With all the time and money that goes into throwing your wedding, why would you want to miss one fabulous second of it? That’s why more and more couples are opting to have the bride’s big reveal and take their group photos pre-I do’s – that way they, too, can hang out with the crowd during the cocktail hour. As a result, this formerly mostly-functional mixer has gotten a rather fun face-lift.

3 tips for designing a modern – and functional – buffet for your reception.

The meal served at your wedding plays a valuable role in setting the tone for your event and making it unforgettable, so the food better be great! And while wedding buffets often get a bad rep for being too casual, the serve-yourself dinners can be just as classy and tasty as a sit-down meal – if done correctly.

“One of the great things about buffets is that you can offer your guests a wide range of local favorites and better accommodate a variety of food preferences,” says event planner Emily Sullivan. “It’s also a fabulous way to feature different cuisines for multicultural weddings or when families come from several regions.”

Even couples that choose to serve plated, sit-down dinners are opting for dessert buffets. This allows guests the opportunity to get up from their tables and mingle with one another, even if they don’t get to do that during the actual meal.

Guests are finding that buffet offers more variety and is less cumbersome than passing platters of food between guests.

Here are a few expert tips and tricks for creating a wedding buffet that’s memorable for all the right reasons.

The set up

One of the biggest downsides of wedding buffets is the long lines. To avoid crowding, Sullivan recommends setting up food stations rather than the traditional long buffet tables.

“This will help significantly cut down lines, but it also allows you to pair items that work well together, like soup and salad, meat and veggies, or fruit and cheese,” she says.

The table décor can be a statement in and of itself. The buffet design should reflect the style of catering, as well as the venue where the celebration is being hosted.

Instead of using linen drapes for tables, try using wooden market tables or steel tables if the event lends itself to that style.

Platters instead of large bowls are another great way to change up the look. Smaller bowls and platters allow food to be refreshed more often so the buffet will look as fresh for the last ten guests as it did for the first ten.

Don’t forget to label foods for guests with food allergies and special diets, such as shellfish, gluten and nuts. These signs can also be designed to tie in nicely to the overall décor.

The menu

Chicken marsala and prime rib may be the standards at many weddings, but modern couples are bucking traditional for more unique meals.

“Have fun with the menu and think outside the box by focusing on foods that are fresh and local to the area,” Sullivan said, adding that you should offer different types of foods such as vegetarian options, beef and seafood.

If you go with something exotic or non-traditional, be sure to toss in some traditional favorites, too. And don’t be afraid to add a dish or two that guests can customize to their personal tastes.

Now trending

Speaking of tailoring the menu to suit your big day, snack bars are making a huge wave in the wedding buffet world. After the meal and the dessert, your guests may still have room for a little something extra. Why not serve up some munchies in a way that lets everyone mingle between dancing or during an after-party? The bar can be traditional munchies, like meal and cheese plates or bruschetta. Or, you can switch it up with soup shooters or mini desserts.

“After a long evening of dancing and partying, it’s something everyone looks forward to,” Sullivan says of featuring a snack bar. “It’s a great chance to show off the couple’s personality and have fun with the menu.”

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