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Jill
Beginner October 2020

Heavy appetizers vs Plated Dinner

Jill, on March 12, 2020 at 1:27 PM Posted in Wedding Reception 0 24
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Heavy appetizers vs Plated Dinner 1


My FW and I are getting married this Halloween at our favorite winery and looking to finance almost the whole thing ourselves - so we are on a bit of a budget. Our venue is pretty new to weddings so they provide the site and thats about it - we provide tables, and chairs, and tents, and mobile bathrooms, and, and, and... we don't mind at all because it is our dream venue at a great price but it does mean trying to cut some costs where we can and plated/sit down dinners seem to be quite pricy.

We both agreed we were not interested in the idea of doing a sit down plated dinner. At our preferred reception, we would serve heavy appetizers of comfort food, filling but quick to eat - bites of grilled cheese with shooters of tomato soup, mac n cheese cups, maybe some sliders, etc. Have some tall standing tables for guests to set down plates and drinks for a short time and some shorter tables for older or tired or introverted guests to sit and relax.


TLDR; we want more of a cocktail hour type of reception not a sit down "chicken or fish" kind of reception.

Does anyone have experience planning this kind of reception? Any pros or cons we should consider? Would this type of reception be less expensive than a "per plate" option?

Thanks in advance!

24 Comments

Latest activity by Jana, on April 13, 2020 at 12:59 AM
  • Kelly
    Champion October 2018
    Kelly ·
    • Flag
    This kind of dinner option will most likely be more expensive. Labor intensive foods always cost more. Are you allowed to use any caterer? Usually restaurant drop off catering is cheapest.
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  • Jill
    Beginner October 2020
    Jill ·
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    Hi Kelly, that's a great point - I didn't think of it as labor intensive but I see what you mean. We can use any caterer we'd like. We will definitely need to look into restaurant drop off catering. Thank you!

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  • Kelly
    Champion October 2018
    Kelly ·
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    I’ve heard Italian, bbq, and Mexican restaurants are cheapest and have seen people post prices starting at $10 per person!
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  • Jill
    Beginner October 2020
    Jill ·
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    Wow, $10/person sounds great! I think we have some pretty good restaurants in town I could contact.

    You wouldn't happen to have an idea of how much more expensive the heavy apps idea is, would you? We've tried contacting the caterer recommended by our venue but they've been difficult to get a hold of, not sure if we'll go with them.

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  • Kate
    Expert October 2020
    Kate ·
    • Flag

    I would also agree that it would be more cost effective to do a sit down dinner. You could also inquire at a local bar & grill to see if they do catering and would be interested in catering your event with their appetizer selections rather than heavy dinner. That could potentially save you some money. Also consider national chains like Golden Corral, Cici's pizza, Qdoba, Chipotle, Olive Garden etc

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  • Katie
    Devoted March 2019
    Katie ·
    • Flag

    This can be tough because for the longest time there was some unwritten rule that "cocktail style is less expensive than buffet is less expensive than plated" even though it really isn't always the case!!

    Like pp, anything that is more labor intensive will be more costly because someone is physically cutting 300 little grilled cheese sammies, etc. (NOT to say it isn't worth it!!) and if you are wanting to serve this in true cocktail/passed hor dourves style, then you're also paying X number of wait staff for Y hours of service to plate, pass, and refill these items - the caterer will typically determine the number of staff needed based on number of guests and food options.

    One way to cut down on the wait staff costs while still encouraging a social dinner experience could be to have food stations (rather than one long buffet), again serving really any style of food - so you still get your comfort foods, appetizer style, etc. You could also consider bringing in a food truck either for a late night bight, the main attraction, desserts, etc. The versatility is really endless in that regard. We had a mini donut truck come the last hour of our reception and it was a hit, but depending on the size of your party the line might get crazy if this were to be the main food source. As far as costs go, you really won't know until you get out there and start talking to caterers. Shoot out a few feeler emails and start collecting prices - any caterer worth their salt will at least be able to ballpark cost based on number of guests, hours of service, number of food selections, style, etc. and could price out all of the different dinner styles for comparison! Good luck!!


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  • Jill
    Beginner October 2020
    Jill ·
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    Thanks Kate! These are some great options!

