I think it's important that you and your guests enjoy your reception meal undisturbed.
In terms of scheduling your meal service, most couples budget approximately 60 minutes for the salad and main courses. Naturally, if your guests are being served multiple courses, time budgeted for the meal should be extended.
During the meal service, photography of you and your guests is typically suspended as photographing folks with their mouths full is rarely a good idea.
In between courses, when everyone at a table is finished with their dish, I'll sometimes photograph guests in pairs or small groups depending on how well I feel the guests will react to that kind of coverage.
In wedding coverage lasting six or more hours, I ask that you provide me and my additional photographer with a meal service. The timing of that meal is important and thus deserves some explanation here.
I request that we be served at the same time as you.
And there's a super good reason why I make this request. Since you and your fiancé are served first, you're also usually the first people who finish the meal. After finishing your meal, you're probably going to want to greet some of your guests, either by you visiting their tables or by them visiting yours.
I feel that it's important to capture those moments in photographs and if we aren't served food until after your guests are served, then we'll typically be eating in a nearby room while those moments are happening. To that end, please contact the venue or catering manager and make the following request:
"My wedding photography is extremely important. I'd like to request that the photographer meal be served immediately after you deliver the salads to me and my fiancé. By serving the photographers earlier than might be normal for your venue, I can make sure the photographers will be finished in time to capture photos of us mingling with guests. I'm aware that it's common to serve vendors after guests, and I can certainly understand that approach, but if that is the policy at our wedding, important photographs may be missed. Thanks so much for making this request happen for us!"
This request is necessitated because some venues view this request as highly unusual and are reluctant to serve photographers prior to all guests being served.
Also, we would hope to be able to eat our meal in a location where we're not visible to your guests but we're near enough that we can keep an ear open to anything special happening.
In other words, things can happen unexpectedly when we're away and we sometimes need to drop everything and return to photograph something (e.g. impromptu speeches, unexpected changes to the schedule, etc.) If we're secluded or far away, it might be difficult to return fast enough to cover those happenings. This isn't something you should typically worry about as we can figure out where we should eat for ourselves.
However, in some instances, this may become a concern if a planner or coordinator would like us to eat hundreds of yards away or leave the venue for a meal. When that happens, uncontrollable variables can enter into the mix which can potentially impact your reception photography.
When we take our dinner break, before we consume the meals, we'll create amazing photographs of each course.
This forward-thinking planning is necessary as we can't disturb the chef and catering staff during the meal service. Stopping them for photos isn't reasonable and they'll push back if we ask them for that help.
It's also inappropriate for us to take and photograph one of your guest's meals as they're busy trying to eat it.
Tray Stand Madness
You might think about asking your catering manager to limit folding tray stands at your reception or remove them immediately after the meal service. Tray stands, also known as a tray jacks, are used by servers to help them manage large trays as serve your guests or clear tables.
Although I recognize the importance of those devices, some caterers use tray stands liberally and place them in inopportune areas that result in them being in photographs far too frequently.
At some weddings, I've seen tray stands positioned on or near the dance floor for many more minutes than necessary. In other instances, tray stands are positioned next to the cake table, the sweetheart table, or other important décor detracting from the location aesthetics. In other instances, tray stands remain overly long in the reception area and present your guests with piles of dirty dishes.
And in yet other situations, tray stands are used to store wine bottles and water pitchers throughout the evening and when they're used in that manner, those tray tables become part of reception décor—and that typically isn't a good thing, especially if the tray tables are directly behind guest tables and wine bottles and water pitchers are in the background of important photographs.