Wedding Meal Styles

Planning your wedding reception can get stressful. There are a lot of decisions to be made, and food is one of the most important ones. Food will be one of your major wedding costs, but before you plan your exact menu, you need to decide how you want the meal served to you, and your guests.

Copyright: David Pascolla Photography

Copyright: David Pascolla Photography

Do you envision formal plated sit-down dinner, or a bit more of an interactive family-style meal? Would you prefer buffet style, or food stations?

There is no right or wrong. It really all depends on the overall style and theme of your event. To help you figure out the best serving style for your celebration, we’ve outlined the most popular meal options, along with the pros and cons for each.

Style 1- The Plated Dinner

A plated, sit-down dinner is considered the most traditional and formal option as each guest is individually served their meal. Typically guests are served three courses, seated: salad, entrée, then dessert. Caterers will usually give  a choice of two (or three) entrees, which they select beforehand: another option is to serve each guest two proteins, such as meat and fish on one plate, which is sometimes called a “duet” plate.

Image Copyright: Lindsey Hahn Photography

Image Copyright: Lindsey Hahn Photography

Pros: Everyone at the table gets their food at the same time. Also, your caterer will know exactly how much food to purchase since each meal is pre-selected, so your food will be lower than a buffet or family-style meal. You can spread out activities like dances and toasts in between each course to keep guests engaged and maintain a nice energy throughout the meal service. If you want to truly indulge, some of the best caterers will be able to create anything from 3 to 9 course meals!

Cons: A sit-down meal requires more servers, both due to the plating in the kitchen and to serve the meal to guests. The staffing portion of your catering bill will be higher. The food options are limited to what you picked during your tasting, so if you have a lot of picky eaters in attendance, there’s a chance they may not eat everything on their plate. Also note that an experienced caterer should get both salads and entrees to 150 or so guests in the course of an hour or less. You will want to make sure that the caterer you hire is experienced in serving plated dinners, as timing is detrimental to keep your guests from being bored, or worse, HUNGRY. Keep in mind that you must also have some extra information pre-wedding, as you must give your caterer a head count, each persons meal request and food aversions a couple of weeks prior to your wedding, plus your guests are best assigned actual seats with a place card per seat, indicating which meal your guest has requested.

Style 2- The Buffet

Buffet style, is a set up along tables in which guests serve themselves. Another option, which is what is usually best and most efficient, is to have servers station behind the buffet table serving each dish. The bride and groom choose the entrees they want as well as the sides, and the guests can have some of everything, or pick and choose as they please. A buffet-style reception is usually considered the most casual style of meal service.


Image Copyright: David Pascolla Photography

Pros: Fewer servers are needed with a buffet reception, which means you may save some money on your catering-staff charges. You still need staff to tend to the buffet to serve, if you choose, and staff is still also needed for table table set-up and bussing. Buffets make it easier and more cost effective to provide guest with a variety of choices, which is helpful since many people have allergies and dietary restrictions. This service style also promotes mingling and interacting among guest. For couples who do not want to bother tracking dinner requests, this is also a great plus.

Cons: Since each table will have to wait their turn to head to the buffet, it may take a while for all guests to receive their food. You also might have to rent, linens, chaffing dishes, and serving pieces if your caterer does not provide them. In comparison to the other styles of dining, this is not the most elegant option. You must also ensure that your caterer or wedding coordinator dismiss tables to the buffet line so as not to overcrowd it.

Style 3- Family Style

Family style for the service is a mix between plated and buffet. Similar to a sit-down dinner, a family style reception has guests assigned to specific dinner tables and waiters then bring food. Large portions on serving platters are served to each table, and guests pass them around to share just as they would at home for a family diner.

Pros: Guests can help themselves to as much food as they’d like. The mealtime will be very efficient since guests can begin eating immediately after serving themselves. No one has to get up, food is served to each table. Bride and groom do not have to do any extra work by keeping track of meals. Guest can pick and choose what they would like to eat and not want to.

Cons: Tables can look cluttered as this dining style requires ample space for the various platters and dishes. You must keep in mind this thought as you select furniture and centerpieces. You may need to increase your budget for rental items to account for additional platters and serving pieces. You may have to increased food costs because your caterer will need to make extra food to ensure nothing runs out, and it may be awkward for guests to ask for more from the servers, if they are big eaters and platters run clear of food.

