One of the most expensive items in a wedding budget is food for the reception. It’s also one of the most confusing, especially if you are doing it yourself or trying to keep costs low. One popular option for “keeping it simple” and affordable is to serve finger foods – also called hors d’oeuvres or appetizers – foods meant to be eaten with the hands, rather than with utensils (although a lot of people will still want to use utensils!), and is usually served from a self-help buffet line. Of course, finger foods can also be served on trays by waiters circulating through the crowd of reception guests – but the main idea with finger foods is that guests are choosing their own food from among many options and are eating and socializing in a more informal manner than during, say, a several course sit-down meal. So serving finger foods is a great way to encourage a more casual atmosphere for a wedding reception.
So you’ve decided to serve finger foods, and now are faced with the daunting task of choosing which finger foods. There are so many options! They can generally be divided in two categories, though, and what you serve may depend on what time of day the reception occurs.
Light hors d’oeuvres generally are served cold or at room temperature and may include:
- dip (for fruits and veggies)
- cubed cheese
- soft cheese, such as a cheese ball or whipped cream cheese, as a spread
- small sweet pastries like cookies or mini-tarts
Foods in this category are usually simple, easy to prepare well ahead of time, and have simple handling arrangements (usually nothing more than refrigeration until set out for serving, if that). If you are having a late-morning or mid-afternoon reception, light hors d’oeuvres are usually a good option. Light hors d’oeuvres are also the best appetizers if you plan to serve a meal at your reception.
Heavy hors d’oeuvres often have meat and usually must be served and maintained at a certain safe handling temperature, whether hot or cold. Examples of heavy hors d’oeuvres:
- shaved deli meat with cheese on crackers
- chicken wings
- pigs in a blanket
- cubed chicken, beef, or pork, with dipping sauce
- hot cheese dip (for meat or chips)
- crab dip
- pâté and toast
- small savory pastries like mini-quiches
Whether served hot or cold, though, heavy hors d’oeuvres generally require more care in handling in order to keep them safe and appetizing for consumption, and thus require more planning. Heavy hors d’oeuvres are usually more expensive than light hors d’oeuvres since meat is usually an expensive food item, and also due to the greater care required in handling. Heavy hors d’oeuvres are best for receptions that are held around mid-day or evening, since these times coincide with meal times, and heavy hors d’oeuvres are more like a meal. They are therefore usually not recommended as appetizers before a reception dinner.
Of course, the suggestions for what to serve, and when, are just that – suggestions. If you know your guests will have a hearty appetite, and you want to serve heavy hors d’oeuvres and a sit-down meal at your reception, go ahead and splurge! It’s also nice to have several choices of both light and heavy finger foods, whether or not you are serving a meal, to suit all appetites – especially if there will be children or other finicky eaters attending. Just be sure to choose some foods that you like – it’s your wedding!