Never in my life could I envision myself attending a wedding, barging into a kitchen full of catering staff plating dinners, holding hot pans, and working at record speed, just to go to the fridge to help myself to a bottle of water when there’s a full bar set up 30 yards away. NEVER.
If you’re sitting there wondering who in the world would do such a thing, let me tell you, I’ve seen this happen with my own eyes. Apparently it’s not a “no brainer” to everyone. Whether you’re the bride and groom, a family member or just a guest, here are five things to remember when it comes to food etiquette at a wedding:
1. As soon as the caterers arrive, the kitchen becomes theirs, so stay out of it. There are practical and safety reasons for this. If you are having your wedding reception at a private home or villa, chances are they’re working in a non-industrial grade (and size) kitchen. This already provides a challenge to make sure all the food is ready. When you add in constant interruptions, it makes it nearly impossible for the caterers. I’ve seen caterers make fantastic five-star meals in these kitchens, but timing is key. They have it down to a science to ensure they get all the food plated and served to the guests while it’s still hot. If anyone is walking in and out, or trying to use the kitchen, they are most likely getting in the way of the prep work and can throw off the timeline – or get hurt or cause a member of the staff to get hurt. The best thing you can do is clean up the kitchen that morning by putting everything on the counters into cupboards to give the caterers work space. Then make plans for lunch by having something delivered or putting someone in charge of going out to pick something up. The caterers are doing what you paid them to do, so you have to do your part and stand back to let them do their job.
2. Another crazy food etiquette faux pas that I’ve seen is guests asking for seconds on dinner at a wedding reception. The problem is that the bride and groom have paid for a certain number of meals, which is why you usually place your order ahead of time. The caterers may have one or two extra in case something goes wrong, but not enough for second helpings for anyone. If other guests see one person getting seconds, it leads more guests to make the same request. If you have a big appetite and are worried about the portion sizes, there are a couple things you can do. One, eat more appetizers. They’re meant to curb your appetite before dinner. There is no shame in trying one of everything, and having a couple of your favorites. Another option is stocking your own accommodations with snacks. That way, if you’re still hungry when you return late at night, you have something there to eat. If you are unsure about whether or not you’ll like the food at a wedding, having some emergency granola bars for a midnight snack isn’t a bad thing. Just DO NOT bring them with you to the wedding. That is tacky and rude unless you’re under the age of five.
3. There is no such thing as “leftovers” at a wedding. The caterers are not going to put the back-up meals they prepared for emergencies in your fridge for you to keep. My question is why would you want them? First off, there usually isn’t much left over and it doesn’t actually belong to you. Second, you may have the best intention of eating it later that night, but more times than not it will get thrown out the next morning before you leave for your honeymoon. Plus, don’t forget that you have extra wedding cake you can always snack on if you should get the munchies in the middle of the night. Also, there is no such thing as “to-go” boxes at a wedding. If a guest doesn’t show up, it is NOT okay to ask for their meal to be put in a doggy bag – you are not at a restaurant. The caterers have zero obligation to keep your half-eaten meal cold (and safe – things turn bad quickly in the tropics). As a guest, you are most likely returning to your hotel at the end of the night, which may or may not have a mini fridge or microwave, and probably doesn’t have silverware readily available. So eat what you want, enjoy the food, and if there is still food on your plate when you finish, it’s okay.
4. Try to remember what you ordered for dinner. Again, the bride and groom ordered a specific number of each option and that’s it. As wedding planners, we have a list of who ordered what because the bride and groom have sent us a list with each person’s name and dinner order. If you don’t remember what you ordered, please ask one of us. You can bet that someone has a list and can check. If everyone starts ordering whatever they think looks best coming out of the kitchen, it will definitely screw up the numbers and another guest won’t get what he or she ordered. So be mindful of this and stick with your original order. The only reason to change an order is if you have an allergy to something being served to you, and that is something that should be noted ahead of time so the caterers can accommodate your special needs.
5. Everyone’s favorite part of the meal is dessert. Some of our brides and grooms want to stick to tradition, and often ask about shipping the top tier of their wedding cake home. We’re all about trying to give the couple what they want, but when you have a destination wedding and are travelling, usually the cake is in no shape to eat and needs to be tossed out by the time it arrives to their house (our boss Sandy admits she brought a box and ended up abandoning her own wedding cake on her honeymoon). If the bride and groom are determined to take their cake home, we ask that they bring a special box or container specifically for that purpose. The better bet would be to order a one-tier cake of the same flavor back home to eat on your first anniversary. We’ve also seen cake “to-go” bags become more popular.
Earlier, I said that there are no “to-go” boxes at a wedding, but it can work for cake if you follow a few steps. I would suggest that the couple talk to their wedding planner or pastry chef first before ordering or shipping containers. They’ve most likely done this before and can give the couple some advice on what works and doesn’t, and may be able to supply the containers if they’re requested early enough. If you get the go-ahead, Pinterest and Etsy have some fun ideas. “To-go” cake bags are great, but if your guests are returning to hotel rooms that night, chances are they won’t have an extra fork just lying around so it’s a good idea to include some disposable ones with cake. You also have to make sure that there is enough for everyone. This means that you need a cake big enough to feed your entire wedding twice: once after the cake cutting and again to put slices in bags for everyone to grab as they walk out the door. A bigger cake will affect your budget, but it also means you don’t need to have additional favors. Your guests will love it because they don’t have to find room in their suitcase for anything extra.
So there you have it, five tips to remember when it comes to food etiquette at weddings. All things I never would have thought about until I became a wedding planning intern at Weddings in Vieques and actually saw it happen. Whether you’re planning or attending a wedding, try to follow these tips. They will keep you from looking like a fool, and help ensure that things run smoothly without any extra drama in the kitchen.
Remember, the goal is to make the sure the bride and groom experience a flawless evening. Even though they’ve planned their events to ensure a fabulous experience for their friends and family, they don’t need to hear anyone complaining because they couldn’t get a doggy bag.
Kayla Seeger, Intern at Weddings in Vieques