The rules are: there are no rules. Why not host the cocktail hour before the ceremony (to loosen up your guests), serve dinner buffet-style (letting guests pick what they want to eat), and think beyond cake for dessert (most wedding cakes just aren’t that good, anyway). Host a memorable bash with these tips and more from Eat More Better.
When planning any type of function, the most important issues to consider are guest blood flow and food pacing. When people consume large quantities of food and drink while sitting, they become full and tired, and the collective energy of the gathering sags. When you space out courses and keep people moving around, it aids digestion and blood flow, boosting the energy level of your guests.
This is especially important at events with lots of courses and huge quantities of food. Many weddings today feature cocktail hours, which, though delicious, constitute whole meals in themselves. Then guests are ushered into a main hall, where salads are waiting at each place setting.
I just inhaled three dozen pigs in blankets. Now you want me to sit down and eat a pile of lettuce?
The salad course at large functions should be eliminated entirely. It’s usually uninspired, and worse, it forces guests to sit down and eat more at the crucial moment when they’re feeling a little tipsy and a little full, and party momentum is balanced on a butter knife’s edge.
After the hors d’oeuvres, there should be at least one hour during which drinks are available but no food is served, when guests are encouraged—implicitly or explicitly—to stand up. This may mean music and dancing, mingling by the bar, or any other activity that promotes blood flow and digestion. After this food moratorium, dinner may be served.
THE BENEFITS OF THE PRE-CEREMONY COCKTAIL HOUR (OR, THE MARRIAGE OF MRS. SPORKFUL AND ME)
Since you asked, I’ll tell you about my wedding to Mrs. Sporkful. We did our cocktail hour and hors d’oeuvres before the ceremony, which offers a few benefits:
• It loosens up the crowd and lets guests who may not know many people make friends.
• Moderate quantities of passed hors d’oeuvres at the outset take the edge off guests’ appetites and lay a foundation for forthcoming alcohol.
• After the ceremony there was another hour or so of mingling, drinking, and dancing, so that by the time dinner was served, people were ready to sit down and eat, and hungry enough to actually enjoy the buffet of fried chicken and mac and cheese.
STANDING UP AGAINST THE SIT-DOWN DINNER
When you get married, your son has a Bar Mitzvah, or your daughter has her debutante ball, everyone is going to tell you there are all these things you have to do.
“You must have cake!”
“You must serve a sit-down dinner!”
“You must dance the [insert traditional dance of your ethnic group here]!”
In truth, at your wedding, the only thing you must do is get married. At your Bar Mitzvah, the only thing you must do is become a man. And at your debutante ball, the only thing you must do is introduce yourself to society as an attractive, submissive young lady ready to occupy the traditional gender role assigned to you by your paternalistic forebears.
Everything else is optional.
If you want to have maximum blood flow and food pacing, eliminate the sit-down dinner entirely. Make small but substantial foods (like sliders) available throughout the duration of the party, which allows people to pace themselves and mingle and dance without interruption. (It’s also usually less expensive.)
ELIMINATING WEDDING CAKE (AND OTHER TIPS ON IMPROVING DESSERT)
Mrs. Sporkful and I bucked convention at our wedding in more ways than one. We didn’t serve wedding cake. Here’s why:
• Most wedding cakes just aren’t that good. Don’t even get me started on fondant.
• Cutting it up and serving it takes time from your event that would be better spent on the dance floor.
• It draws people back to their seats just when they had worked off dinner and started to feel their second winds coming on.
At our wedding we served two types of pie, in part because the restaurant specialized in pie. But that’s just one of many options to consider. Handheld desserts such as cupcakes, cookies, brownies, donuts, and ice cream cones are great because they’re likely to taste better than the cake and, again, they keep people moving around when they’re apt
to begin losing steam.
No matter what desserts you choose, I recommend they be either passed like hors d’oeuvres or served from a station that guests may approach when they like. The best way to pace courses is to give guests the freedom to pace themselves.
TIP: A buffet dinner is an underrated option at large functions. It lets guests decide what (and how much) they eat, and provides another opportunity to get people out of their chairs and moving around.
TIP: Don’t wait until the end of the party to offer coffee. Guests who arrive tired will be thankful for the pick-me-up. If your gathering is a summer barbecue or pool party, put out a pitcher of iced coffee. If it’s a dinner, set out coffee by the bar.