THE 650 royal wedding guests who have been invited to Buckingham Palace for the reception after the royal wedding next week shouldnâ€™t spend too much time worrying about which fork to pick up for the fish course. Thatâ€™s because they are probably not going to be served any courses at all.
At the lunchtime reception, Queen Elizabeth is expected to lay out a modest spread of Champagne, wedding cake and two-bite appetizers, or canapes. While the kebab shops close to Buckingham Palace may welcome post-reception drop-ins from hungry alcohol-fueled guests, others have wondered at the decision to welcome diplomats and heads of state with finger food.
â€œIt sounds very strange,â€ said Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, who has attended his share of royal weddings but was not invited to this one. â€œFrom what I remember at all the other royal weddings I went to, we were served the best lunch possible.â€
The families of Prince William and Kate Middleton are balancing more than the wedding planning politics that plague every engaged couple. Diplomatic advisers and former palace employees say the decision not to serve a sit-down meal is driven by protocol, by palace-kitchen logistics and perhaps by concerns about how the public would view royals who feast during a time of lingering economic pain. Factor in the preferences of a lithe bride and groom who donâ€™t appear to lie awake at night worrying that guests will starve, and canapes may be just fine.
The menu is in part a function of the physical limitations of Buckingham Palace. Darren McGrady, a former chef to the royal family for 15 years, said the palace kitchens are better equipped to handle formal dinners for about 150 people, like the one the queen will give for President Barack Obama in May.
â€œThe palace is not geared to do a sit-down meal or huge buffet for 600 or 700 people,â€ Mr. McGrady said.
Canapes are often served at diplomatic receptions, proffered from trays by footmen. They are designed to be eaten in two bites, which can be handy should a guest need to put one away in order to greet a passing dignitary.
Mr. McGrady expects the palace chefs to make 10,000 appetizers for the reception, or 15 canapes for each guest. The palace typically makes eight kinds of canapes, five cold and three hot. Specialties include smoked salmon, herbed crepes, Cornish pasties and English sausage rolls. Guests at past affairs have accompanied those nibbles with Champagne, wine or a sparkling lemonade made with Epsom salts that is a specialty of the palace.
â€œThereâ€™s no heavy, substantial food,â€ Mr. McGrady said. â€œItâ€™s more sort of being there, than youâ€™re coming back for a fantastic meal.â€
Shawn Rabideau, who planned the weddings of Star Jones and other celebrities, thinks hors dâ€™oeuvres suit an afternoon reception. “Youâ€™re there to be seen and not to be fed,” he said.
Serving canapes also absolves the queen of following the elaborate protocol that goes into a palace seating chart, according to Bronson Van Wyck, who planned embassy events for Pamela Harriman when she was the United States ambassador to France. â€œYou would do a reception because thereâ€™s no pecking order,â€ he said. â€œThis is a way to entertain that doesnâ€™t make that apparent: a queen sits above a princess. A princess sits above a duchess.â€
Prince Charles will not have to worry about the pecking order that evening, when he will host a three-course dinner for 300 guests at Buckingham Palace, which The Daily Mail reported will be catered by the London restaurateur Anton Mosimann. The palace and the restaurant would not confirm these reports.
One meal format that seems not to have been seriously considered is the buffet. Mr. Rabideau said that asking a roomful of world leaders, royals and at least one soccer star to line up for lunch could be the most socially perilous option. “I donâ€™t see the Princess of Greece walking up to a food station and asking for a bowl of risotto,â€ he said.