Pros and Cons of each style for wedding reception meals

The largest wedding expense will be the reception food. This typically accounts for 45-50 percent of the total cost. How you will serve your guests at the wedding is the first decision to make. There are so many options available. Below are five of the most popular menu options, along with their pros and cons. This will help you choose the right service style for your wedding reception.


Plated dinner style
  • What’s it? A plated, sit down dinner is considered one of the most formal and traditional options. It typically includes three courses: an appetizer, main course, and dessert. Sometimes, an intermezzo (or amuse bouche) is served before the main course. The RSVP card allows guests to choose from one or two entrees before the wedding. A second option is to give each guest a duo plate that includes two protein options, such as chicken or fish.
  • The pros: Every guest will be served at the same moment. Your caterer will know exactly how much food you need to order since every meal has been pre-selected. This will allow you to save money on food than having a buffet or family-style dinner. To keep your guests interested and maintain energy throughout the evening, you can offer activities such as toasts or dances between each course.
  • Cons Your bill might be higher because of the additional staffing. You will also be restricted in the food choices available to you during your tasting. Some people may not like everything on their plates.
Buffet Style
  • What’s it? This is the casualest style of meal service. Guests can serve themselves at long tables set up with food stations. You can also have servers behind the buffet tables to help you serve each dish.
  • The pros: A buffet-style meal will require fewer servers, which can help you save money on catering staff fees. You will still need staff to run the buffet and waiters to bring wine and water to the tables. A buffet-style meal allows guests to have more choice, which is great for guests who have dietary restrictions or food allergies.
  • Cons: Each table will need to wait to be served their food at the buffet, which could cause delays for everyone. Long lines may form due to this. If your caterer doesn’t provide them, you may need to rent linens, serving dishes, and other pieces. Consider that guests may be required to serve themselves and bring their own plates. This can make the event less elegant than you might like. Buffets can increase the cost of catering because guests will eat more if they are served large quantities of food.
Food Stations
  • What’s it? This style allows food to be spread across different “stations” in the reception area. You might have a carving station or raw bar. Tapas stations, dessert stations, and so forth. Each station may offer smaller portions, usually requiring only two to three bites.
  • The pros: The creative food station displays will delight guests and are a crowd-pleaser. A bonus is that guests won’t need to wait long as stations are spread throughout the space.
  • Cons If you have cook-to order stations (e.g. pasta, carving stations etc.), then you may need to hire more chefs. This will increase your catering costs.
Family Style
  • What’s it? A family-style reception is similar to a sit down dinner. Guests are assigned to tables at which waiters serve food. Large amounts of dinner food are served on each table, and guests can make their own plates. It’s similar to a family dinner.
  • The pros: Guests are free to eat as much as they like. It will make mealtimes very efficient as guests can eat immediately after they have been served.
  • Cons Your food costs could rise as the caterer will have to prepare additional food to ensure that there is enough.
Cocktail-Style Reception
  • What’s it? A cocktail-style reception is a new trend that offers small bites and hors-d’oeuvres all night instead of a formal meal. Hors d’oeuvres are usually served in small portions. Servers or stationery can be used to pass the hors-d’oeuvres so that guests can grab their food. This reception style is great for couples who want a casual setting where they can meet and socialize with one another.
  • The pros: Cocktail receptions are great for smaller venues. You don’t have to provide dinner tables or chairs for everyone. Cocktail receptions are usually shorter than sit down dinners. This gives the couple more room to move around the room and converse with everyone. You may also find that the food costs are less expensive since there is no main course.
  • Cons: Guests who have never attended a cocktail-style reception might be confused if they expect a full meal. It’s important that your wedding invitation contains clear words like this: “Please join me for a cocktail reception following the ceremony.”
    Keep in mind, however, that your food costs might be lower than at a dinner reception. Your liquor costs could rise as guests drink more.

6 Wedding Reception Styles: The Pros and Cons of Each Type

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