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Should Your Wedding Guests Order Their Entrées in Advance?

We asked wedding caterers around the country this very question—here's what they said.

Chalkboard Handwritten Menu Sign

Chalkboard Handwritten Menu Sign

Photo: Greybird Galleries

By now you’ve probably seen the wedding RSVP card (via Reddit) that’s gone viral. The wording of this card seems to suggest that guests can choose a child as their reception entrée, along with beef or pork—um, what?

While a bit embarrassing for the couple, it does bring up an interesting wedding etiquette question: Should you ask your guests for their entrée choice in advance or allow them to order their meal at the reception?

We asked wedding caterers around the country this very question, and found that 73 percent of caterers said it’s a good idea to get the entrée selection in advance.

There are two reasons why this is the case: preparation and cost. Your wedding caterer wants to ensure that all of your guests get their first-choice entrée selections. If your guests choose their entrées in advance, your caterer can have exactly enough food on hand to make sure everyone gets what they want.

If your guests order at the reception, though, your caterer has to be prepared with extra of each entrée for any scenario—what if a lot of people order the pork but barely anyone orders the fish, for example? This can lead to 30 percent increase in your catering cost, according to Kayli Atha of Colette’s Catering & Events in Fullerton, California. Plus, you may end up with a lot of wasted food.

However, there are some benefits to having your guests order at the reception. According to Keri Cook of A Sophisticated Affair in Arlington, Texas, even if guests order in advance, they inevitably change their mind once they actually see the food at the reception (admit it, you’ve totally done that before—or at least considered it!)—so you might as well just have them order at the event. And, it can be difficult to come up with a way to show who ordered what—some couples choose to print little icons or write notes on the escort or place cards, but that can add stress and work.

And of course, if you have a buffet, family-style or cocktail-style reception, your guests will have lots of food options to choose from and you won’t need to worry about entrée choice at all!

If you are asking for your guests’ entrée choices in advance, the best way to word it on your RSVP card is to ask for each guest to initial their choice of entrée, with language like “Please initial your choice of entrée” (yes, the couple with the viral RSVP card did that part right). This will make things super-easy for both you and your caterer when it comes to knowing exactly who ordered what. And if you are having a kids’ meal offering, provide an option that says “Children’s Meal” or “Child’s Plate” (not “child”) to avoid your response card going viral.

So while “child” might not be one of your entrée choices, you do have options when it comes to whether or not to have your guests order in advance. It’s all about what’s best for you, your wedding, and your caterer.