If you've been lucky enough to attend several weddings prior to starting to plan your own, you know that no two weddings are exactly alike.
Some wedding receptions may appear more similar than others if it's the same venue, such as your local country club, but brides and grooms have choices to make about the kind of format they'd like to have that helps them insert some individuality and personal style into their own big day.
The manner in which you choose to seat and serve your guests has a lot to do with creating the vibe of your wedding. While formal, black-tie may be the attire you prefer your guests to wear, there's no rule saying that you have to choose the stuffiest possible configuration for the rest of the reception. Most venues are happy to accommodate the wedding couple's preferences, there is usually a difference in cost based on what you choose. With that said, the cost may not be significant enough to prevent a couple who wants to do something creative and different from executing their preferred plan.
Before you make a final decision on how your wedding reception will flow, be sure to find out what your venue can accommodate and how much the different options cost. And then ask yourself the following three questions:
1. Would you prefer that your guests be served dinner at their seats at the table, or do you want them to be able to help themselves at a buffet?
Some couples HATE the idea of making their guests wait in line to be served, and feel that seated/plated is the more formal — and preferable — option.
2. Will you let your guests choose their own place to sit for dinner, or do you want to use place cards directing them to a particular table?
More specifically, you can also designate their EXACT seats at the table if you do escort cards and place cards. The first helps them locate their table assignment, the second is waiting at their pre-designated place setting so they know exactly where you want them to sit. If you dislike being told where to sit when you attend a wedding, you'd probably prefer to simply have open seating, making sure there are enough seats for everyone, plus a few extras just in case somebody really does not want to sit next to whoever is sitting beside the last empty seat.
3. Do you want your guests to remain seated throughout your wedding dinner, or do you want them to circulate and visit?
If your answer to this question is yes, you might consider doing food stations rather than seated/plated or a traditional buffet. Stations allow guests to mix and mingle, dance and then nibble, for an extended period of time. Traditional buffets will be open long enough for all of the guests to serve themselves once — twice if they're relatively fast eaters — and then the buffet will go away.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events, a full-service traditional and destination wedding planning company and Do-It-Yourself wedding planning consulting service for DIY brides and grooms based in the Washington, DC area. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show "Wedding Island," about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques. Sandy's book "How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional," will be released on March 1st, but is available online for pre-orders now where books are sold.