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Ask Stephanie: A Finger Food Fête—Friend or Foe?

Ask Stephanie: A Finger Food Fête—Friend or Foe?

Dear Stephanie: I’m thinking about only doing heavy appetizers at my wedding. Do you think this is fine, and if so, how do I make sure my guests don't go hungry? – Mary from Richmond, VA

Answer: Everyone loves finger food. You can get down n’ dirty without giving a passing thought to fork, spoon, or (God forbid) knife—and all without putting your drink down. But relying exclusively on these small bites of heaven to fill your wedding guests? This is where things get a little sticky.

Going the appetizer-only route is tricky since most of your guests will be expecting a full meal. Not to mention that if you’re planning on having an open bar, or serving any kind of alcoholic drinks for that matter, you’ll want to have plenty of food available (tequila shots on an empty stomach are a great idea, said no one ever).

That being said, serving a full-blown meal is not cheap. Sticking to hors d’oeuvres can really help cut costs, while allowing you to get creative with a smorgasbord of bite-sized options. And if you hear guests grumbling? Well, nobody ever said that a wedding invitation = a dinner invitation.

Heavy hors d’oeuvres can be as satisfying and filling as a full meal, not to mention way more fun. They go hand in hand with conversation and casual wandering, keep the evening flowing seamlessly (no clipboard-clutching planner cutting off your conversation because it’s time to sit down for dinner, or clunky, wait-your-turn-at-the-buffet standby period), and work much better with a social crowd that’s really trying to celebrate. I’m all for sticking to appetizers—as long as you do it right.

For starters, it’s essential to keep the time of your wedding in mind. Scheduling your meal-less celebration during traditional mealtimes is something you may want to reconsider. Stick to a reception time during the late afternoon or late evening (3:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m., for instance). This ensures that guests have plenty of time to eat before they come, if need be.

If you're still committed to hosting a traditional evening wedding during normal dinner hours, this isn't the end of the world. Heavy hors d'oeuvres can stand in for a full meal as long as you stick to options that are as filling as they are delicious. When it comes to the actual food you will be offering, come up with a menu that leans toward protein- and bread-heavy options. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Passed sliders should be your go-to. Think as simple or gourmet as you want, from beef sliders with American cheese to spicy curried lamb burgers with feta and caramelized onions.
  • Skewers are your other best friends: chicken satay with a peanut sauce drizzle, pineapple glazed pork kebabs, or grilled beef skewers with a chimichurri coating.
  • Balance out meat-centric dishes with equally filling vegetarian options like mini stuffed potatoes or fig and gorgonzola crostinis.
  • Thick, creamy soup shots can be adapted to any season: cold split pea soup in the summer or piping hot butternut squash soup during colder months.
  • Beef up seafood options with offerings like bacon-wrapped scallops, crab-stuffed mushroom caps, or personal shot-glass-sized shrimp and grits (the cheesier the grits, the better).

Appetizer-only receptions also play by different seating rules. I’d ditch the assigned seating chart altogether, allowing for casual on-your-feet mingling and plenty of mobility for your guests. Just be sure to have an abundance of cocktail tables available for elbow-leaning, as well as a few tables and chairs for guests who’d rather sit down and eat as they please (or guests who’ve danced themselves to death and need a break).

A mix of service styles also helps encourage the flow—and avoids the issue of a server accidentally passing over guests who might be too shy to wave them down. Have a few mainstays set up as stations (think cheese and crackers with fruit or an antipasto bar) to compliment one-bite passed options. This will keep guests dancing, eating, drinking, and talking to their hearts' content and without pause.

If you decide to embrace small bites for your wedding fare, one of the most important things to do is make sure your guests realize what they're in for. Make it clear on your invitations that you're sticking to an appetizer-only format. Say something along the lines of: "Join us after the ceremony for cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and dancing." Fair warning prevents any complaining guests; and either way, they should be coming to celebrate you and your partner—not coming to get a meal.

In the end, it's your wedding day, and you shouldn't sweat the small things (especially when they're edible). So stand by your heavy-app decision, because we all know that the best things come in small packages.

Happy eating,

Food & Drink Editor

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