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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.