Why We Are Ditching Traditional Wedding Catering

For our January wedding, we’ve opted not to have a sit-down dinner. Oh there will be plenty of food. Tons and tons of it. But our guests will not ever be sitting in an assigned seat, eating either the chicken or the steak.

Why We Are Ditching Traditional Wedding Catering | eastandblog.com #weddingplanning

While I’m certain that some of our guests will be expecting a sit down dinner, it’s just not us and it’s not how we eat. And remember, we’re going for a really non-weddingy wedding. So we’ve found a caterer to help make our alternative food dreams come true. We’re serving up Tapas.

Our small guest list (85 people) and our unique venue means that we have a lot of flexibility about what kind of experience we want our guests to have at our wedding. We chose the unique venue because we want a unique experience. Tapas fits right in with that, for us.

Immediately following the wedding ceremony, guests will be served heavy hors o’euvres for about an hour. N and I are both really in to ordering lots of appetizers to share, and often make a dinner out of it. N’s family also tends to have a lot of options at their celebrations (like we did recently on Nowruz) and because his family’s traditional foods and my family’s traditional foods are so different, our goal was lots of flavor, lots of variety. We’ll also have several stations during this time, including (and most importantly), a variety of fancy cheeses.

Following hor o’euvres, tapas will be served. These are small, passed plates, again with several options and lots of flavor. Guests will have the option of sitting down but will be able to enjoy these while standing up and socializing also.

Later, small desserts will be served instead of cake. Sorry I’m not sorry but I’ll take lemon tarts, chocolate and salted caramel terrine bites, and mini cheesecakes over traditional wedding cake any day. And after lots of dancing and fun, a late night round of delicious flatbreads will be served. Because come on, who doesn’t like late night pizza? More than anything, that is so very us.

I had concerns about how this would go over at our wedding. Would people be waiting around wondering when dinner was served? Our caterer assured me that this would not be the case and that our guests would be full and happy. Additionally, she noted that the tapas style service really lends itself to a fun party environment. People will be walking around, socializing, and enjoying each other’s company while eating.

When I pictured the other weddings we’ve been to, I vividly remember how obnoxious social N’s friends were during dinner (I love them, I really do) as they got up and chatted with other tables in between every course. Tapas seemed like the perfect solution, so they aren’t isolated to separate round tables.

Cost wise, tapas work out to be a little cheaper than some of the other quotes we got, though I wouldn’t go into it expecting it to be cheaper. We want the food to be excellent, and to be a memorable part of our event so we budgeted accordingly. Tapas does keep rental costs down a little bit, as we don’t need full dinner plates or as much silverware. The way we are keeping our costs down most effectively is that our venue and caterer allow us to bring our own alcohol. That’s the biggest saver for us. Additionally, about half of our options are vegetarian and half are meat, which I’m sure contributes to a slightly lower cost also.

So…tapas it is. What do you think of tapas instead of a sit-down dinner? Have you been to an event like this before?

If you liked this post, you might enjoy Why We Chose A Winter Wedding, 10 Things No One Tells You About Wedding Dress Shopping, or How To Choose Your Wedding Venue.

  • That sounds pretty awesome! I think your guests will like the novelty. I love how non-wedding your wedding is going to be. Mine is ending up more traditional than I would have liked, but the bottom line for me is that I don’t want to plan it and deal with details so it’s all good.

  • I think this sounds like a really awesome idea. We had a sit down dinner at my wedding and, while I wouldn’t change a thing for many reasons, my only complaint about the whole day was that I don’t feel I spent enough time with each guest. Not having a sit down dinner will definitely open up more time for you to wander & mingle & chat with you guests. Sounds like it will be a really amazing night!

  • I’ve actually only been to ONE wedding that was the traditional sit and be served type of event. It was rigid and stiff and actually a little uncomfortable. Most weddings I go to now-a-days (including my own) have been buffet or something similar, and they’re definitely way more popular. At least at our wedding, people were so relaxed. They never HAD to be seated for anything to take place. They could be hanging out on/around the dance floor, at the bar, at someone else’s table, and it was just so much more fun. Plus, I didn’t have to pay anyone to serve!

  • Okay, you and my sister seriously have such similar wedding styles (although, quite different as well). I love that weddings are so tailored to individual personalities / preferences these days!! We’re doing a sit-down dinner for hers, but it’ll be family style b/c that’s how we’re used to eating… and ditching the cake for cupcakes, a s’mores bar, and lots of desserts!!

