning!