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Does a Wedding Reception Always Include Dinner?

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Guests attending weddings generally expect there will be food served during the celebration. However, you don’t have to serve chicken or steak with veggies and gravy. Mixing up the food options at your reception can make your wedding memorable and give your guests something to talk about.

Does a wedding reception always include dinner?

Some wedding receptions skip the traditional sit-down dinner for something more casual and cost-effective.

If you’re looking for different ideas on how to make the reception less formal, a bit more fun, and save money, then you’re in the right place!

If you’re venturing outside of the traditional wedding dinner options, you’ve got to get it right. We’ve put together some tips and examples that work for other people to help you make the right decision for your wedding. Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re skipping dinner and going for something different.

a meal on a plate on a wedding reception

Why People Don’t Want Dinner

When was the last time you had a great meal at a wedding? The truth is that cooking on a large scale for so many people is a massive challenge. Couples have to make a lot of sacrifices to make sure everyone is happy.

What usually ends up happening is most people walk away from the reception dinner saying, “mehhh!” and that’s good enough!

You get your standard-issue chicken breast, mashed potatoes, filet, and so on. If you ever try to add anything to the menu or spice it up a bit, it’s going to cost you.

Catering companies are also notoriously stringent when it comes to your options. Typically, it’s for a good reason. They know what it takes to serve dinner to hundreds of people at the same time. Things need to be organized, and most of the prep has to happen well ahead of time.

When you add up all the costs and the fact that most people don’t love the dinner anyway, it’s perfectly normal to explore other options.

Bride and groom celebrate wedding with their guest during evening in the reception

The Meals Should Fit With the Wedding Theme

Before we talk about what you can do instead of your traditional dinner, it’s important to note that your wedding’s theme should play a part in any food that you serve.

Your dinner or dinner replacement should fit your reception’s overall theme or formality.

If you’re only serving appetizers at your reception in a ballroom with a full table setting, it’s going to feel a bit odd. It’s sort of like going all-out on all aspects of your wedding and then opting not to have a wedding cake! Things have to make sense.

Deciding early on not to serve dinner should help you plan the rest of the wedding. Everything should fit together nicely to create the atmosphere you want for your big day.

Skipping the fancy dinner is a great choice for people who are doing things like having a small beach wedding, a backyard reception, and other non-traditional celebrations.

What to Serve Instead of Dinner

Not having dinner doesn’t mean you shouldn’t serve any food. Pretty much every guest who shows up to your wedding is going to expect some sort of refreshments. Whether you don’t want the trouble of dinner or you want to save costs, here are some ideas of how to wow your guests without the boring food and high bill.

The Dessert Bar

Delicious creamy desserts with fruits in wedding reception

A dessert buffet is a terrific choice for smaller wedding receptions or parties where you want to feel more relaxed. Desserts are easier to make ahead of time and cheaper, so you can serve a variety of options everyone will be happy with.

Think of tables full of cupcakes, pies, cheesecakes, and cookies laid out elegantly around the cake as the centerpiece. It will look like the scene out of a movie, and your guests will have a ton of fun going through the choices and choosing their treats.

If you really want to wow them, pay to have some chocolate fountains and dipping sticks for fruit, marshmallows, and other yummy desserts.

Rent a Food Truck

guest getting take away foods from the food truck

If you want people to still have food to eat, but don’t necessarily want the white tablecloths, then you can book a food truck or multiple trucks that offer catering services. Imagine having a pizza food truck and a taco truck at your outdoor reception. People can go from mingling with drinks to moseying over to the trucks to grab a bite.

If you’re worried about lines, you can always ask them to pump out smaller bites and have some waiters walk them around to your guests wherever they are.

Make Up for It With the Drinks

wedding glasses for wine and champagne

If you skip dinner, you can pay a bit more to give your guests a better drink experience. Hiring some classy mixologists to serve up interesting cocktails is a terrific idea for outdoor receptions, beach themes, ranch weddings, etc.

You should probably serve some type of food to help offset the drinks, but you don’t have to pay for a full dinner when people love the drinks menu.

You Can Serve Breakfast!

Breakfast buffet on wedding reception in the restaurant

Remember when you were a kid, and every once in a while, your parents would switch it up on you and serve pancakes and eggs for dinner? Well, you can do the same thing for your reception guests and make everyone feel young again.

Serving brunch or breakfast also helps you avoid having a late reception if you need to jump on that honeymoon flight to the Bahamas. Breakfast is easier to make and much more affordable than a traditional wedding dinner menu.

Custom Sandwiches

Everyone loves a good sub, and you can serve delicious artisan sandwiches that are ideal for a lunchtime reception. If you can, give your guests a bunch of different sandwich choices, from Italian to veggie options.

Better yet, have the caterer or sandwich shop on hand to field any custom requests and make the sandwiches there on the spot!

outdoor buffet table with glasses and sandwiches for wedding reception

Make Sure Everyone Can Have Enough

One mistake people sometimes make when they opt not to serve dinner is not having enough food. You want your guests to leave feeling full whether you’re serving steak or not, so make sure you have enough food for everyone.

Hire an experienced caterer who will know how much food to bring. Make more than you think you’ll need if you’re making your own food. You’ll still save money and will feel relaxed knowing you have enough to serve everyone.

Floral theme wedding invitation with details of menu

Tell People About the Food

Don’t let people show up to your reception expecting dinner and only give them appetizers. They’ll probably spend the evening wondering when everyone is going to sit down for dinner service.

List what you’re serving on the invitation to help them know what to expect. That way, they can grab a bite between your ceremony and reception or book dinner reservations for later that evening.

If you’re serving something non-traditional, go heavy on whatever you do. Pay for the best quality you can get and draw attention to the food instead of toward the fact that you’re not serving dinner. The people will love it, giving them more time to talk and move around the venue.

At the end of the day, the wedding and reception are yours. You can do whatever you want.

These days, more and more couples are choosing non-traditional ways to celebrate their love, including changing the meals!