3 Tips for Being a Gracious Host

Determine what guests should expect at your wedding reception.

3 Tips for Being a Gracious Host

Photo: Ira Lippke Studios

In nearly all cultures and throughout history, wedding celebrations have included a meal. It’s traditional to offer guests the opportunity to toast the happy couple and for the newlyweds to share their first feast together alongside their nearest and dearest. That said, some wedding attendees have been unpleasantly surprised to find that the evening reception they attended only offered a meager selection of hors d’oeuvres, with nary a buffet or choice of chicken or salmon to be seen. While reception types and serving options may vary, timing your event with care, making sure guests are informed, and considering the comfort of loved ones are all important aspects of planning a lovely reception.

Meal options for receptions can run the gamut from breakfast to lunch, afternoon tea to dinner, and cocktails with hors d’oeuvres to Champagne and cake. What type of cuisine you serve depends on several factors, but the primary considerations are your spending limit and the time of day. If cost is a key concern, then breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea, or early evening cocktail receptions are all excellent, affordable options. However, if your reception falls during a meal hour – say noon to 1PM, or 6:30PM and beyond – then lunch, dinner, or other substantial fare (such as heavy hors d’oeuvres that add up to a full meal) are called for. The outline below indicates the type of reception with appropriate meal options to observe for weddings around the clock.

Sunrise. Sunrise services can be followed by simple bagels and Danishes accompanied by mimosa toast, or a proper tuck-in complete with eggs and bacon.

Mid-morning. This is the traditional British time for nuptials to take place, followed by a wedding breakfast (or brunch, which is popular on this side of the Atlantic). Queen Elizabeth treated Prince William and Kate and their morning wedding guests to a reception that featured hot and cold hors d’oeuvres and Champagne.

Midday. If a midday ceremony causes your reception to fall during lunchtime – between 11AM and 1PM – plan on serving either a brunch or luncheon.

Mid-afternoon. For a wedding between 1PM and 4PM, lighter fare is the rule. Champagne with cake, afternoon tea with little sandwiches and pastries, or early cocktails with hors d’oeuvres all work nicely. Early evening. If the ceremony is at 5PM, it’s fine to plan a cocktail reception at 6PM with heavy hors d’oeuvres. Events occurring any later encroach upon the dinner hour; so do think carefully about your guests when planning your menu.

While the type of reception is up to the event hosts and the couple (if they aren’t one and the same), guests do need to have a clear idea of what to expect. If the reception falls during a mealtime but you aren’t serving one, be sure that guests understand that. The place to do so is on the wedding invitation or reception card. Where you would normally print “Dinner and dancing to follow” or “Reception to follow,” be explicit about the alternative; simply saying “reception” alone will imply a meal. Listing “Champagne and cake to follow” – or whatever the option may be – lets guests know not to expect a full meal and to plan accordingly. This should also be done if local custom equates wedding receptions with serving just cake and refreshments, or cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Let your invitation give a heads up to your out-of-town guests who may not be in the know.

The best hosts will keep their guests’ comfort and enjoyment high on the list of priorities as well. If there is a lag time between the ceremony and reception due to a receiving line or photography session, it’s a good idea to offer a little nourishment to your guests while they are waiting. Begin by serving drinks followed by items of sustenance about 15-20 minutes later. Stations, buffets, and passed-tray service are all good options for starting early with small bites: mini Danishes or smoothie shooters in the morning, or canapés and hors d’oeuvres in the afternoon or evening, can satisfy hungry guests until the couple arrives. If you have invited children or elderly guests, remember that their evening mealtime may be on the early side. Talk with your caterer to see what options are available to show consideration for these special attendees. Your hospitality will be much appreciated, and your guests will always look back on your reception with full hearts.

For more advice, discover the levels of wedding formality and their corresponding dress codes!

Opening photograph by Ira Lippke Studios