What to Serve at a Daytime Wedding Reception

The pros break it down course by course.

summer rehearsal dinner menu jen rodriguez
Photo: Jen Rodriguez

Hosting a daytime wedding reception doesn't mean you have to work with a limited number of menu choices; in many cases, you'll find that your wedding food and drink options are actually broader by day than they are by night. Just as with evening receptions, the golden rule of wedding planning applies here, too: Choose whatever you want. Whether that's a locally-sourced family style meal, laid-back sandwiches and cold salads, or an upscale take on brunch favorites like pancakes and avocado toast, you and your caterer can come up with a menu that helps create the day you've always imagined.

For inspiration, the pros explain some of their favorite daytime wedding food options here.

Pass sweet and savory hors d'oeuvres.

Choosing a brunch or lunch timeframe does offer a lot more flexibility in terms of your menu, but that doesn't mean you're only allowed to serve salads and quiche. "You do not have to stick to standard lunch or brunch foods unless you love them," says Jove Meyer, owner and creative director of Jove Meyer Events. "Couples can play with the balance of sweet and savory more during the day than at night." Try adding a cinnamon roll station to your cocktail hour or passing mini versions of your favorite brunch foods-pancakes, crepes, chicken and waffles-as appetizers.

Set up light cocktail hour stations.

Lighter fare is more common during daytime receptions than at night, says Jessica Lasky of Jessica Lasky Catering, which gives couples the chance to incorporate seasonal foods. One of Lasky's favorites is a "celebration of tomatoes" stand during the cocktail hour, offering yellow tomato gazpacho, skewers of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and burrata on grilled toasts, and panzanella made with sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes.

Remember that there are no rules when it comes to the entrée.

While a traditional meat-potato-vegetable meal won't go uneaten at a daytime reception, it's not your only option. "If a client is having [an event] where guests come and go, we might present food that can sit all day-seasonal salads, fresh light grains with toasted nuts, and interesting vegetables with vinaigrettes or pistous," says Lasky. For a more formal meal, she recommends starters like avocado toast or gazpacho sippers, followed by an entrée salad. And don't underestimate the power of a simple sandwich with a gourmet twist: Meyer likes warm steak sandwiches with homemade kettle chips, custom grilled paninis, or classic chicken and waffles.

Go lighter on dessert.

A daytime reception also offers fun ways to expand your dessert menu. "Keep it light and breezy," suggests Meyer. "During the day, people tend to eat less dessert than at night, so don't go heavy." And keep the temperatures in mind: "If it's warm out, go for ice cream, or gelato, or ice cream cookie sandwiches."

But don't skip the dessert buffet if you love them.

If you've always dreamed of a big dessert spread, go for it. Lasky is a fan of a "pretty dessert buffet with little bites," because it keeps the party moving. "This is both visual for the guests and also creates energy and movement around the dessert," she says. "Plus, guests can nibble at their leisure while also moving around and chatting." Just don't forget the coffee: "It can be hot or iced, and you can have fun with it," says Meyer. "Bring in a local coffee company to make espresso drinks like lattes and cappuccinos, and include a mimosa or bellini option."

Choose the service style that feels right for you.

Ultimately, the mood you're trying to create-and not the time of day when the wedding is taking place-is what should really inform your food and service choices. "Do they want the dinner service to feel really lively and energetic, filled with clinking glasses and passing platters?" asks Lasky. If so, choose family style service. "If they seem to desire a more formal or understated party, or if they are planning on a lot of speeches, I might suggested a plated meal so that the service can be a bit more quiet, soft, leaving more space and time in the dining room for guests to simply eat and chat." Meyer agrees: "Neither is better or worse," he says. "It is all about what vibe couples want for their celebration."

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