Style 4- Food Stations

A station-style reception is on where the food is spread out among different “stations” throughout the reception space. A food station style allows you to bring in different cuisines and cooking style to add some elegance to a typical buffet style dinner. For example, there may be one area that is a carving stations , a raw bar, a tapas stations, pasta stations, mash potato stations, dessert stations and so on. The portions served at each station are typically on the smaller side but still fulfilling. This allows guest to go where they want without waiting in on long line.

Copyright: David Pascolla Photography

Copyright: David Pascolla Photography

Pros: Creative food stations and presentations are crowd pleasers; guests will also appreciate the wide variety of dishes and interactive element. Since the stations are spread out throughout the space, guests won’t likely have to wait in line for very long. At cook-to-order stations, guests can request exactly how they would like their dish prepared. This meal style also promotes a lot of interaction among guest.

Cons: Your reception site will need ample room to accommodate the extra space food stations require. You will  also need more chefs if you have interactive stations  (pasta, carving stations, -etc.) Some guest may not know where to go depending on how many guests there are, stations may make the room congested.

Style 5- The Food Truck

A food truck, or a few food trucks are always exciting and a bit of a novelty for weddings. This is a style which can incorporate gourmet and fun. Food trucks have become more and more popular for events, and guests are often pleased to see that they will be served from a nicely decorated window.

Image Copyright: White Haute Photography

Image Copyright: White Haute Photography

Pros: A food truck is always something that invokes “casual play” and with many amazing chefs deciding to ditch the brick and mortar kitchen for one on wheels, you may be surprised at the wonderful gourmet options available as food truck meals. Cost may also be significantly lower, as most trucks will have options like sandwiches and tapas for dining.

Cons: Some food trucks that do not offer staff to set-up, buss or breakdown, which means you may end up stuck with finding another vendor to handle the service aspect of your dinner. Timing may also be an issue as meals served are made-to-order, and your guests will actually have to wait to have their food delivered to the window. Guests may end up having a longer wait for their turn to order, and to eat.

While there are pros and cons to every meal style, it is ultimately YOUR day. Keep in mind that you can always mix and match these styles to give you some of everything. Have a buffet with a carving station or plated salad to add some elegance to you dinner is just one example. There are endless options available for you on your big day.


How to Choose Your Wedding Caterer

When selecting a catering company you are looking for excellent food service and the ability to work with the enormity of the detail involved in your day. There are certain key factors that you should discuss when meeting your caterer for the first time. Here are some main points to focus on.

Image Copyright: Lindsey Hahn Photography

Caterer: Justin Vineyards & Winery / Image Copyright: Lindsey Hahn Photography

Availability: First and foremost you need to see if your caterer is available on the date you require, and find out what the booking and payment process is. Be sure to understand at what point your date becomes secure, and when payments are needed. The last thing you want is a sudden shock and unexpected bill just before the wedding.

Budget: It is important you get an early indication of catering cost and what they include. Ask about what options are available to you. If you are on a limited budget tell your caterer what it (your budget) is. Ideally, they should be able to provide a package to suit your needs.  Consider what is and what isn’t included in the price, as often this can vary from one caterer to the next.

Quality of Food: This essential when choosing your caterer. You are looking for a stunning presentation paired with sensational taste. Ask to see a portfolio of the caterers work with pictures of their food, and ask if they offer a tasting. It is important that your caterer has a professional team of talented individuals to serve your guest on your special day. When meeting your caterer, it’s advisable to ask about the quality and sustainability of the produce they source. Creating seasonal menus will impact highly on the quality and taste of your meal.

Image Copyright: Dear One San Francisco

Caterer: Trumpet Vine Catering / Image Copyright: Dear One San Francisco

Tasting Sessions: Be conscious that popular caterers will have limited availability. A tasting will allow you to fully understand the quality, style and presentation of their food, and gives you the opportunity to explore how your own ideas can be worked into their existing menus or creating your own.

Expectations: A good caterer should understand your overall vision for the day and listen to your ideas, they should be able to use their wealth of experience and build upon your ideas to go beyond your expectations for your day.

