Wedding Catering | Food Service Styles

Choosing A Reception Style that is Best for You

Learn Common Service Styles + the Pros and Cons to determine what is best for your wedding

A sharper palate

J & D Photo

By Carter Sutton Aines with A Sharper Palate Catering & Events

The food at your wedding is undoubtedly one of the key elements of the celebration. I mean, let’s face it, you are throwing the most extravagant dinner party of your life! You want the guests to have a good time, be well taken care of, and most importantly, leave with not only a full heart, but a full stomach too.

Choosing a service style can be difficult. You may find yourself asking questions like; “How do we know what works best in our reception space?” “Are we limited in how many entrees we can select?” And of course, “What is this going to cost?” Once there is a better understanding of each, making this decision may be a little less daunting. So, let’s get to it!

J & D Photo

Plated and Served

Plated and served dinners tend to be one of the more traditional service styles and have become quite popular since the dealings of COVID-19. These may be executed two ways:

  1. A dual/duet entree: each guest receives two proteins, a starch, and a vegetable.
  2. Pre-selected guest’s choice: attendees select their entree when they submit their RSVP.


  • Allows all the salads to be served (or preset) at once, and then the entree to be served on one plate with the accompanying vegetable and starch.
  • Sets the tone that the evening is formal.
  • You can work closely with the caterer on the plate presentation.


  • A limited variety could pose a challenge to dietary restrictions.
  • One of the most expensive forms of service as a full set of utensils, china, and occasionally glassware is required to execute each course.
  • Requires a large overall staff for high-quality service.

Tip: Be mindful of vegan/vegetarian friends. Ask the caterer if they can provide a plated vegan/vegetarian option. It’s also great to ensure the salad option can be altered to accommodate any dietary restrictions/allergies.

food fried chicken catering

Family Style

Family Style dinners create a warm atmosphere at the table. Guests feel a sense of home as bowls and platters are passed around during conversation, giving the feeling of comfort, as if at their own dinner table. Servers bring salad, proteins, and sides to each table and replenish as necessary.


  • You can offer a larger variety, aiding to dietary restrictions and picky eaters.
  • No waiting for guests to finish going through a buffet or station line.
  • Encourages conversation between family and strangers alike.


  • You will need large quantities of platters, bowls, and serving utensils which may mean a high rental cost.
  • Serving dishes takes up a large amount of space.
  • Platters and bowls can be heavy. Be mindful of how the weight of these items may be for elderly guests to pass around the table.

Tip: Discuss table design ideas with the planner, florist, and caterer. It is important to all parties to have a clear understanding of what is being placed on the table. If elaborate table runners, florals, and votives are your tablescape vision, this is not the service style for you.


Buffet dinners are the most common service style. They can be one sided or double sided, generally depending on guest count, to quickly move guests through dinner service. The coordination team, DJ, or catering captain can release tables, keeping the buffet organized and giving the catering staff time to replenish items that are running low.


  • Buffet tables can be designed in several ways, be aesthetically pleasing, and incorporate elements of your wedding to create personal touches.
  • Guests have the ability to personalize their plates.
  • Generally, a smaller staff can execute successfully, but it will be based on the final guest count provided.


  • Can take guests longer to maneuver through the line.
  • You AND your caterer are unable to control portions.
  • Guests serve themselves.

Tip: Ask the caterer to provide a menu at the front of the buffet and to have someone attend to help answer any questions the guests may have about the options presented. You don’t want the guests to “work” for their dinner.

Stations/Heavy Hors d’Oeuvres

Stations/Heavy Hors d’Oeuvres are a great option if you have a crowd that likes to mingle and doesn’t like to sit still. Food tables are placed throughout the reception to eliminate long lines. When offering stations/heavy hors d’oeuvres, you will want to have a variety of options for guests, from seafood and beef to vegan and gluten free.


  • Food curious guests can talk with chefs at interactive spots, such as a carving station or an oyster shucking station.
  • A great way to incorporate you and your partner’s favorite cuisines or foods.
  • Stations present an opportunity for stunning visual displays and photos.


  • Requires food to be open longer as guests tend to eat in a more casual, time-consuming fashion.
  • Cooking stations take longer as food is being made live.
  • If you have multiple stations, rental costs will be higher. You need plates, utensils, and catering equipment at each one.

Tip: You do not need to provide seating for the entire guest count. Consider seating for ⅓-½ of it. You can scatter cocktail tables around the reception space for additional surfaces for guests to pause and eat.

As you journey through the planning process, the wedding and the service style should reflect you and your partner. If still unsure, don’t be afraid to ask family, friends, and of course, the caterer. They have years of experience, and have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. They will be able to help navigate through the decision-making process and throw a soiree that is sure to please.

Carter Sutton Aines is the Staffing Coordinator and an Event Planner for A Sharper Palate Catering and Events, and the NACE Richmond Chapter Vice President. A Sharper Palate has been a premier caterer in the Richmond area since 1993 and services a variety of events including rehearsal dinners, weddings, private parties, galas, and corporate functions. To learn more, check out their website