- The food stations should be in the same room as the guests:
**Guests should feel as if they can grab food at their leisure and not have to load up on a plate. Also, this way the caterer can keep up on replenishment so the stations do not run the risk of running out of an item.
- The food stations should not be next to each other:
**Guests should not feel the need to go through one food station, then through the next, and the next… They should, rather, feel that they can have items from one station and then sit down, relax, and enjoy items for the other stations at their leisure.
- The plates for the stations should be appetizer sized plates. The appropriate silverware and napkins should be at each station rather than on the table. Drinks should be accessed from a bar. A non-alcoholic water/lemonade/tea station is always a great idea!
**Guests should be able to access everything they need for each station without having to look for anything. So if you are serving soup then a soup spoon would be provided on the station. That way if they would rather walk around with their items they can easily do that. On the same line of thinking, the seating and standing tables should not have place settings on the tables as this may confuse guests since those are items for sit down dinners or buffets. Food items that you choose should be easy to eat and not require a lot (or any) cutting. For instance, you can still do a carving station but use a more tender cut of beef or pork that can easily go on a bun rather than roast beef or prime rib that would need to be sliced with a knife and fork.
-Timing: Food stations should open as soon as guests enter from the ceremony, so there won't be a cocktail reception but rather the whole event is a cocktail reception. This way they can help themselves to food and drinks at their leisure. You can offer passed appetizers for the first 20 or 30 minutes as guests arrive, but the stations must still be open at that time too.
**It's key that all the guests never sit down and then get up for food stations open after that, if this happens, all the guests will line up for the stations creating unbearable lines. If you would like to have some passed appetizers for the first 30 minutes then this will help get food into the hands of those guests who are going to eat last and drink first. If you are planning a prayer then this would happen after the Welcome from the father of the bride (even though the food stations have been open already). This should happen about 30 to 45 minutes into the cocktail reception. The father of the bride or the MC can encourage guests to eat and drink at their leisure and let them know that toasts will happen soon (about another 30 to 45 min after the welcome).
- How will people know that the food stations are opened? The catering staff will approach groups of guest and will invite them to the stations, “Food stations are open, please help yourself!" This way guests know that they may enjoy the food at their leisure.
**Servers inviting guests to the stations is by far the most elegant way to communicate to the guests rather than someone trying get get people's attention on a microphone, but you may have a DJ or MC announce this too or simply have them remind guests that they may eat after the Welcome (see previous guideline). You may also place a short evening timeline on the program or on a menu card for guests that explains the flow too.
- Grand Entrance and Welcome: The Grand Entrance and Welcome should happen 45min into the reception and at this time the father of the bride, MC, or whomever is making the welcome can remind guests that food stations are open and that toasts will occur shortly (about 30min after the Welcome). Before the Toasts is the perfect time to have the Cake Cutting as this will help get people's attention for the Toasts. After the Toasts it's a good idea to head into the First Dance (then Father/Daughter, Mother/Son) this way the evening moves forward and an exciting pace for your guests.
Feel free to contact me with any questions about the Cocktail Reception, it is by far my favorite type of reception and your guests will love how fun it is!
Thank you for reading!