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Wedding evening etiquette – do you need to serve food at your evening reception?

So you’ve chosen the wedding menu for your day guests, perhaps a traditional three course sit-down wedding breakfast, or an informal hot fork buffet, but what about the evening food? What should you give your evening guests? Is it a meal? Is it a snack? Should you provide anything at all?
A waiter holds out a board of canapes during a wedding at Leigh Court

These are questions we get asked every single week by brides and grooms planning their wedding day. Evening food is such an open playing field, with no set rules and yet so many choices.

There was a time, when catering for the evening party of a wedding consisted, in 90 percent of cases, of a sandwich finger buffet. Guests waited in line for ages (since the British are so good at queuing!) to place food on their plates and sit down and eat.

But times have changed, the evening sandwich buffet is dying a death and here’s why:

  • Timings of wedding ceremonies have changed dramatically in the last 20 to 30 years. People used to get married much earlier and had a sit-down meal at 1pm, meaning most people were hungry again by 7pm. Fast-forward three decades and most people get married between 2pm and 4pm. The most popular time for people sitting down for their wedding breakfast now is around 4.30 – 5.30pm, so no one wants a buffet two hours later, therefore evening food is now served around 8pm – 9pm.
  • Now that evening food is being served so late, it’s going out at the same time as the DJ or band is playing, and so a formal buffet style approach tends to put all the fun to a stand-still. Today brides and grooms prefer options that can be served without the party having to stop.
  • Some couples don’t have day guests and evening guests anymore – they just have ‘all day guests’. Traditionally people invited just close family and friends to their ceremony and wedding breakfast, then they would invite everyone else for the evening ‘do’. But now we are seeing more and more couples deciding to have all their friends and family to both parts of the day, meaning that since all their guests have eaten three courses at 5pm, they will only need a snack in the evening.

Now let’s just answer the question: Do we need evening food at all? The answer in 95% of cases has to be yes. Despite feeding your guests a lavish three course meal (to which you think they would be full to the brim!) they will almost certainly want something later on to keep them going. Let’s not forget you’ve been giving them champagne and wine all day – they need something to soak it up with! Guests will expect to have some food during the evening.

So what sort of evening food is a good idea?

  • Simple snack food… Or as we like to call them ‘Mini Classics’, for instance mini fish and chip cones, mini beef burgers, mini hot dogs and bacon or sausage sandwiches are all really popular choices. These can be eaten in one hand, whilst holding a pint or a wine in the other.
  • Live cooking… This is growing in popularity and involves the chef cooking in front of the guests and them coming up to grab the food, like a market stall. With this you get entertainment and food! This could include things like paella, chicken fajitas, or Chinese stir-fries.
  • A hog roast…It’s a classic and it remains popular to this day. It’s great for food a huge crowd. A hog roast is best for evening parties of 100 – 140ppl. It’s simple and hearty food.
  • Mezze or cheese buffet…OK, we said the word buffet. But this is different, this is more informal. We’re talking about a big spread of antipasti, cheeses, rustic breads and olives for people to graze at. Or, perhaps a wedding cheesecake, stacked high with different traditional English cheeses, accompanied by crackers, bread, chutneys and crudités.
  • A sweetie cart…This can be a great addition to your evening party because people can pick on little bags of sweeties all night and even take some home. The kids love them too!
  • Don’t forget to ask your caterer to put your wedding cake out for people to take during the evening too. They should do this free of charge for you.

About the author

Our in house caterers, Berry Blue, are one of the South West’s leading wedding food providers and hold the coveted title of  The 2014 Wedding Industry Awards South West winner.

Find out more about weddings at Leigh Court or view our wedding gallery.