Reception Dinner Service Styles
The following article was written by Jaime Gilliam, Venue & Catering Manager for Revolution Mill Events, and was originally published in Triad Weddings in August 2018.
Your wedding dinner is a celebration of the first meal shared as newlyweds and an expression of appreciation for your guests. Because of it’s significance and the variety of catering options available, you may find it challenging to decide what to serve for your reception.
Instead of worrying about the particular dishes to be served, begin with thinking about the style of meal you want. This decision will impact the structure of the reception and likely the food you choose, so it’s a great place to start.
Let’s take a closer look at three key serving styles for wedding reception food: plated, buffet or hors d’oeuvres stations.
TIP: Ask guests to initial their entrée selection on the RSVP card so you’ll know which entrée to indicate on their place card.
Guests are seated then served all courses by the catering staff. It’s common to offer salad, entrée and dessert (wedding cake or other) courses, but for more formal occasions you could consider additional courses along with wine pairing.
Plated meals are a good option for both intimate and formal gatherings. To provide more variety, you can offer several entrée options on your RSVP card or a dual entrée plate.
A variation on the plated meal is family style, where platters of food are brought to the table and passed around by the guests.
- Higher level of guest service
- Every guest will be able to eat at about the same time
- Reduced chance of spilled plates
- Guests can focus on conversations
- Control over portion size so the food cost may be lower
- Some guests may feel underfed or not like the limited choices
- Tracking guest menu selections is necessary if offering multiple entrée options
- Takes longer for dinner service
- Generally the most expensive option due to the number of staff required for efficient service
TIP: Talk to your caterer about their preferred plan for dismissing tables to help keep a smooth guest flow. They will work with your coordinator or DJ to efficiently move guests and prevent a long line.
A buffet is set in one central area and will display your food selections for guests to self-serve. There are many variations from casual BBQ to semi-formal. In the Triad, we have seen buffets as the traditional preference over the years.
- Guests may select what they want to eat
- More menu item choices
- Guests can mingle in line
- No need for RSVP meal cards
- The most practical and cost effective way to serve a large crowd
- Fewer servers needed so you will save on staff costs
- No control over portions, however you could request buffet servers
- Guests must wait in line for their dinner
- Less elegant than plated table service
- Depending on guest count, some guests may finish eating before others have gone through the line
- Increased chance of spilled plates
- The food cost may be higher because a portion of each item will be provided for every guest
HORS D’OEUVRES STATIONS
TIP: When selecting your stations, make sure your menu contains at least one protein, starch and vegetable to comprise a typical meal. Choose heartier items to fulfill guests during the dinner hour.
This style of service provides small plates of a variety of hors d’oeuvres spread out into multiple stations. Your guests will remember the fun interactive displays (think - mashed potato bar, salad station or mac and cheese bar) and chefs cooking on site (think - gourmet grilled cheese with soup shooters, carving station, fired ahi tuna or pulled pork tacos).
- Exciting and entertaining for guests
- Promotes guest interaction and movement
- Can offer a large variety of menu items and flavors
- Don’t need to provide seating for all guests since this is cocktail party style
- With multiple stations, there will be less time waiting in line
- The cocktail party style may be too informal for some
- Depending on menu selections, it may not be as filling as dinner
- Multiple stations will take up more space than 1 buffet
- More expensive than a dinner buffet and may require more staff (i.e. station chefs)
If you are still struggling to figure out which service style would be best for your wedding reception, reflect on your vision for the big day. Your catering selections are the perfect place to express your unique personality. Consider the best option for your number of guests, those in attendance and your budget. It’s an honor to create a memorable reception where you get to share a meal with all the people in your life that matter most!