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Catering Serving Styles

Serve it up! A primer on wedding reception catering styles…

Before you begin choosing between filet and chicken, consider how you’d like to serve them. The most common options include seated meal, buffet and passed-tray (appetizer) reception. To help you decide, we’ve compiled all you need to know about these serving styles.

Things to Consider:

The time of day during which your event takes place
If your reception will be held during brunch or cocktail hours, a 5 course meal may not be necessary. If your reception will occur during dinner hour, you should serve more than just appetizers.

The formality of your event
While it’s perfectly acceptable to have a buffet at even the most formal of events, tradition still tends to dictate that a sit-down meal is the most formal. If you envision guests dressed in white tie, sipping French champagne and serenaded by a full orchestra, a seated meal may be the way to go.

Your guests
Always take into account the nature of your guest list. Elders or more traditional guests may feel more comfortable at a seated dinner, while younger guests may yawn at the idea of being forced to sit still for a few hours. Also remember that an extremely large guest list may not be conducive to a buffet, as hungry guests may be forced to wait in line for a turn at the table.

Personal preference
That said, it’s your wedding. There really are no rules these days, so if you have your heart set on a particular serving style - go for it!

Serving Styles - An Overview:

Seated Meal
Overview: At a seated meal, guests are seated and served by a waitstaff at tables pre-assigned by you. This style is the most traditional and typically the most formal. The types of sit-down services include: 1. plated service - where the full meal is pre-arranged on individual plates before served to guests; 2. Russian service - where wait staff serve courses from platters onto plates already on the table; 3. French service - where two waiters serve guests from the platter, one holding the platter and the other serving.

Important Tips: While this choice tends to be more conventional in essence, it can be modified to suit your ambiance. A more casual twist on the seated meal is to serve the food family-style, with large bowls passed around the tables as guests help themselves. When choosing your entrees, include items that will have the widest appeal to your guests. Don’t rule out chicken because it screams traditional. Chicken is probably the safest option preferred by most guests. Whatever you decide to serve, make sure to choose an entree that will not become soggy or cold while being served to the amount of guests at your reception. If you choose to serve a seated meal, pay close attention to your seating arrangement in order to stimulate conversation and keep the event lively and festive.

Budget: Don’t assume a seated meal is a drain on your wedding budget. Costs are moderated by the fact that guests eat what they’re served and cannot go back for seconds, making the amount of food consumed easier to manage. Costs also depend almost completely on what you choose to serve. One way to save cash is to decrease the number of courses. For instance, serve either soup or salad, not both. Chicken tends to be the most inexpensive of the proteins, and although beef is typically the priciest, you can cut down on cost by serving a triangle-cut sirloin. If you prefer seafood, consider farm-raised salmon which tends to be the most reasonably priced fish with the widest appeal. Other options include pork, lamb, pasta and vegetarian. If you must, rely on dinner rolls and other inexpensive sides to satisfy your guests’ appetites.

Overview: At a buffet, guests select their food from either one long table or stations strategically placed throughout the room. (think pasta station, seafood station, Chinese wok station) An advantage is that you can serve a varied menu from which guests can choose what they like. Having a buffet-style meal does not mean that you have to sacrifice sophistication. A buffet can be formal when served by stylish wait-staff or more relaxed with self-serve stations.

Important Tips: A buffet-style wedding reception typically stimulates mingling and socializing, which can be ideal for a festive affair. In addition to the regular single table buffet, food stations are a nice variation that can add to the meal’s overall presentation. Consider having your florist place a centerpiece that revolves around your decorating scheme in the buffet area. Whether you opt for assigned seating or even a seat for each and every guest is your choice, but at least try to provide a suitable place for guests to eat. If your guest list is large, you may want to consider a different serving style, as the buffet line may back up, resulting in a group of hungry and impatient guests.

Budget: Although you will save on the cost of wait staff by presenting your meal buffet-style, the total cost may not be less. People tend to eat more because they can return to the buffet as often as they wish, so you may need to order more food, which can cut into your wedding budget. Again, costs depend almost entirely on what you choose to serve.

Wedding Finger Food Reception
Overview: At a wedding finger food reception, there is no full meal. Instead waiters circulate the room, offering trays of hors d’oeuvres to standing guests. This style of service is ideal for a cocktail reception, which is often a shorter duration than a full reception.

Important Tips: This option is suitable for a late afternoon or early evening wedding reception. Serve at least six different appetizers for a two-hour reception and at least nine for a four-hour soiree. Augment passed-tray service by including a buffet table with fruit, cheese and crackers and other items. Whatever you choose to serve, make sure it is something easily picked up with fingers or toothpicks…anything overly messy will inconvenience your guests and ruin the atmosphere.

Budget: If cost and time are major considerations in your wedding planning, then a passed-tray reception consisting entirely of cocktails and appetizers may be the perfect option for your wedding budget. This style is typically the least stressful and the most wallet-friendly. Since these events typically run for only two hours, in addition to savings on food and beverage - location, staffing and other rental fees are also considerably reduced.