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Italian wedding banquet: tradition, trends and budget

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If you are thinking of getting married in Italy this year, you will have for sure some questions about the Italian wedding banquet. Lunch or dinner? A rich menu served at the table – as tradition wants – or a fresh and modern buffet? How to deal with budget management?

In this article, I will try to answer the most common doubts about the Italian wedding banquet. Then, I will guide you in discovering the various opinions between tradition and innovation. Are you ready?

A crucial element of every banquet: the food

Before talking about the different types of banquets that the couples can choose for their big day, I would like to make a tiny reflection on the value of food at weddings.

If I told you how much the food counts from zero to ten at your wedding, I’m sure most of you would answer at least eight. After all, Italy is the home of good food!

If I asked myself, as a good Sicilian, I would answer ten. The reason is that food is one of the things your guests will remember most about your day. This is why it is essential before quantity – still important – to focus on quality.

I know the banquet can be a substantial cost item within a wedding. Still, as a wedding planner, I also know that there are solutions different from the classic – and often expensive – seating banquet, which can combine good quality and a tiny budget. We will talk about this shortly.

In any case, the watchwords for a perfect banquet remain three:

  • quality of raw material;
  • variety;
  • organization;

I will discuss food in another article; let’s see the traditional Italian wedding banquet solutions and then move on to innovative trends.

The Italian – and southern tradition

When we talk about marriage, in addition to the wedding rings and the white dress, one of the first images that comes to our mind is that of a round table set with long tablecloths at which we imagine remain seated for about half a day. And not by chance!

In fact, the traditional Italian wedding banquet includes three main elements:

  • a menu full of courses – based on fish or meat;
  • table service for the entire reception;
  • an ample area dedicated to the tables.

In the traditional banquet, as we know, the couple defines the composition of the tables. The tableau de mariage has the very purpose of indicating to the guests where to sit.

The time passed at the table, in this case, is definitely long: a wedding lunch or dinner organized in this way lasts about 5 hours. Too long? It depends!

But Tania, why does it depend? 5 hours is a lot!

I agree, but often we do not think that in these 5 hours, there is so much besides food. Over time, we often find jokes, games, dances, shows, and music between the different courses.

In short, the traditional Italian wedding banquet mixed with the right entertainment could be the go-to choice for all those spouses who want top service and maximum comfort for their guests.

Are you curious to know more about the Italian wedding tradition? Read my article Sicilian wedding traditions: between Italian and local customs.

The mixed: buffet and table service

This design has also entered the tradition; perhaps it is even the most common in some parts of Italy! This particular banquet is organized in three steps:

  • appetizer buffet, often mixed between meat and fish;
  • first and second courses served at the table;
  • dessert buffet.

In this case, organization is really essential. Moreover, the spaces need to be wider to accommodate buffet and tables in different areas.

The characteristic of this banquet is that the guests spend less time sitting with more opportunities for socializing.

The possibility of choosing appetizers and desserts also puts the guests in a position to find something they like, even in the unfortunate event that they do not appreciate the courses served at the table.

But there are at least four other possibilities, one traditional and three definitely innovative, to organize an Italian wedding banquet that will satisfy – almost – all tastes. Let’s find out!

The full buffet

If we have seen the traditional banquet and the mix between buffet and seated service, the buffet as the only choice is an evergreen trend of the last few years. Here we have a fresh and flexible way of enjoying the wedding banquet, often chosen by the youngest couples.

A misconception about the buffet is that it is a somewhat chaotic way to celebrate a wedding. But, as I have anticipated, there is always a good organization at the heart of a successful banquet. Indeed some of you will remember to have attended buffet in which, in order:

  • The arrangement of the food was not clear;
  • It was difficult to understand the composition and the possible presence of allergens – classic buffet question “And what will this be? What’s inside? “
  • There were no enough plates or glasses;
  • There were lines at the food corners;
  • Some preparations finished before we could taste them;
  • There were no free tables or chairs, and we had to eat standing up.

