4 Styles of Wedding Catering

wedding reception caterersDeciding what food and how to serve it to guests is one of the biggest decisions that a bride and groom has to make when it comes to their wedding reception. To help you determine the best catering style for your reception, we have detailed 4 of the main types along with the pros and cons of each one of them.

1. Sit-Down, Plated Dinner

This is the traditional wedding reception option. Guests are seated at tables and are served a formal dinner. Guests are usually provided with three courses: appetizer, main entree, and dessert. Usually caterers will offer guests a choice of two or three different entrees, which are chosen ahead of time.


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  • If expensive food is selected it can increase the cost a great deal. However, often plated dinners are less expensive compared to other options because caterers know ahead of time how much food they are going to need to prepare for your guests. Your caterer will need you to submit your list of dinner orders about 14 to 30 days before your event so that they can plan accordingly.
  • Everyone gets served at the same time.
  • Activities such as toasts and dances can be spread out in between courses so that guests are kept entertained and a good energy is maintained throughout the entire meal.


  • More servers are needed for a sit-down meal. So the staffing part of your catering bill is going to be higher with this option.
  • Food options will be fairly limited, which can be a problem for picky eaters.
  • If guests are allowed to choose different meal options, then you will need to use place cards to indicate the various options.

2. Buffet

A buffet involves having long tables that have all of the dinner offers set out in one line. There are usually servers behind the buffet to place servings on the guests’ plates. If it is a larger weeding, you may need to have two buffet tables that have the same food in order to get everyone served in a timely fashion. The buffet remains open so that guests can make return visits.

You should consider serving soup or salad at the reception tables after your guests are seat to give them something to nibble on while they are waiting for their turn at the buffet line.


  • A buffet reception requires fewer servers, which can help you save money on catering staff charges.
  • Having a buffet makes it more cost effective and easier to offer guests with a wide variety of food options. This can be very help since it not only gives people lots of different foods choices but also helps with individuals who have dietary restrictions or allergies.
  • Buffet-style food service also helps to promote interaction and mingling among your guests.


  • Since each table has to wait their turn to go up to the buffet table, it can take some time for all of the guests to get their food, and lines can start to get long.
  • You might need to rent serving pieces, chafing dishes and lines if they are not provided by your caterer.
  • Guests have to do their own serving and carry their plates, which might not be the ideal atmosphere that you are looking for.
  • Large quantities of food are required at buffets since people have a tendency to eat more when serving themselves. That will increase your food expenses.

3. Family-Style Dinner

With a family-style reception dinner, guests are assigned to sit at specific tables and food is brought to the tables by waiters. Large portions of the the various dinner offers are brought out serving platters and placed on each table. Food is then passed around the table like a family dinner at home for people to fill up their own dinner plates.


  • Your guests can help themselves to as much and to whatever food they want.
  • It is a very efficient form of dinner since guests can start to eat immediately after they serve themselves.


  • Plenty of space is required on the dinner tables for family-style dining for all of the different dishes and platters.
  • Your budget might need to be increased to rent additional serving pieces and platters.
  • You might have increased food costs due to your caterer needing to make extra food to make sure they don’t run out.

4. Cocktail Reception

A cocktail-style reception is a more recent trend where hor d’oeuvres and other small bites and finger foods are offered all night instead of a sit-down meal. Usually, the hors d’oeuvres are one-bite and two-bite portions that may be a combination of cold and hot options. They may be set out for guests to pick up themselves or passed around by servers. This type of catering style is a good options for couples wanting to have a more causal atmosphere so that guests can mingle and really socialize. You should plan to serve 12-14 hors d’oeuvres per guest. The servers will typically circulate for around two hours.


  • If the reception venue is small, then a cocktail reception enables you to have more guests since there won’t need to be chairs and dinner tables for every person.
  • A cocktail-style reception makes it easy for the bride and groom to move throughout the room to talk with everybody.
  • Your food costs can be a lot more affordable since you will not be serving any main entrees.


  • Some guests might not be familiar with cocktail wedding receptions and may be expecting a full meal. Make sure to clearly indicate that it is a cocktail reception on your wedding invitations.
  • Although your food costs may be less, guests also might drink more compared to at a dinner reception, so you might have higher alcohol costs.
  • Some guests might have difficulties seeing the first dance or other events since most people will not be seated.