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  • Melle
    Legend June 2019
    Melle ·
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    I feel like if you could do stations of heavier stuff that would be nice. My other thing though is I feel like I’d want to be seated anyway? Like even if it’s not a full meal I think I’d want to sit down regardless
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  • Jill
    Beginner October 2020
    Jill ·
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    Thanks Katie! That's exactly our thought process - cocktail is less expensive than buffet..etc. But thinking of the logistics the way you've laid it out is really something I'm not sure we'd considered before. It makes total sense that this option would get pricy quick!

    We both agree our least favorite part of a wedding is having to sit at a specific table and wait for your table to be called to be served a specific dinner. Not to say we haven't enjoyed all the weddings we've been to, just that this option isn't our style so buffet or cocktail just feels right for us.

    I like your idea of food stations! It also gives guests the option to eat as much and when they want rather than waiting on a member of the wait staff to come by to grab one egg roll at a time or something. We actually have some friends who own a food truck! But they're both in our wedding parties haha. We were thinking of having another friend who owns a pretzel food truck maybe set up a cute pretzel station somewhere.


    Heavy appetizers vs Plated Dinner 2

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  • Kelly
    Champion October 2018
    Kelly ·
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    I honestly have no idea! I know we paid around $35-$40 per person for mini grilled cheeses, French fries, pork buns, and cheese and charcuterie station for cocktail hour. And that was enough for everyone to maybe have a couple of each and for a dinner you would need a lot more!
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  • Jill
    Beginner October 2020
    Jill ·
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    Hi Melle, we're definitely planning to provide some seating. We have plenty of guests we know will probably be seated for most of the evening and those who are out on the dance floor will need some space to rest! I know I've spent a lot of time sitting at weddings when I don't feel as social.

    We've noticed that at many of the weddings we've been to (6 in the past year! phew!) Much of the seating remained empty once the dance floor opened up and many guests left once the dinner, toasts, and cake cutting was done, so we want to take these things into account since the venue will not be providing any of the tables and chairs.

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  • Jill
    Beginner October 2020
    Jill ·
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    Oh wow! That menu sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing that price range and perspective - you're right, we would definitely need a lot more than just a few each per person if we're planning for that to be the whole dinner. My FW and I have a lot to consider as far as catering goes!

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  • Katie
    Expert January 2021
    Katie ·
    • Flag

    What about a buffet? This is a more casual and less expensive option that a plated dinner but will allow people to fill up. Mexican with a taco bar or something like that would be a good alternative.

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  • Jill
    Beginner October 2020
    Jill ·
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    Hi Anna, buffet is definitely on our back up plan list. We do like the idea of a buffet, we just wanted to look into the cocktail idea as it has become our ideal reception. Depending on price, we may just go with buffet! Thanks!

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  • Katie
    Expert January 2021
    Katie ·
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    Got it - can't go wrong with meats on sticks Smiley smile

    ... by that I mean like kebabs or something along those lines... that came off weird.

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  • Jill
    Beginner October 2020
    Jill ·
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    Hahahah! 😂
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  • MrsD
    Legend July 2019
    MrsD ·
    • Flag

    I've been told heavy appetizers are more expensive than a normal dinner. I'd do catering from a restaurant, like BBQ or Mexican or Italian. You can get that for as low as $10 per person. I'd also have enough seating for everyone at once, people don't want to stand for more than an hour at a time (at most).

    • Reply
  • Katharine
    Expert July 2021
    Katharine ·
    • Flag

    It depends on the venue/caterer. We are leaning towards heavy apps for about 80 guests at our venue, which would be about HALF the cost of any of their buffet meal options (none of which particularly appealed to me personally). We could give a better variety, including vegan options, using their heartier appetizers than any of their buffet menus. Which also incidentally would allow us to host an open bar up to about a 2K limit.

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  • Katie
    Devoted March 2019
    Katie ·
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    This is so cute! It sounds like y'all have so many great ideas!
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  • MOB So Cal
    January 2019
    MOB So Cal ·
    • Flag

    In addition to the cost considerations others have mentioned, I'd also think about your preferred timing. If the reception will include a traditional "meal time," your guest may expect a meal. I've read several posts from attendees at a "heavy apps" reception who didn't realize that was the plan and they were extremely disappointed (and hungry) when they figured out there wasn't an actual "meal" following what they thought were cocktails & apps. If you're doing an "off time," like mid-afternoon or late evening, people will be less likely to assume there will be a full meal to follow. (And, on the cost issue, I've read MANY posts that support the "heavy apps over a longer period of time" being substantially more expensive than a meal.)

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