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There is certainly no right or wrong way to hold a wedding reception, but all the food terms and options can be overwhelming and confusing. Before you and your partner make any decisions, make sure you know what you’re getting into. We asked Danny Salazar, our executive chef, to break it all down. Here’s his primer on all things reception-related, some tips on best practices and the trends we’re seeing unfold so far in 2017.

Cocktail Hour


Into tradition? Consider the classic wedding cocktail hour with stationary displays of items like cheeses and fruit, and fancy passed hors d’oeuvres, like bacon-wrapped scallops. Pro tip: Make sure to think about what’s on the stationary display before selecting passed items to eliminate duplicates and offer more variety.


Want to break out of the usual mold? Try these on-trend ideas: Combine pairing a passed hors d’oeuvre with a mini signature cocktail or mini specialty beer, or mix things up by adding a fun food station, like a sushi bar or sliders.

Seated Dinner


Guests seated at tables, with servers bringing the food course by course, is a pretty standard option. You can shake things up a bit with a combination entrée, such as having two proteins on one plate, and everyone gets the same thing, or offer a split entrée. You choose two to three proteins and offer your guests the choices on their response cards. These options don’t have to be limited to entrées, either. Think about offering a soup and salad combination as the first course. Buffet-style service is also an option, with the same fare.


Family-style service, where you offer a blend of seated and buffet, can be a great icebreaker and conversation starter. Food is placed in serving dishes on the tables and guests serve themselves. Make sure to consider the serving setup when selecting your centerpieces! Larger centerpieces will not work with this type of service. Another creative option is food stations. These usually offer more variety for your guests in a multiple, smaller-scale “buffet style.” Try themed stations, like foods from where you met, where you’re from or even your favorite foods. The sky’s the limit! It’s a great way to cover multicultural menus and get guests get to mingle and try different things.

Think Outside the Wedding Box

Stations: Plates Are Out, Vessels Are In

Individual servings of food presented in unique vessels make for an awesome presentation. You can show off your unique style with different vessels, from small square plates to mini terracotta pots. There is definitely something for everyone and every theme. These are also excellent for outdoor events, and you can choose foods that are room temperature so there will be no issue with food safety.

DIY Dishes

Even something as simple as letting guests choose from a variety of toppings or sauces and to put on their foods can be a huge crowd-pleaser. Consider a taco bar, mix-and-match pastas and sauces or even a chili bar or mashed potato bar with a variety of toppings. The same goes for dessert, where guests can build their own pound cake with toppings like strawberries and whipped cream or customize doughnuts with add-ons. A Bloody Mary bar or a self-serve mimosa bar with different fruit garnishes can also be a fun touch. Don’t be afraid to try something different—it’s your wedding!

Ready to start planning? Schedule a consultation with one of our event managers today!

Robert Ryan Catering and Design plans and executes over 400 events each year, boasts a five-star rating on WeddingWire and has received WeddingWire’s Couple’s Choice/Bride’s Choice Award seven years in a row. Learn more about Robert Ryan Catering & Design and tour our venues. Subscribe to our e-newsletter for exclusive offers, up-to-date news and recipes from our executive chef.

Kim MacKinnon

Photos, top to bottom: Sweetwater Portraits, Annie Hosfeld Photography, Olivia Rae Photography, mk Photography