This Is Why It's So Important to Factor the Reception Meal Into Your Wedding's Overall Timeline

You'll want to know what you plan to serve—and how many total courses—before you start mapping out the rest of the day.

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Photo: Lindsey Taylor Photography

If there's one thing most guests remember about a wedding—other than how happy the newlywed couple looks, of course!—it's the food. Whether your caterer comes with the wedding venue or you have to book your own pro, there's a lot to think about in terms of big-day food. First and foremost, you'll want to be sure you have an open line of communication with your catering team, as this is the easiest way to ensure success. But communication is only one piece of the puzzle: In order for your wedding day to be an overall success, the reception's meal must be accurately accounted for in your big-day timeline. If not, you'll run into some serious scheduling issues.

First, plan for setup time.

"Caterers generally need one to three hours to set up, depending on how elaborate the menu is," says Teal Nicholson, creative director of LLG Events. It's crucial to discuss set-up and tear-down times with your caterer before hiring them to ensure it aligns with your venue's rental hours, she adds. What's more, you don't want to create a timeline that has guests sitting down for dinner if the catering team will still be plating the meals.

Next, build service time into the timeline.

"Aside from the time it takes for guests to eat, couples often forget to account for the time it takes the catering staff to actually serve the courses, and then also to clear the plates before the next course comes out," says Camille McLamb, founder of Camille Victoria Weddings LLC. For example, she explains that a moderately sized event of 150 to 200 guests should allow ten minutes to serve entrées, five minutes to serve any other courses, and five minutes to clear each course.

You should keep in mind that your catering team will stop serving during toasts and speeches. "In order to avoid background noise, keep in mind that it is standard procedure for the catering staff to stop service during toasts and speeches," McLamb say. That means they won't clear plates or bring out the next course until the speech givers are done talking. It's important to schedule toasts at the right moments so that food service isn't interrupted or delayed.

Determine how special requests will work.

Nicholson says you should discuss special requests with your catering team, specifically focusing on when guests need to share their dietary restrictions and how long it will take to accommodate them. There's nothing worse than having all but one guest at a table get their meals.

Make sure you base all of the timing off of your final guest count.

"Everything should be factored with your guest count in mind," Nicholson explains. For example, if you had created a rough timeline based on having 150 guests in attendance but only 120 RSVPed yes, you should be able to shave a few minutes off of the service time due to the reduced number of tables. On the other hand, if more guests are now coming than you thought and you need to increase the number of tables, you'll need to plan for service to take a little bit longer.

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