The Best Way To Feed Wedding Guests, According To A Frequent Wedding Guest

Beef, chicken, fish—forget all that. There's a simpler way.

After attending multiple weddings over the past three months, I've come to the conclusion that only a seasoned wedding attendee can: The hors d'oeuvres are always better than the plated dinner. Just as the traditional wedding cake is no longer a mandatory staple of any couple's special day, the food served to guests at the reception can be customized to best suit each individual event.


Many weddings feature a cocktail hour following the ceremony, just before the reception dinner officially begins, and it's always the same story: I fill up on the delicious appetizers so much that I hardly have room for the entree when it arrives. So, why not make passed apps the main event? This isn't just about my personal preferences—there are many practical reasons for newlyweds to skip the plated dinner in favor of snacks. It might just make the wedding even more enjoyable for everyone.

Why weddings should go heavy on the appetizers

How many times has a bride approached me to ask if I loved the chicken? Zero. It's never happened. But I have heard countless couples excitedly ask their guests, "Oh my God, did you try the bacon-wrapped dates? Aren't they amazing?"


Whereas the traditional entree choices of chicken, fish, beef, or vegetarian tend to be pretty standard—not much to get excited about there—appetizers are an area where couples can get creative. Catering packages offer a wide range of finger foods for the cocktail hour, and since it's optional whether guests want to partake in them, none of the selections have to be broad, dull crowd-pleasers like the entree. As a result, couples planning their wedding just tend to take more care with their choice of hors d'oeuvres, and love to ask guests how they feel about those choices.

The Knot recommends going heavy on appetizers rather than serving a plated dinner at all. In such cases, the wedding planning site suggests serving "protein-based items like shrimp cocktail, steak kebobs, tuna tartar or if you're going more casual, something like chicken wings, sliders and mini tacos." The point is to choose hors d'oeuvres with more heft and substance that will satisfy guests and make up for the fact that a full dinner is not being served. (You don't want to starve your wedding guests.)


A seated dinner can keep guests feeling tied to their tables, too, preventing them from mingling with each other. One recent bride, Danielle Nielson, explained on Wedding Wire why she chose to have a cocktail-style wedding—no plated dinner, only appetizers—citing greater flexibility, a more casual atmosphere, and budget-friendliness as as her main motivations. 

"We had the buffet open for most of the night and people felt like they could keep going back for more," writes Nielson. "It kept our cost for food lower because we did not pay per plate as we would for a sit-down dinner, but it was more unique than a standard buffet."

As a guest, I also love the ability to eat exactly when I'm hungry, rather than during the precise hours of the sit-down meal. It's best when I can eat just enough that I feel full, but not too much that I feel too stuffed to drag myself out onto the dance floor. Providing these smaller bites also allows guests more freedom to roam and just generally have a good time, instead of forcing small talk with their table mates. From the couple's perspective, this alleviates the logistics and cost of making place cards, as well as the complex task of assigning guests to tables like they're setting up 100 blind dates.


The key to breaking with tradition is simply letting everyone know in advance how it's all going to work. Yes, some people might be a bit confused about the fact that a full dinner isn't being served—old habits die hard. But if everything is explained on the invitation or the wedding website well ahead of time, then guests have no one to blame but themselves if they don't understand what's happening. And on the day of the wedding, they will probably agree that the bacon-wrapped dates are amazing.