Whether you’ve selected an opulent ballroom or a lush garden party, food is a large component of any wedding reception, and the way you serve it will dictate the formality of your event. When you’re thinking about whether to have a sit down or a buffet-style meal, there are several factors to take into consideration.

If you are looking to add a sense of formality to your reception, a sit-down dinner will make guests feel like they are eating in a fine dining restaurant.

Sit-downs are generally pricier than a buffet since there is more work involved. Additionally, the meal will take up a big chunk of the evening and will provide a memorable way for both families to feast together in celebration of your first meal as husband and wife. It’s also a way to have a toast with all of your guests and is a gradual build up to the most important course—the wedding cake.

 For couples serving a larger amount of guests, a buffet is another great choice.  It allows for more mixing and mingling and can be just as elegant with action stations—tables with chefs preparing items and serving in front of the guests.  Buffets are also a good way to serve a larger variety of food, and guests can eat as much or as little as they’d like. There’s no worrying about meeting everyone’s tastes like a sit-down dinner since they can pick and choose what they want. With more people adhering to special diets and food allergy concerns, having a few vegan and gluten-free options can take the stress out of alienating diners. Vegetarian options also add diversity to the menu, and are generally lighter than meat dishes so guests won’t feel stuffed.

To get the party started, stick to appetizer-sized portions, which will encourage guests to hit the dance floor sooner. Passed hors d’oeuvres is also smart no matter what type of reception you have. Serving appetizers before a large meal is a good way to ensure guests aren’t famished while waiting for their first course, especially if the ceremony is lengthy or travel time is involved between the church and reception venue. For a buffet setting, servers walking around with passed trays are convenient for guests so they don’t have to break away from conversation, or get up from the table every time they want another plate of food.

But don’t be afraid to break away from tradition when deciding on dining options. If you are looking to add a little fun to your formal event, surprise guests with a meal on wheels. Food trucks are cropping up everywhere, feeding throngs of bar patrons, festival goers, and yes, even wedding guests.

Venerable nightlife and events mainstay food truck Taceaux Loceaux (906-5567, twitter.com/TLNola) can add a unique element to your food program.

“We tend to do a lot of engagement parties and bridal showers,” says Owner Maribeth Del Castillo but themed weddings are also popular, especially Day of the Dead around Halloween time. Serve your late night favorites, or have the truck whip up something from their special events menu. They can also serve sangria, margaritas and dessert to round out the experience. Tacaux Loceaux regularly serves vegan options when they’re out on the streets, which ensures your meat-free diners will be pleased with their meal. While ordering from the food truck is half the fun, Tacaux Loceaux can also set up food tables so guests don’t have to queue up all night long—just grab a taco and head back to the dance floor.

While it isn’t quite a food truck, if you are seeking out a quintessential New Orleans experience, a Lucky Dogs cart (517 Gravier St., 524-6010, luckydogs.us) will make your guests smile. There’s a sense of nostalgia for that hot dog on wheels—the vintage 1950s model has graced more than 12 weddings in the last year alone. “Most people don’t think of Lucky Dogs at a wedding until they see the cart there,” says General Manager Jerry Strahan.

“The weddings we’ve been at have been mostly elaborate weddings.”

Brides seeking local fare can feel good about serving the Harahan-made Cajun smoked sausages. And yes, vegans and vegetarians can be accommodated by request. How you set up your cart is entirely up to you. “Sometimes it’ll be right along with the other food, sometimes it is off to the side,” Strahan says. The carts are convenient since they are entirely mobile and self-contained. Designed to serve a lot of people quickly, this takes the pressure off of other food lines that might require more time, such as a carving stations.

For a focus on Northern Italian cuisine and fresh seafood, Andrea’s (3100 19th St., Metairie, 834-8583, andreasrestaurant.com) can accommodate your gluten-free guests and not have them feel like their dinner was an afterthought. Everything from fried chicken, eggplant parmesan, fish, steak and pizza can be prepared. Chef Andrea Apuzzo has cooked all over the world and has prepared food for A-list celebrities, presidents and ambassadors—even Queen Elizabeth—so he knows how to treat the bride and groom like royalty. Andrea’s private rooms can accommodate up to 500 people reception style, and everything can be made custom-ordered for the bride’s needs, both onsite and off.  For New Orleanians in search of a destination wedding, Chef Andrea has opened his own vineyard, Villa Regina, in the town of Anacapri, Italy—perfect for brides looking for a little bit of familiarity in a foreign country.

If you are seeking casual food done with an upscale touch, Pigéon Caterers (535 S. Clark St., 262-0412, pigeoncaterers.com) can accommodate just about any request you have. “The trend is wedding food is starting to lean to the more casual comfort food,” Account Manager Leah Berhanu says. Many brides gravitate towards fun comfort food options such as fry bars, mac and cheese, crawfish sliders and crêpe stations for a French twist. Pigéon Caterers also utilizes fresh, local ingredients whenever they can and encourages brides to serve non-meat options. “You want your menu to have a good variety of vegetarian food whether you are expecting them or not.” This eases up heavier choices and gives more options to nibble.

Bringing 45 years of restaurant industry experience from the Messina family, Messina’s Catering (2717 Williams Blvd., Kenner, (504) 469-7373, messinascatering.com) offers full-service catering either at your venue of choice or in one of their two elegant banquet rooms at their Williams Boulevard location.  From engagement parties to wedding receptions, Messina’s can accommodate up to 250 guests in the Maria Isabel room and 100 in the Denali room. Not confined to any one cuisine, Messina’s can work with most requests. “Food with an Asian influence has been a big request, and Cajun always, especially for out of town guests,” explains Director of Sales and Marketing Kristin Casey. Other food trends have been hors d’oeuvres on sleek plates. Casey recommends going for quality choices over an expansive menu for more memorable food options.

The Ralph Brennan name is synonymous with elegant, local food and their catering division is no different. Ralph Brennan Catering (111 Veterans Blvd., Suite 1, Metairie, 539-5511, ralphbrennancatering.com) will do their special “Fit the Menu to the Venue” whether you book one of the company’s restaurants, such as Ralph’s on the Park or Red Fish Grill, or one of their preferred venues, such as the Pitot House or the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. If you have a completely different location in mind, Ralph Brennan Catering can make that work, too, as a representative from the company will come out and survey the site before your big day to ensure there are no glitches. With a focus on local, sustainable, and seasonal ingredients, Executive Chef Steven Marsella can feed a group from 12 to 1,200, “utilizing classic Creole traditions and cutting edge techniques.”

Exciting Eats

Ralph Brennan Catering

Exciting Eats

Pigéon Caterers