Now, take all of this and forget it! Based on a professional organization, a buffet is none of this. It just needs close collaboration between wedding planners and catering.

Imagine instead of being able to choose from tables full of tasty goodies, complete with menus and high availability of service staff, whatever you like. Then, to have the opportunity to sit with whoever you want – no tables set up by the newlyweds – in spaces explicitly created to accommodate a flexible but comfortable reception.

Nice, right? This is what your guests could experience at your buffet banquet!

Do you like the idea? Then you cannot fail to continue with the following three proposals, one more modern than the other!

The wedding brunch: from America in an Italian key

The main feature of brunch is the time: from 11.30 to 12.30. Not lunch, not a snack: it goes without saying that the ceremony must be in the morning in this case!

This is a fun solution for every couple who do not like formality but do not want to give up good food in the company.

Brunch is a light and sparkling party: croissants, platters of cold cuts, bagels, donuts, salads, eggs, canapés, fruit and delicious single portions for all tastes. But, of course, we also find cappuccinos, coffee, fruit juices, soft drinks, and lots of bubbles at every self-respecting brunch.

All completed with decorations, relaxing areas and a calm and joyful atmosphere suitable for small ceremonies. I’ll give you another idea: a brunch is also an excellent option for spending quality time with family and close friends the day after the wedding, perhaps celebrated with a traditional Italian banquet!

The picnic: a bucolic wedding banquet

Another trend in recent years is the banquet picnic. Don’t worry, no one brings anything from home; there are real locations – and catering – specialized in this type of event!

Moreover, this is not necessarily the classic picnic on a blanket on the ground. It would not be comfortable at all for older people!

This is why original solutions have spread, such as the outdoor banquet, with all the characteristics of a picnic, but with a seat on hay bales or tree trunks. Cute right? Here too, the service can be either “at the table” or buffet. The food choice goes with something tasty and easy to manage – we will probably not find risotto or tagliatelle!

Picnic is a good idea for summer banquets that can be implemented both at lunchtime – during mid-season – and at dinner time, perhaps with a beautiful sunset as a backdrop. Plus, it’s one of the biggest trends in post-covid weddings – I told you about it in my article How Covid changed the wedding.

The cocktail party

Here we are not talking about a real Italian wedding banquet as much as an evening reception or happy hour time, elegant and usually focused on the high quality of beverage and food. In these events, the dishes can be served in a food corner or offered by the waiters in single portions. This typology is suitable for couples of all ages with mainly young guests since most of the time is spent standing.

Of course, socializing won’t be a problem!

How to choose the proper Italian wedding banquet?

At this point, you know – almost – all the possibilities of choice. Almost because I haven’t talked to you about refreshments – which is a modality that we all know a little bit – and because there is always room for new ideas!

You may be wondering: how do I choose the perfect banquet?

There are four elements we need to take into account:

  • the location: if we are on a sandy beach, the picnic should be discarded!
  • The number of guests: bringing 250 people to brunch may not be worthwhile;
  • The type of guests: as we said before, older people prefer the classic banquet with table service;
  • The budget.

I left the budget for last because it is often the sore point. For example, sometimes it is thought that most of the budget should go to the banquet. But it’s not right! There is so much in a wedding that can be achieved by correctly allocating the available resources.

Let me give you an example: is it right to give up entertainment or a professional mise en place  – here you can find my article on 2021 table setting trends – to dedicate the entire budget to a banquet with table service?

Maybe not, since there are intermediate solutions that could ensure you a high-quality event without any sacrifice.

From the location to methods, the choice of the banquet is perhaps the moment in which the figure of a wedding planner is most needed.

Do you have doubts about how to organize your Italian wedding banquet? Then, let’s talk about it!

Tania Costantino – Full Service Wedding Planner in Sicily

Photo Credits: Giuseppe Santanastasio Photographer; Alberto Cosenza; Lauren Fair PhotographyErica Schneider Photography; Abbi e Lauren ; Paulina Weddings