Service: Service is extremely important, equal to the quality and style of your food. It’s important that you receive the utmost level of service right from your initial inquiring, through to your tasting, right up to until the end of the wedding day itself. Your caterer and there staff should provide you with the enthusiasm, excitement and expertise your wedding deserves!

How to Budget for a San Luis Obispo Wedding

I thought I’d do something really helpful for couples who are looking to get married in San Luis Obispo. Plus, capitalize on the recent article published in New Times SLO’s annual Bride’s edition, where (get ready for self-loving plug…now) I was recently interviewed to shed some insight on cost of weddings in the county.

2014 Brides Edition Image Copyright: New Times SLO

2014 Brides Edition // Image Copyright: New Times SLO

Hold onto your britches, because I’m about to drop a few important, and likely, the most helpful wedding tips you will receive in the following paragraphs.

When couples seek our services, I would say about 98% have no idea how much wedding vendor services costs. Usually, it is because of the most obvious – they have never been married before. However, another factor may be because about 90% of our clients are from out-of-county, therefore do not know what vendors ‘round-these-parts charge.

Care to make a guess how much it costs to drape this 40' x 80' banquet room?

Care to make a guess how much it costs to drape this 40′ x 80′ banquet room? // Image Copyright: Cameron Ingalls Photography

As quoted in the article (2nd self-loving plug,) “The budget is ridiculously important. Before you get carried away and start signing contracts, make sure you’ve taken everything into account – because most couples don’t.”

First and foremost, let’s get it out of the way… there is ALWAYS a budget.

I want to mention this because it is imperative that you are honest with yourself and your wedding planner (should you decide to go for a full-plan.) You cannot possibly begin to effectively (and efficiently) plan a wedding if you do not have a target number. Believe me, even my clients who have spent over $100,000 for their weddings had budgets, and when I speak with clients who say, “we really don’t have a budget, it doesn’t matter.” Somewhere along the line, when I ask if the couple is fine with spending $100k, I end up getting a phone call or email that goes like this… “Remember when we said we have no budget, well, we’ve thought about it and it’s actually $X.”

Your budget – love it or hate it… you CAN work with it.

Let me tell you why the budget is so important by using 3 common mistakes…

Mistake #1: Blowing Through the Stash in an Excited Wedding Dash

In the beginning of wedding planning, the first item on the agenda is usually the venue, rightfully so, this is why couples come to SLO to get married after all. What I have seen happen many times over is a bride and groom, without taking into consideration money allocation, will start signing contracts with vendors whom they fall in love with, then may end up left with a very small portion of the funds for other very important elements.

$6,500 for a lovely venue… ok, signed.

$4,500 for a great photographer… ok, signed.

That’s $11,000.

What if you have 150 guests, are self-proclaimed “foodies” (you want a fabulous plated meal, complete with passed hors d’oeuvres and nice wine pairing) and your budget is $30,000?

Image Copyright: Lindsey Hahn Photography

One of the best wedding meals in SLO County, by Executive Chef William Torres of Justin Vineyards. Delicious? Yes… Quality? Yes… Cheap? No. // Image Copyright: Lindsey Hahn Photography

Guess what, you have already blown $37% of your budget on 2 vendors and top caterers usually charge somewhere between $50 to $100 per person for amazing, plated service. For the sake of this computation, let’s settle at $60 per person. That’s now $9000 for food… then of course, you can’t forget tax and the service charge, which will put your catering bill to near $11,500.

You’ve just spent $22,500 for 3 vendors, and you’ll still need the to pay for a coordinator, rentals, flowers, DJ (and maybe lighting), cake, officiant, venue insurance, hotel, self and guest transport, all those tiny details…etc..etc..etc..

You see? My advice here is PRIORITIZE. Compare your actual needs versus your wants. Make a list of your possible costs per vendor (adding cushion) and only after you have shopped around, should you sign the contracts. A venue is of course, very important and should be contracted as soon as possible. However, if you want to stay within budget, be sure you get an overall view of your wedding, versus looking at only one vendor field at a time.

