Is It OK to Not Serve Dinner at a Wedding Reception?

An aerial shot of a wedding reception dinner table with a a bride and groom and their guests.

With the average wedding cost climbing into the $30,000 range, it’s understandable that you want to cut where you can. On first glance, food is easily the biggest portion of your wedding budget and so you might think it makes sense to reduce costs there. However, deciding to do something drastic in your wedding like not serving your guests dinner at the reception is a pretty controversial move.

So, is it ever OK to not serve your guests a full meal at your reception? Are there occasions when it’s more acceptable? Let’s go over the etiquette involved in this tricky question.

What Kind of Wedding Are You Hosting?

Back before the days of Pinterest and the explosion of wedding magazines and guidebooks in every bookstore, weddings were pretty simple affairs for most people—unless you count the weddings of the wealthy, celebrities, presidents’ children, or royals. In those days, average brides and grooms served cake, punch, and maybe a few Jordan almonds or mints.

Today, weddings are an experience for the couple as well as all of the couple’s family and friends. Modern weddings are generally pretty large and grandeur, which means that couples are not only expected to provide a full meal for everyone who attends—but they’re also in charge of entertaining guests and sending them home with something extravagant to remember the event. This, as we all know, can add up in cost.

A dinner table at a wedding reception with salads on the plates.

A wedding is centered around the two of you making a commitment to each other, but it’s also a very large party that you’re hosting. When you are thinking about the possibility of not serving your guests dinner, you have to consider what kind of gathering you’re going to be hosting. Is it going to be an intimate gathering and short day? Or is your affair going to be a lengthy celebration with the works including a DJ, floral bouquet toss, and first dance?

If your wedding is going to be short and sweet, it might not make sense to pull all the stops out with a buffet or a seated dinner. But if you plan on inviting your guests for an evening out with the expectation that they’ll spend a significant amount of time with you, it might not make sense to cut dinner from your budget. This is especially true if you plan on serving alcohol. You definitely don’t want to have your guests drinking too much without anything available for them to eat.

Even if your wedding is going to be pretty small, it’s still not the most polite behavior to expect guests to show up to a celebration for you and not have anything for them to eat. At the very least, you should have cake, desserts, and a few crunchy items like chips or veggie trays for your guests to munch on during the reception.

Think Outside the Box

We get it: feeding 100+ people is crazy expensive. But just because you may not be able to afford a full dinner doesn’t mean that you can’t properly feed your guests. A buffet may be out of your price range, but “heavy appetizers” like buffalo wings, egg rolls, tacos, or even slices of pizza aren’t going to be as expensive and they’ll still be able to fill up your guests.

If you’re concerned about budget, contact a local caterer and have a frank discussion with them about what you can afford to see if they can offer you a menu that’ll work for you. Also, be sure to think outside the box: contact your favorite local food truck or chain restaurant that may have cheaper options to work within your budget.

A wedding reception brunch buffet with a cake and yogurt.

Also, think about playing around with the time or day of your wedding to see if you can find cheaper catering options. For example, a full dinner may be too expensive for you, but a brunch buffet could fit into your wedding budget nicely. Breakfast food is usually cheaper to make and serve than a dinner that involves carving stations and multiple types of cuisine.

If you’re still struggling to find room in your budget to feed all of your guests, look at other areas that you could possibly cut so that you can reallocate the funds. You may have always wanted a string quartet to play while you walked down the aisle, but a recording of a string quartet is much cheaper—and being able to afford a dinner for your guests should, in popular opinion, be your top priority.

Find Amazing Vendors