  • What a great idea! I’ve only been to ‘formal’ weddings and have always felt like I didn’t get enough time to socialize with everyone. This sounds amazing!

  • That sounds like a really great idea! To be honest, I have been to few weddings where the “family style” or plated dinners were really any good because you could tell they just sat in the back forever and ever. I think tapas and heavy apps is a great idea. I also love the pizza later at night idea – I’ve been to a few weddings where they put out snacks at the end and I LOVE the idea!

  • I think it’s a great idea! I would say that if some of your guests don’t know you’re going this route, I would mention it in the invite or reception card (maybe something like tapas-style reception to follow). That way people know what to expect!

  • That sounds fantastic! Serving tapas also allows people to eat as much or as little as they want without feeling bad that the couple paid for a meal that they didn’t finish. Plus it’s a great way to encourage people to walk around and be social, like you said.

  • I love this idea! I think this will make your wedding unique and memorable. I don’t think anyone will care. Hey, they are still getting good free food at out of the deal! Also, sometimes the sit down dinners can kind of put lull on things and this way, you can keep the fun going!

  • Kim

    Your wedding food sounds AMAZING, particularly the variety of fancy cheeses ; ) I like the idea of considering your wedding like an event that reflects your personality and tastes, not a day that has to follow a set formula. Tons of events serve food this way and I personally LOVE the variety of gourmet goodies available through the night, especially if there is casual seating available for people to rest their feet. I’ve found assigned seats around big tables kind of awkward in the past too… love your idea!

  • Moe

    So far from what you’ve shared, your wedding sounds amazing! It sounds so different and unique that I’m sure your guests will definitely remember it years down the line! I can’t wait to hear more about it!

  • Allie

    I’ve never commented before but I’ve been following along with your wedding planning. My wedding reception consisted of passed hors d’oeuvres, several stations, and scattered cocktail tables to encourage mingling. No seating plan or anything. I also didn’t wear a veil, throw my bouquet, or do a first dance or traditional showy “entrance” of the wedding party. Not my style. You seem kind of self-conscious about being nontraditional… just remember that no one cares as much as you do! Most people just want good food, music, and company. Don’t bother inviting the people who fuss about doing away with fusty patriarchal traditions! (Sit-down dinner vs. tapas is probably not a patriarchy-related issue, but you know.)

  • We didn’t have a “traditional” dinner either, but instead chose to have a buffet. I originally wanted to have an assortment of “heavy finger foods” like sandwiches, cheeses, and dips, but we eventually decided for more dinner-style foods. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and kept going back for seconds!

  • I love this idea! We had a passed hors d’oeuvres plan at our wedding celebration too 😉

  • love this! We’re doing a buffet (mostly vegetarian and vegan – sorry guests!) and no cake. Secret: I hate cake so were doing a more … um, unique dessert. I love the idea of tapas!!

  • kim

    I think it’s an awesome idea and we’re doing a buffet dinner for that exact reason. I just want people to be dancing and mingling all night and I hate being tied down to a chair!

  • I love the idea of tapas at a wedding! Especially if half of them are vegetarian – I’m vegetarian, many of my friends have food allergies/sensitivities, and are just generally picky. I have mad respect for you guys skipping the cake!

  • this is a beautiful idea. No cake is a wonderful idea!!

  • JC

    I love this idea and if we didn’t have 200 people that’s what we would have done. My uncle got married a year or two ago and they did a cocktail party with lots of heavy appetizers and the biggest fruit and cheese table I have ever seen. It was super ornate, and I love the casual style of it. We are also doing a desert table instead of cake, and just a small cake to cut for ceremony, and because my mom really wants us to lol a variety of deserts just seems so much more fun. The other thing we are considering is an ice cream sunday station, it just seems so fun!

  • Elizabeth

    We did something similar. Our wedding started at 7:30pm and we put on the invitation “dessert reception to follow” so people wouldn’t expect dinner. Before my new husband and I showed up at the reception, hors d’oeuvres were served for the guests who were waiting. For the dessert, we had the wedding cake (almond with Bavarian creme filling), grooms cake (cheesecake with berry toppings) and 5 other cakes (strawberry, red velvet, chocolate, lemon poppy seed and Italian cream). I’m pretty much in love with cake and I always choose sweets over savory. It was ideal for us.

