Do We Have to Serve a Full Meal at a 5 p.m. Wedding Reception?

Etiquette, Food & Drink
white rose and hydrangea wedding reception centerpiece

Photo: Kate Headley

Do you have to serve dinner if your wedding reception starts in the early evening? Is 11 a.m. too early to serve drinks to your wedding guests? Our etiquette experts are here to help you sort out your food-and-drink dilemmas.

Do we have to serve a full meal at a 5 p.m. reception? I was going to have a long cocktail party, but my mother says we'll look cheap.

Timing-wise, your idea is fine; it's early enough that a full dinner isn't required. On the other hand, you don't want anyone to go home hungry—especially if they've traveled any distance. Make sure you offer enough to eat (18 to 24 hors d'oeuvres per person for a three-hour party), and consider a variety of serving styles: passed canapés, a cheese and fruit buffet, and a couple of action stations (quesadillas, pastas). Serve a wedding cake or another sweet finish as well. You can also prepare your guests with this invitation wording: "Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres immediately following the ceremony."

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