When planning your wedding reception, food and drink are usually top of mind. It's all about whether you'll have a plated meal or serve dishes family style or have guests line up for a buffet. But you should also consider what your guests will do after hours—once they've hit the dance floor (and the bar) for hours celebrating your nuptials, late-night noshes will be long overdue.
There are a few boxes to check off when considering what kind of late-night food to provide for the guests that stay until the end (and then some). First, what will please a crowd? While your ideal late-night food might be the bean burritos at your nearest gas station, that's definitely not ideal for the dozens of high-stamina partygoers you're trying to please.
Next, think about accessibility. Optional delivery is definitely the best case scenario, that way you can task someone in your wedding party (preferably one of the most organized and least forgetful) with ordering a predetermined list of foods from somewhere nearby. If delivery isn't available, it's still important to choose something that's not far from your venue so that a sober volunteer can head out mid-party and procure that pre-made list. The best option is a place that will allow you to preorder and will deliver for you. Easy-peasy.
The final consideration should be your locale. Of course, you're not going to order from your favorite Brooklyn pizza spot if you're up in Connecticut. But more importantly, think about how your late-night food can be another reminder of where you chose to get married and why. Every region has its well-known late-night foods, whether it's a certain burger joint, all-hours greasy spoon, or some kind of signature sandwich (does that include hot dogs?). Here are the spots to consider for your post-reception meal. (* Denotes catering or delivery services.)
Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine
This is pretty ambiguous but that's because some New England folks are picky when it comes to pizza. Often lost in the shadow of New York's pizza reputation, this region's pies are famous in their own right. The name Frank Pepe comes to mind. Whether it's his foundational white-clam pie or the best pepperoni from your hometown, a New England slice is a great way to cap off the night. Plus, most places deliver.
While they're known (especially in grocery stores) for their ice cream, Friendly's has all the menu items of a local diner with the convenience of a chain. It's ideal for a group that wants to bring the party to another location. Take up a few booths, order a milkshake, and settle into the perfect night cap.
New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, DC
Colloquially referred to as simply "Ledo's," this spot is known for super-thin (borderline flimsy?) crust and tangy sauce. It also cuts its pizzas into rectangular slices, so it gets points for style. The Annapolis-headquartered chain opened its first location in Maryland in 1955 but has since branched out to include franchises in Delaware, Virginia, and DC.
Even if you're not from this area, you've likely heard a native gush about Wawa. It has billed itself as a "convenience store, food market, and fuel station" but for those who frequent it, that doesn't quite capture its value. Mostly people rave about the coffee and made-to-order hoagies. Either way, it tops the list of popular fast food in the area.
North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida (plus Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, DC by some definitions)
Two words: bo-berry biscuits. Two more: they cater! That's right, you can get sharable orders of the crunchy fried chicken or the soft biscuits (flecked with berries and drizzled with icing upon request) through the Bojangles Mobile Kitchen. It's BO time.
Not every state in this region has been blessed with the joy of Cookout—sorry DC, Delaware, and Florida! The best deal here is the Cookout tray: a main dish (think burgers and chicken sandwiches) accompanied by an assortment of "sides" ranging from cajun fries to corndogs. In the daylight, it might not be your first choice, but under the cover of darkness, in the hours when you can't shake the craving for greasy food, Cookout is a go-to. Wash it all down with a hand-spun milkshake in one (or a few) of over 40 flavors, or opt for a Cheerwine, Dr. Pepper's fruitier cousin from North Carolina.
As far as boneless chicken-centric spots go, Zaxby's runs with the best of them. They'll put chicken tenders on anything from premium salads to signature sauces (technically the sauce goes on the chicken, but you know what we mean). And they cater. Order up a Chicken Fingerz Platter or a Traditional Zampler Platter—they really play up the 'Z' thing, but we don't hold it against them.
Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas
Looking for all-hours breakfast for your reception after-party? Waffle House has it scattered, smothered, and covered, just like their hash browns. Sure, half the joy of this establishment is hearing the words "waffle on two" ring out above the sizzle of breakfast meats on the griddle, but their many catering packages make up for that. For folks in and around Georgia, the Waffle House food truck with pull up outside your venue.
Sweet and Spicy Bacon Burger. Triple Meat Whataburger. It seems that everything really is bigger in Texas—namely the burgers from this San Antonio-based joint. The franchise has fanned out into nine other states since its inception in 1950. No catering yet, but die-hard fans should consider perusing their merchandise for quirky wedding favors.
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin
Although there may not be scientific proof that eating a bunch of mini burgers is better for you than a full-size burger, we'll go ahead and use that logic to splurge on White Caste. If you're feeding an army, the catering menu is right for you, with piles of crinkle fries and stacked boxes of sliders, pickles and onions included. That's pretty irresistible. To be honest, they had us at chicken rings.
If soup and salad doesn't sound like late-night comfort food, chances are you haven't had Potbelly's. They'll deliver hot subs pre-cut and still toasty to any event, with extra toppings on the side. If you're not worried about bumping heads with the cake, they can throw in some cookies, too.
West (Pacific States)
Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii
You knew this was coming. Any place that serves burgers and fries "animal style" is worth a visit in the wee-hours after you've danced off your plated dinner at the reception. This west-coast gem is said to rival a number of national chains—most of which didn't make it onto this list due to relative ubiquity. In-N-Out, on the other hand, feels much more like a treat because more than half of its locations are smattered across California.
It's unfortunate this chain is only available on the Pacific coasts of Oregon and Washington, because its milkshakes with local ice cream sound divine. There are also a plethora of burger options, including a bean patty that comes in mild and spicy varieties. For the guest who chose the vegetarian option at your wedding, of course.
You may have noticed that Mexican foods are suspiciously absent from this list. Until now. Chevys catering packages include specialties like their fajita bar, as well as pretty much anything else on the menu. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to include the yummy margarita and cocktail menu, but you've likely gotten good use out of the bar at your reception anyway.
Some weddings might already have fried chicken on the menu, but for those who aren't so lucky, there's still time to remedy this with the post-reception vittles. Fun-fact: this chain has a strong presence in Hawaii. Popeyes' catering packages (yes, they'll bring their kickin' chicken to you) are made for certain quantities of people, but we always recommend having a couple dozen extra butter-brushed biscuits on hand. Better safe and fed than sorry and hangry.
Chinese food is arguably the most perfect late-night cuisine: sweet and savory, a plethora of dishes to choose from, and there are treats that answer your existential questions at the end. With their catering menu, Panda Express will super-size your usual order, and throw in more than enough fortune cookies, of course.
West (Mountain States)
Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada
Where others have paired burgers with shakes, BurgerFi sets itself apart with "concretes": custard-based desserts layered with cake, cookies, fudge sauce, and other yummy ingredients. The burgers have just as many toppings for you to choose from, including bacon jam, maple syrup, and a fried egg (not necessarily on the same burger, but nobody's judging). Oh, and the specialty BurgerFi sauce gives In-N-Out's "animal style" menu items a run for their money.
That's right, we're rounding out this list with roast beef. Arby's crowd-pleasing platters will ensure that your late-night partiers will "have the meats" long after your caterer has started packing it in.
Remember, the reception is a marathon, not a sprint. And while we don't recommend stuffing your face with tater tots and tenders as you're jumping around singing "YMCA," it's been done before, and your guests will appreciate having the option to do so. Keep them fueled with one of your favorites—and make sure your photographer is still around to capture priceless shots of your wedding party devouring animal-style fries like animals. Memorable and meta.