  • I LOVE this idea! It’s actually what I’ve always said I’d do for my wedding 🙂 I grew up in Spain so tapas are a MASSIVE part of my life.

    I’m of the same thought as well, that it’s a much easier and nicer way for everyone to mix and socialise. There are always people I end up missing a chat with on the day cos they’re sat on the opposite end of the room to me!

    So yeah. Awesome choice 🙂

    Little Miss Katy | UK Lifestyle Blog

  • I think that if you can swing it, small plates and hors-d’oeuvres are a great way to go for all the reason you’re choosing to do them. My only guidance would be to make sure that you do, in fact, have enough food. I did go to a wedding where it was just passed plates and an hors-d’oeuvre buffet, and the vibe was great but there was not nearly enough food – a big no-no with an open bar! I would up having to ask the caterer to go back to her kitchen and empty it out just to feed everyone…which led to the most bizarre spread you’ve ever seen. You should be serving the same amount of food, if not more, than you would for a sit-down dinner, just serve it differently. If you’re caterer gets this, though, you should be ok.

    If you’re worried about people’s expectations, I would just make sure they know the deal one way or another. You can mention it on a wedding website if you have one and ask the servers to gently let people know that this is the meal. That way no one will be going light on the food thinking it’s just eh cocktail hour and that dinner is coming later.

  • That idea is BRILLIANT! If I ever get married I’ll have to make note of it.

  • I LOVE THIS IDEA! Definitely make sure your guests know the deal though .. consider a cute signage describing the meals, so people don’t think more is coming and then .. there isnt. Sounds fun! We are doing a buffet .. and I’m thrilled! Everyone can eat as much as they want of what they want. Win win!

  • Definitely do your wedding the way YOU want to! I got married last October, and we had a food truck cater our food. We had about 10 different types of hot dogs and pulled pork along with delicious sides. We also served all different kinds of pies instead of cake (besides the small boxed confetti cake I made for us to cut into :D). It was so much better than the traditional food, and exactly us. It was perfect 🙂

  • This post made me so hungry. And let’s be honest, wedding catered dinners aren’t often that tasty, anyway…this sounds much yummier…and so fun!

  • We didn’t do the traditional sit down dinner either.. We actually got a food truck and people ate street food! It was so much fun and the guests (only 65) loved it. I think your idea is great and will be well received.

  • Erin

    While personally I’ve never been to a wedding reception that hasn’t had a sit down dinner, whether served or buffet, I think a tapas reception sounds like it should work out just fine. If you’re concerned that guests may wonder when & where they’ll be sitting for dinner maybe there’s a way you can let them know that there will not be a typical sit down dinner served. I’m not sure if you’re planning to set up am informational wedding website or not, but if you are that could be a place to discuss the food situation following the ceremony & if a website isn’t the way you’re planning to go perhaps adding the information to your invitation some how could be an alternate way to let your guests know what to expect & to ease their surprise/confusion? However you decide to go about letting guests know or not just know that it’s yours & N’s wedding and guests aren’t paying to have a plated steak dinner at a 5 star restaurant; they’re taking time out of their life to spend a special day in the lives of their friends & family members lives. Bottom line, it’s your wedding, therefore your money and vision, not theirs. The only people whose opinions matter that day are the bride and the groom’s! Just my long winded 2 cents on the matter.

  • Honestly are we planning the same wedding?!?! For real though!?!?! LOVEEEEEEEEEEEE tapas!

    Chelsea| East Willow Grove

  • I was in a wedding last spring where only appetizers were served. I liked it a lot. They had more than a dozen different items, and it was fun to try a lot of different things instead of just being served a basic wedding meal.

    I doubt people will get upset, but if they do … well, it’s your day. The wedding should reflect who you and the groom are as a couple. Sounds like you’re making sure it does.

  • I had a Mexican buffet for my wedding and it was AWESOME. But guests still sat at tables and went up to the buffet line (and we had a “head table” for us and the wedding party), so we had a hard time seeing and chatting with everyone who came. Tapas is a brilliant way to ensure you’ll be able to see everyone. And if you’re really worried about guests expecting a sit-down dinner — I’d expect it would mostly be your older guests (relatives and family friends), so you can ask your parents to sort of “spread the word” so they know what to expect.

  • Can I be invited? LOL just kidding obviously but it sounds amazing!

  • I think it will make it really unique!

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