Mistake #2: Champagne Dreams on a Beer Budget

At Le Festin Events, we rarely turn clients away because of a small budget. We make sure to always take the time to hear a couple out, if even in the end – just to give them advice. Now, I must write that when a client’s budget is small for the size of their wedding, I tell them right off the bat. However, although it is much harder to work with less funds (and wedding planners usually quiver at small budgets because we actually end up working A LOT more, or get stuck having to work with mediocre vendors – that’s the truth,) I still very much stand on the ideal on which the company was founded  – “spectacular events on any budget.”  We can’t, however, work miracles for clients who cannot accept advice.

The key to beer money is, and really, with any budget is – BE REALISTIC AND BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.

Before you try bargaining with vendors (here’s a tip, most vendors don’t haggle dance with couples who have small budgets and won’t even give discounts, especially during busy months) come to terms with what you CAN afford, and with that, use a few extra dashes of creativity to make it fabulous!

In other words, don’t start demanding bridesmaid bouquets of peonies from your florist during the fall season, when you can have gorgeous “in-season” flowers instead (and maybe only have the bride’s bouquet of peonies.) Don’t be upset with what cannot fit in your budget or push for the impossible. Let go of unrealistic expectations.

Mistake #3: Too Late in the Game – No Pudding for You!

Although this 3rd mistake may not necessarily affect your budget much, I’m still throwing it in as an added advice bonus. Caterers – the good, true and responsive caterers are hard to come by in SLO. Not to sound like a total jack ass, but if you are used to amazing food from Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, or other such major cities, you will find that truly talented caterers are few here. I have found, much like many restaurants around the county who claim to be the “best”, there can be a whole lot of over-promise and under-delivering. Hence, the great caterers are booked and snatched up looooooong before the wedding season starts. If fabulous food is a major indulgence on your list of “must-haves”, act quickly and don’t wait too long to get your deposit out – which means, definitely prepare to shell out some cold hard cash for great food and professional service.

Now, if none of the above helped guide you at all, here is a safe and realistic chart of what a nice (SLO) wedding for 150 people, with main focus on venue, fab food and good fun should more or less  look like. This is based on a $30K budget and working with professionals who are on top of their game, yet in price range. Please note that this chart does not include items like: wedding rings, bridal party attire, or the rehearsal dinner. Most of our clients do not place their wedding rings in the overall wedding budget and is usually looked upon as a separate cost, and depending on your culture, bridal party attire as well as rehearsal dinner may be paid by the party, or parents. This however can be taken into account for something like an additional $4 to $10K, depending on the couple’s preference and style.

Based on a $30K wedding, excluding rehearsal dinner, wedding party attire and rings.

Based on a $30K wedding for a couple whose main priority is a nice venue, good food and fun.

Caitrin & Scott – Cayucos Creek Barn Wedding, Cayucos

There are so many reasons why I became an event planner, but there is only one that makes me the happiest. You know what the best, and I mean, THE BEST thing about creating weddings? Getting really awesomely in love (down-to-Earth) clients.

I don’t mean that in a cheeseball way, but have you ever met a couple and you just KNOW. It just clicks and you say, “Wow, I get it. Everyone gets it – they are the real deal.”

I think as we get older, we realize that there are so many different kinds of love. Some are passionate.  Some are respectful. Some are just down right egotistical. Then you see THE ONE that is so beautiful you cannot help but cry when you witness the vow exchange.

This is Caitrin and Scott. They are in love beyond this world and the magic of their happiness totally came in waves throughout the day, embracing everyone that came to be a part of their union.

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Photography: David Pascolla Photography

Venue: Cayucos Creek Barn

Florist: Lori Boe Florals

Entertainment: DJ Crimson

Caterer: Phil’s Catering

Amanda & Mitch – Cambria Pines Lodge Wedding, Paso Robles

keith_324-2471790368-OWhat I LOVE most about Amanda and Mitch are their cool and very down-to-Earth personalities. I think I am genuinely blessed because a majority of my clients are just awesome all around – in style and personality. It really makes designing weddings so much fun and this was no exception.

When Amanda told me that her main colors would be white, orange and silver – I was in heaven. I immediately had electricity up and down my spine because color is AWESOME. The bolder, the better! Put that against white – BOOM – now we’re talkin’!

