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Your Wedding Reception - What to eat?

Choosing your menu can be tricky.

You’re not into buffets because of the image they conjure up in your mind, and you don’t want a set menu because the whole reason you’re getting married in Bali is to have things less formal and more a celebration. Family style/share plates sound too confusing, night market/food stall seems like it could be too casual, and cocktail style sounds like it won’t have enough food. So, what do you choose?

All of them are great! And I’ll break down the pros and cons here of each style so you can choose what will work best for your circumstances.


Okay first things first.

These are NOT what you’re picturing in your mind – you know, the whole silver bain-marie line up holding lukewarm tasteless food.

Buffets in Bali are highly stylized, coming set up so that it actually adds to the look and feel of your special day. They’re far from the eyesore of 80’s cruise ships.

Your food can be served in large copper pots, ceramic bowls, or on multi-tiered tables in clean, wide serving plates. The food is vibrant, the set-up is decorated, and it really does make food look appealing.

Pros: Buffets are great when you have a guest list who have a variety of tastes or are picky eaters. If you want to introduce Indonesian food, but still have Western options as back up for those who like to stick to what they know, this one’s for you.

You’ll find most catering companies offer buffets with a range of cuisines on offer and by choosing this, you and your guests are sure to find something you like.

It’s also great in terms of wastage – those who don’t eat much don’t feel like they need to finish a plate they’ve been served, and those who are big eaters can go for a second round! Best part is, most catering companies are happy to pack up any leftovers from the night and pop it in your fridge so you can enjoy it the next day – you just need to ask.

Cons: It can take a while to get through dinner – particularly if you have a larger wedding party. While the caterers can ensure that there’s certainly enough food for everyone, this doesn’t necessarily dictate the physical size of the buffet, so you’ll find your guests have to queue for the food. If you have an evening going to a strict schedule, or if you have several speeches to get through during dinner before you can move on to the party portion of the evening, buffets can seriously lag the night. Speak to your caterer about having a double sided buffet to cut down queue times if you think this will apply to you.

Set Menus

These are almost synonymous with weddings. Set menus and alternate drops are the classic dinner style for weddings and any formal event. It’s clean, your guests feel special, and it’s not messy in that plates get swapped over between courses, leaving your tablescape largely intact and beautiful throughout the evening.

Pros: It’s fuss free and a no brainer. Reducing meal options and having the kitchen know when to bring out each course makes for a seamless dinner service. It also means you can decorate your tables more because the dishes don’t take up space and it’s probably the most aesthetically pleasing of all the styles of eating. If you're big on styling and decor, this is definitely the menu style for you.

Cons: Guests can get fussy with food, complaining about the drop they received and wanting to swap with their neighbour.

You’ll also need to be very strict with your speech timings. If anyone’s speech goes overtime to the prearranged times, courses will back up and get cold, so in order to mitigate this, it might be wise to give copies of the speeches to your planner and/or catering manager so they can follow along and time when to bring out the next course.

Another point to factor in, if you have any slow eaters, remember that the whole wedding party will need to wait for the last person to finish their food to indicate they’re done before the waitstaff can remove your plates and serve the next course.

Family style/Share Plates

Probably one of my favourite styles of eating. It’s social, fun and great when you have wedding parties full of guests from all over the world who haven’t all met yet. Food is a great way of bringing people together, and family style dining is ideal as it encourages conversation and sharing between strangers.

Pros: It’s a feast for the eyes – quite literally. You get the benefits of a buffet in that you can choose a selection of dishes that will satisfy all palates, but on a smaller scale and served to the table, eliminating the messy nature of having to get up and get your meals.

Because they’re beautifully presented, they’re also a great way to save on costs for table décor as they will be the star of the show, so you really don’t need much more than lighting and pretty flatware to make a statement.

Cons: Share plates take longer to prepare due to the number of dishes that have to be replicated for each table, so it can take longer before all tables are served than other meal types. Due to the increased workload, it can be a more expensive option with some caterers, though not all.

It’s also problematic if you have several guests with intolerances or allergies, because catering will need to know exact seating of each guest with a restriction in order to serve them the right food, and if you have unruly guests who swap seats or move around, it can prove to be a nightmare trying to find them and give them the right dish. So if this is your case, make sure you have assigned seating and guests stick to their seats.

Furthermore, forget about lavish tablescapes. This is food centric style of eating meaning you have to go super minimal on your tables in terms of decor as majority of the table will be taken up by food plates. If you insist on big decor, keep in mind they'll need to be removed from the table before you start dinner.

Night Market/Food Stalls

These are fun. I like them because it adds an element of entertainment to your night at no extra cost. Stalls are set up and food is prepared or cooked in the moment so it’s a lot of fun for your guests to watch it happen, and for those who are dubious about food in an overseas country, gives them a sense of peace knowing the food is cooked fresh and served immediately. Pros: It gives your guests plenty of options to choose from and like the family style, offers a point of conversation and mingling amongst guests who may not have previously met. It also offers chances for your guests to interact with the cooks and chefs and learn more about the cooking or food styles in Indonesia. This is a very common way to eat locally here in Indonesia so you can give your guests the experience of “hawker” style food, but minus the Bali Belly!

Cons: Much like the buffet, guests will be constantly moving up and down from their table to get food so you’ll need to factor this in when timing your dinner and progress of the evening. And those who are elderly or have mobility restrictions may find getting up and waiting for their food to be ready more trouble than it’s worth.

You also have a more limited food choice due to not all types of food being suitable for live cooking stalls.

Cocktail dining

This is by far the fastest growing trend for dining experiences at a destination wedding. I’m seeing more and more guests opting for this style of dining because they want their wedding to be less about sitting down and listening to speeches, and more about fun, mingling and dancing the night away.

Pros: Cocktail dining takes away your need for tables and chairs, so it frees up space (and budget) for your guests to mix and walk around enjoying the evening. Canapes and small dishes are passed around with wait staff the whole evening, essentially extending the cocktail hour into the whole night.

It gives your guests more freedom to eat when they want, try a variety of food, but not be forced to sit in one spot for up to 2 hours watching the clock as to when they can get up and get another cocktail. Cons: This definitely takes away the formality of a wedding, and plays more into a party than a wedding. Which is great if that’s what you want, but if you do want a sense of structure, this one’s not for you. It basically makes the night one big cocktail hour and you may find guests are waiting around wondering when the “real” meals are coming out.

Not everyone is going to be happy with just snacks for the evening, with many feeling hungry or even if they’ve had a lot of food, not satisfied due to the snacky nature of it. If you’re going to go with this option, definitely have a late-night stall option such as burger and fries or grilled sandwiches that come out late at night. You’ll find a lot of your guests will need this after 6 hours of drinking and only nibbles of food since they arrived.

Personally I think there’s a time and place for each of these styles of dining, and they’re available with nearly every caterer because they really are all popular amongst weddings.

It really comes down to several things when choosing which is best for you:

· Number of guests

· Styling/décor you’re having or wanting

· How restricted the diets of your guests are

· The formality vs casual vibes you want for your big day

One thing for sure is, you’ll always be happy with the quality and taste of the food. If there’s one thing Bali does great at, is offering a plethora of food options, beautifully presented and full of flavour to suit any palate!


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