How To Structure A Plated Dinner Wedding

September 18, 2015 by Tony Schwartz

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Here in the Pacific Northwest, an overwhelming majority of weddings feature a buffet line for the reception’s meal service. However, I’m beginning to notice an increase in the number of weddings I’m performing at that are featuring a plated dinner. This is great to hear!

In my opinion, plated dinners are an elegant alternative to the buffet line. Conversely, in my experience, they also take longer to complete; sometimes up to two hours or more for 150 guests. In short – ironic pun not intended! – that’s less time for dancing and celebration…

…if you do not format your reception’s itinerary correctly and leverage time.
Simply put, you cannot run a buffet-style itinerary – Grand Entrance, Buffet, Toasts, Formalities, Dancing – when opting for a plated dinner. Well, technically, you can, but it’s a huge mistake. It often leaves minimal dance floor time at the end, and guests become antsy as they have to wait for everyone to be served and then sit through toasts, formal dances and cake cutting.

Plain and simple: that sucks.

So, allow me to introduce the Plated Dinner Itinerary.

The key to plated dinners is understanding the format (i.e. how many courses and how served) and having EXCEPTIONAL communication with the banquet captain and wedding planner/coordinator, if applicable, before AND during the reception. I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH.

Let’s assume a two course plated dinner with a salad course and entrée course, as well as a champagne toast. As a disclaimer, I’m basing the proceeding from what has worked well for my clients based off my near decades of experience as a Wedding Master of Ceremonies and DJ. Here is how I would script the evening, with notes as necessary:

Cocktail Hour
Grand Entrance
First Dance and/or Welcome & Thank You and/or Blessing
The latter two are optional, yet encouraged where appropriate The First Dance is strongly recommend here as most believe that the dance floor should be opened by the bride and groom. While there are no rules, it’s always good to follow best practices. With everyone already on their feet as you enter, First Dance photos always look better with guests standing in the background.

Salad Course
As soon as the opening formalities are done, servers will begin to place salads at tables, which can take anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes. As this happens, the Master of Ceremonies is preparing both fathers, as well as the mother of the groom, for their upcoming roles. As soon as the last table has been served, the Banquet Captain notifies the Master of Ceremonies, who then introduces the first father for his remarks.

Informal Toasts by Father of the Groom/Bride
For the guests, these toasts are done with beverage in-hand. The Father of the Bride should speak last, as it makes for a better segue into the Father/Bride dance.

Father/Bride Dance
Mother/Groom Dance
Open Dancing & Socializing
Here is why I cannot stress enough the need for excellent communication between the Banquet Captain and Master of Ceremonies before and during the reception. Most catering staffs will use this time to bus the salad plates before serving the entrées. Open Dancing here is not meant to be loud and uptempo; slow selections at a softer volume level are consistent with the elegant and romantic atmosphere that come with plated dinners. Elder guests will appreciate this! This time can also be used by the bride and groom to start the meet and greet process before re-seating for the entrée course.

Entrée Course
Brides and grooms this is key: please resume meeting and greeting tables as soon as your meal is finished. By this time you’ll have met a majority of your guests, champagne will have been poured, both your Maid of Honor and Best Man prepped for the toasts and ready to go.

Formal Toasts by Maid of Honor & Best Man
After these toasts, I like to lead with a segue to direct attention to the dance floor. “The Longest Married Couple Dance” works well here, as does a “Dollar Dance” or “Wedding Party Dance”.

Open Dancing & Socializing
Music tempo should now be a nice mix of classic and contemporary selections at a mid-tempo pace for those that would like to dance, but not too loud for those guests that are still finishing their meal or socializing with the bride and groom. It’s all about reading the room and reacting appropriately here.

Also, take a moment to appreciate the difference here. In the buffet-style format, the entrées would finally have been finished, and we’d just now be starting a four toaster sequence followed by cake cutting, a dessert social and possible sunset photos, and then three formal slow dances. The plated dinner format has leveraged a lot of that time and we already dancing and celebrating!

Cake Cutting
Just wait for the natural time to segue to this – there is no need to do this immediately after the entrée course, unless the cake is to be served as a part of a dessert course. But since we have opted for a two course plated meal, we’ll discuss that variation later.

Bouquet & Garter Toss
Since the cake table is usually off to a side or corner of the room, this directs attention away from the dance floor. Hence, we use the Bouquet & Garter Tosses as a segue back to the dance floor, immediately after the couple has cut the cake.

Open Dancing
Last Dance
And that’s it!

If there is a third course, say dessert or sorbet, the itinerary can be further modified to leverage time. Also to note: this is just a generalized template. The dinner format and formalities you choose to include, among other factors, may dictate a better way to leverage the time. Hiring a skilled Master of Ceremonies who is experienced at designing entertainment itineraries around plated dinners will be money well spent.

If you’d like to discuss this format further and/or how to best format your reception itinerary around a plated dinner, please leave a comment below or get in touch with me by emailing hello@tonyschwartzblog.com. Happy Wedding Planning!


This post originally published on May 25, 2015 at www.TonySchwartzBlog.com.

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Tony Schwartz Tony Schwartz (36 Posts)

Tony Schwartz is an award-winning MC & DJ, a business entrepreneur, stock market investor, a dog lover, a daily blogger, and a die-hard Red Sox & Seahawks Fan.


Filed Under: Performing, Weddings