Amanda wanted a very classic and elegant feel, yet very crisp, clean and with just the right hint of vintage. In most occasions these are very distinct and different styles, so much care needed to happen in order to get the right balance. Check out the amazing video below!

keith_054-2471664093-O keith_091-2471682281-O Le Festin Events - Orange White Silver Wedding

Giant, orange paper roses - see the tutorial on this blog!

Giant, orange paper roses – see the tutorial on this blog!

Bird cages with clusters of orange roses lined the aisle.

Bird cages with clusters of orange roses lined the aisle.

White rose petals and bird cages lined the aisle.

White rose petals and bird cages lined the aisle.

keith_226-2471737606-O Le Festin Events - Orange White Silver Wedding Le Festin Events - Orange White Silver Wedding

We transformed Cambria Pines Lodge’s banquet room into a deee-vine wonderland of lush and flowing white organza with enough fabric to cover the length of a football field (I kid you not). The effect was a dreamy and romantic setting that brought warmth and elegance.

We transformed Cambria Pines Lodge’s banquet room into a deee-vine wonderland of lush and flowing white organza with enough fabric to cover the length of a football field (I kid you not). The effect was a dreamy and romantic setting that brought warmth and elegance.

Various bird cages, silver candle holders and a mix of white and orange flowers made for lovely tablescapes.

Various bird cages, silver candle holders and a mix of white and orange flowers made for lovely tablescapes.

Suspended table numbers made for a sweet effect.

Suspended table numbers made for a sweet effect.

Le Festin Events - Orange White Silver Wedding

A very unique "guest book".

A very unique “guest book”.

A paper bird suspended in a glass dome.

A paper bird suspended in a glass dome.


My grooms do this kind of stuff -

My clients do this kind of stuff –

Photography & Video: Cameron Ingalls Photography
Venue: Cambria Pines Lodge
Florist: Flowers by Denise
Rentals/Draping: Unlimited Events
Lighting/Music/Photobooth: Kramer Events

Sandy & Michael – Zenaida Cellars Wedding, Paso Robles

When I first spoke with Sandy, she had mentioned that she and Michael were busy lawyers in the midst of a case. Their wedding would be centered around family, friends and relaxation because these were what mattered the most, to them. It was so easy working with Sandy and Michael because they were so laid-back and quite open. Sandy gave me 6 things and I had to run, run, run – location, caterer, purple, roses, candles and children.
Purple has always been a touchy color for me. Like so many bold colors, it is one of those things where there is no middle. It can either sway very elegantly or Velveeta cheese-platter. We don’t do cheese in our book – no thank you.

Le Festin Events - Images by Dan & Russel Photography Le Festin Events - Images by Dan & Russel Photography Le Festin Events - Images by Dan & Russel Photography

We kept the little ones busy with "fun bags" filled with activities and toys.

We kept the little ones busy with “fun bags” filled with activities and toys.

Le Festin Events - Images by Dan & Russel Photography Le Festin Events - Images by Dan & Russel Photography

The lush eggplant color linens were accentuated by runners made entirely of fresh rose petals.

The lush eggplant color linens were accentuated by runners made entirely of fresh rose petals.

Le Festin Events - Images by Dan & Russel Photography Le Festin Events - Images by Dan & Russel Photography Le Festin Events - Images by Dan & Russel Photography

After hours party at Dancing Deer Farms.

After hours party at Dancing Deer Farms.


DIY Coffee Filter Flowers / Roses

So, pretty much – the deal is, I’ve fell madly in love with my first 2013 wedding. Amanda and Mitch’s at Cambria Pines Lodge. I have had the wonderful pleasure of designing a wedding whose main color will *KAPOWWW!* – … Continue reading

Jessica & Matt’s McCormick Ranch Wedding – Camarillo, CA

I love tattoos. To me, a really good tattoo is the equivalent of a work of art. To be honest, when I meet a bride for the first time and she sports some ink, I am secretly excited.This is Jessica … Continue reading

Kristine & Peter’s Justin Vineyards & Winery Wedding – Paso Robles

Kristine and Peter brought with them the Los Angeles I had left, but always come back to. A mixture of softness, whAm, bAm and glAm. Check out these amazing photos by the fabulous Lindsey Hahn, set on the grounds of … Continue reading