Dinner is Served: Expert advice on how to select the style of reception food service that's best for your bash

CTW Features

When it comes to setting a wedding's tone - and balancing the budget! - how you feed your guests is just as important as what you feed them. Here's the experts' take on the four most common styles of full dinner service to help you figure out which one is a perfect fit for your fête.

Plated Dinner

Each guest is served multiple predetermined courses, table by table, by a squad of servers.

The most formal/traditional of service styles (and standard at black-tie soirées), a plated dinner is typically the most expensive option because it requires more rentals and staffing, says Molly Schemper, co-owner of Chicago-based FIG Catering. If money is no object, you can give guests multiple elaborate entrée choices (they indicate their preference on the RSVP card) or serve a duo plate featuring two proteins, whereas keeping the courses and options limited and the food simple can keep costs down.

Just make sure make sure your caterer is competent enough to deliver this style, notes entertaining expert Tara Wilson of Dallas/Fort Worth-based Tara Wilson Events. The kitchen needs to be able to produce numerous perfect-looking plates at once, and each table should ideally have its own head server to handle beverages and ensure everything is running smoothly.

Family Style

Servers bring large communal platters of different items to each table, allowing guests to decide how much of each dish they'd like.

Family style is a slightly more casual form of diner service that works well for couples that want a more convivial feel for their affair, as passing plates encourages guests to chat with one another. While it tends to be less pricey than plated dinners (it requires less servers and precision on the part of the kitchen), the myriad serving trays for each dish can drive up the rentals bill, Wilson says. "It works well for small, intimate receptions but can get quite costly when you're feeding hundreds of guests."


Smaller tables each featuring a different, often themed cuisine or made-to-order option are dispersed throughout the room.

An increasingly hot trend in reception styles, stations are great for more casual couples who are into food and want to provide a lot of fun, creative choices. Many stations are even staffed and interactive, effectively becoming part of the entertainment, says Wilson. Although you'll save money with less servers and seating (guests eat when and where they wish), this style will still cost a pretty penny due to the diverse menu, Schemper says.


Guests are invited - usually in groups - to plate their own meal at one long table lined with platters and warming dishes.

Probably the most popular form of reception service, buffets are ideal for large groups and couples who prefer a party atmosphere, says Wilson. Less formal, they allow guests to mingle and select from multiple food options at their leisure. Less staff and rentals are needed, adds Schemper, providing savings that may enable you to splurge on a more elaborate menu.

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