Q: Do we have to serve a full meal at a 5:00 p.m. reception? I was going to have a long cocktail party, but my mother says we'll look cheap.

A: 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."

See all questions about food and drink etiquette

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