How to Plan a Non-Traditional Reception Meal

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Weddings are full of traditions. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with sticking to convention, many couples today are skipping these rituals for personal or practical reasons. One major example: doing away with the formal reception dinner.

“Formal sit-down dinners have become less popular at weddings over the past several years. Couples are choosing to serve their wedding meal in more non-traditional ways, truly customizing the experience for their guests,” explains Kristine Cholakian Cooke, owner of Simply Charming Socials in Atlanta.

There are a few chief reasons for the decline of plated reception dinners. First, multi-course meals can have a high cost per person. Last year, couples spent an average of $70 per person on catering according to The Knot 2017 Real Weddings Study. Choosing an alternative meal style can reduce costs by offering less expensive food options and eliminating the need for extra catering staff.

Couples who decide against a super structured meal style are also often interested in creating a more fun and casual atmosphere, says Cholakian Cooke.

“Seated and plated dinners tend to run long, up to two hours sometimes, and couples would rather spend the evening mingling and dancing with their guests,” she adds. “Even with assigned seating, the idea that guests won't be glued to their seat for such a long time and have the freedom to walk around has become much more appealing.”

Here are three of the most popular alternative reception dinner options:

1. Dinner Stations

Rather than positioning food in a single place, like with a buffet or plated meal, stations encourage guests to get up, mingle and try new things. They can either be manned by catering staff or designed as a “build-your-own” experience.

“Stations in particular can be a way for couple to express their shared interests via theme or décor,” says Erin Wiles, owner-operator of Seed Sprout Spoon in St. Louis. “Station food is also fresher because it is served over a greater span of time; we heat and finish things as they are consumed, rather than finishing large quantities at once to serve the group as quickly as possible. In the case of chef-manned stations, items are cooked to-order.”

2. Pass the Hors D’ourvres

If you’re hosting your reception outside of a mealtime, such as mid-afternoon or mid-morning, hand-passed dishes are the perfect way to keep guests satisfied – and costs low. These snacks should be bite-sized and easy to carry, such as soup shooters or mini sliders. It’s also a smart idea to place cocktail rounds around the space for guests to set down plates and drinks.

3. Food Trucks

Why hire a single chef when you can bring three or four of your favorites to your guests?

“Whether it be for appetizers only during cocktail hour, the actual dinner itself, or for a late-night snack, a gathering of a few food trucks is a fun way to kick off a festive party to celebrate the newlyweds,” says Cholakian Cooke.

Of course, bucking tradition does have a couple drawbacks. Often, these types of meal styles require more logistical planning and communication with guests. You should be very clear in your invitations and website about the type of meal you’re serving. No one wants to have a room full of hangry friends and family.

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