How to Find the Perfect Wedding Reception Meal Style For You

Feeling fancy or keeping it intimate?
HONOLULU Weddings plating.
Photos: Amber Schoniwitz of Schyne Photography and Jenna Leigh Photography 


Chargers and flatware? Carving stations? Sterno heat? Shareable plates? Picking the right reception and meal style depends on you, your style and your guests, but here’s a mini cheat sheet to help you figure out where you’ll stand (or sit).

  HONOLULU Weddings plated.

Photo: Jenna Leigh Photography


The classic: Plated

Elegant and timeless, the plated dinner has a lot of upsides. Your guests will be perfectly comfortable because they won’t be jostling for food or standing in line. Less food is wasted because the caterers are planning per head. If it’s a gloriously fancy party you’re looking for, the plated dinner can’t be beat. Not only does the service spoil your guests, the opportunities for sprucing up the tabletop with all the trappings are endless: Think shimmering crystal chargers, contrasting china, tinted goblets, statement gold utensils and linen napkins at each place setting, with escort cards, elegantly packaged favors and hand-lettered menus tied with silk ribbons placed on top.


The variety: Buffet

The buffet is the go-to format for a reason: It’s often much more economical, thanks to fewer staff, and it gives guests a chance to taste a multitude of dishes. No choosing between chicken, fish or beef here—guests can grab a bit of everything, and go back for seconds! As with any format, just make sure you kick off the buffet line in a timely manner, as the last thing hungry guests want to do is queue up while Auntie Myrna picks her way through all the pasta salads.


The group-oriented: Family-style

We love the unconventional, intimate feel of family-style wedding dinners, with shared platters delivered to each table. They’re particularly well-suited to menus meant for sharing, such as Hawaiian, Mexican or Chinese cuisine. It’s a cool, casual way of bringing guests together and stimulating warm conversation over a shared meal. Our suggestion: Kick things off with a centerpiece that doubles as a shareable app, such as an array of antipasto meats and cheeses. It’s beautiful, delicious, easy to D.I.Y., and gets guests chatting and eating—and an eating guest is a happy guest.


The casual-cool: Cocktail

If you’d rather mix and mingle than be stuck at a head table all day, a cocktail reception may be for you. Passed apps (or mini desserts!) can make for a great party with a contemporary vibe. Just remember that your guests may have certain preconceptions of what a “traditional” wedding is, so gently informing them of your countercultural ways will ensure they don’t skip a meal and show up hungry. Starting the festivities far before or after dinner (say 3 or 8 p.m.) gives a hint, as does a casual “cocktails and pūpū to follow” on the invite. 


The food festival vibe: Stations

Who doesn’t love a food festival? Everyone gets a kick out of action stations and themed bars, and we love any “make your own …” option, be it risotto, saimin, baked potatoes or cupcakes. While this is a fun way to entertain and feed your guests at the same time, remember that older folks may find themselves flummoxed when confronted with this avant garde setup. Let them know the plan so they can mentally prepare—and wear the right shoes (grandma probably doesn’t want to be crawling from station to station in her church heels!). Or designate a handy cousin to reserve the elderly some seats and make them plates.


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