Wedding Food and Drink Etiquette and FAQs

Food and drink play a big role in the overall experience of your wedding. However, your wedding menu can come hand in hand with some unique etiquette dilemmas, too!

For example: is it ever okay to have a cash bar? Should you serve meat if you’re vegetarian? And do you need to organise separate meals for kids and wedding vendors?

Don’t stress – we’ve answered all of your wedding food and drink FAQs below. Keep reading for our tips on how to appropriately cater to your guests while avoiding any awkward situations on the day!

Photo via Pik Pongpol Photography

Wedding Etiquette: Is It Ever Okay to Have a Cash Bar?

Listen, we get it. Weddings are expensive! However, correct etiquette states that guests shouldn’t have to pay for anything at your wedding, including their drinks.

As the wedding hosts, it’s typically understood that you’ll be covering all of the costs involved for the event. Think about it like this: your guests have made an effort to dress up and join you for the day. They’ve probably already contributed financially to be there when it comes to travel, accommodation, childcare, an outfit, and a wedding gift. With this in mind, asking guests to pay for their own drinks is usually considered an etiquette faux pas.

Etiquette aside, opting for a cash-only bar can also disrupt the overall flow of your evening. A cash bar means your bartenders will not only have to take orders and mix drinks, but also juggle payments from your guests. An open bar will ensure your reception flows seamlessly, without any awkwardness or interruption.

If you’re considering a cash bar because of budget reasons, there are plenty of other ways to save money on drinks without putting your guests out of pocket! For example:

  • Instead of going all out with your drinks menu, simply limit the alcohol selection to just 1-2 kinds of beer, a red wine, and white wine. Then, offer hard alcohol, liquor, and cocktails on a cash basis.
  • Choose a wedding venue that allows BYO alcohol so that you can purchase your own liquor at wholesale prices.
  • Close the bar during dinner, and stick to table service only during this time.
  • Close the bar 30-45 minutes before the end of the night.

If you do decide to have a cash-only bar at your wedding, you’ll need to give your guests the heads up – don’t blindside them once they arrive! This is particularly important if your venue only accepts cash and doesn’t have an ATM located nearby. 

So what’s the best way to address this delicate topic? We’d recommend politely advising guests about a cash bar via your wedding website before the day so that they can plan accordingly. 

A brief statement such as “Please join us for dinner and dancing – cash bar available” or “A selection of drinks will be available to purchase from our cash bar” should do the trick. You can find more wedding website wording examples for tricky situations on the blog here!

Photo via Jen Rodriguez

Wedding Etiquette: Should You Serve Meat if You’re Vegan or Vegetarian?

If you and your partner are vegan or vegetarian, deciding whether or not to serve meat can be a tricky decision. So, what’s the correct etiquette?

We’d say there’s absolutely no obligation to serve meat if you’re vegan or vegetarian, especially if it’s due to moral (rather than dietary) reasons. At the end of the day, your wedding should be a reflection of you and your values. 

If you’re worried about depriving your guests, don’t stress. Most wedding caterers will have delicious vegan and vegetarian options available – and chances are, your guests probably won’t even notice that meat is missing from the menu. With this in mind, we’d suggest opting for substantial, crowd-pleasing meals your guests will still enjoy—for example, a veggie lasagne or non-meat pasta, rather than tofu or tempeh.

Wedding Etiquette: Do Kids Need Separate Meals?

Do kids need their own meals, or should you serve them adult fare? We’d say children over 13 can definitely eat adult meals, but separate meals are a good idea for the younger ones. 

Organising special kids meals will make dinner service much smoother (and more affordable!), so work with your caterer to come up with some suitable options. Basic meals like spaghetti, chicken tenders, or pizza are usually the way to go – just make sure you chat with the parents ahead of time to confirm any dietary requirements. Read our top tips on hosting a kid-friendly wedding here!

Photo via This Love of Yours Photography

Wedding Etiquette: Do You Need to Provide Vendor Meals?

Okay, so what about your wedding vendors? We’d say it depends on the vendor and how much time they’ll be spending onsite. 

While you don’t need to provide a meal for wedding vendors spending a limited amount of time at your wedding (such as your celebrant or florist), you should definitely provide a meal for vendors who can’t leave your reception, such as your photographer, wedding planner, and musician. 

For many of these wedding vendors, a meal will actually be required in their contract. If you’re unsure about who needs a meal, simply chat with your vendors upfront to confirm their expectations. You’ll find many wedding venues and caterers will also offer vendor meals at a reduced rate, too.

Wedding Etiquette: Is It Okay to Serve Cocktail Food Only?

If you’re planning a less-traditional wedding, you may be wondering if you can serve canapes and finger food rather than a plated meal. When it comes to correct etiquette, serving only cocktail food is totally fine – but there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your guests are comfortable.

First, you’ll need to make sure you’re serving a substantial amount of food. While you don’t need to organise a lavish five-course meal, your canape offerings should be solid enough to satiate your guests. Remember, when alcohol is involved, it’s important for your guests to have food in their stomachs! Instead of only serving small bites and hors d’oeuvres, work with your caterer to come up with some heartier cocktail food options that include a good mix of carbs and protein. 

Something else to consider with roaming canapes is the fact that people might miss out on foodservice if they’re taking a bathroom break or mingling with other guests. It can be a good idea to have dedicated “food stations” that guests can visit at any time to fill themselves up when needed. Food trucks and grazing tables are great options for a cocktail wedding, to ensure none of your guests miss out.

Finally, you may want to let guests know what to expect via your wedding website so they don’t turn up hungry expecting a full meal. A simple statement like “Cocktail reception to follow” or “Join us after the ceremony for cocktails, canapes and dancing” should set the right expectations and prompt your guests to eat a small meal beforehand.

Photo via Sylvie Gil

Wedding Etiquette: How Long Should Guests Wait Between Meals?

Speaking of hungry guests, how long should you expect your friends and family to wait between meals? Your catering timeline will impact your evening’s overall flow, so take this into consideration when mapping out your day.

For example: if your ceremony concludes at 3:30 pm, but dinner isn’t served until 7 pm, your guests are likely to get peckish. In this case, you’d want to organise some canapes and appetizers during cocktail hour to tide them over.

Alternatively, if you’re planning an early dinner at 5:30 pm, your guests will start getting hungry again throughout the evening – especially when drinks and dancing are involved! In this case, organising a “late-night snack” is a great idea to help your guests stay satiated. Pizza, sliders, tacos, soft pretzels, and grilled sandwiches have all become popular options for late-night wedding snacks.

Now, let’s talk about the timeline for the dinner service itself. You don’t want your guests to feel rushed, but you also don’t want your dinner to drag on (or encroach on precious dancing time!) by allowing too much time between meals. 

If you’re planning a traditional plated meal with entree, main, and dessert, we’d suggest allocating around 30 minutes per course. And if you’re planning a cocktail wedding, we’d recommend serving smaller bites periodically throughout the afternoon, then moving on to more substantial options around dinner time.

Photo via Keira Lemonis

Keeping Guests Comfortable

When it comes to wedding food and drink etiquette, the main rule is to simply ensure your guests are comfortable. Because if your loved ones are fed and happy, you’re guaranteed to have the best night ever!

Our top tip? Ask your caterer, planner, and/or wedding venue for their advice and suggestions. Remember, this is what they do for a living, and they’ll be happy to help you create the right menu and timeline to reflect your vision for the day. 

Looking for more wedding food and drink inspiration? Read our guide on choosing the right menu style for your wedding reception right here!