Buffet, Plated or Family Style? What's best for your event?

When thinking about your event, there are several types of service available. The most common are all appetizers, family style, buffet, plated and action stations.   Each format and style has its own benefits and reasons why it fits a particular bride or groom's style and budget, and why it may work best for a given event.  Here is a description of them and some of the pros and cons of each one!


Appetizers Only - This works great for spaces that don't lend themselves to sit down service, or when wanting to create a more party-like atmosphere.. Trays of appetizers are continually passed throughout the duration of the party. Many clients when on a budget, think that they'll save money by just serving appetizers. However, they don't realize that appetizers-only parties are usually one of the most expensive types of service, since each elegant appetizer is like an entire mini entree with every one needing to be cooked, assembled, garnished, sauced & plated. Plus we have to make so many more pieces of food to fill people up.


Caterers usually figure 1 1/2 to 2 pieces of each appetizer per person. So, if you are having 7 different appetizers, that means we have to make each guest 12-14 individual, composed pieces of food.  For a 40 person party that’s almost 560 appetizers!  As opposed to 40 salads, steaks and mashed potatoes  Since most of the time, the party is during dinner time, even though you're not serving a main course, we still have to make enough small bites to fill your guests up. Plus many times, people will have cocktail parties for longer periods of time, than a standard dinner service. So while a dinner service might start at 6 and be done by 7:30, people will have cocktail parties from 7-11pm and expect food to be served the whole time. If you're on a budget, but have your heart set on an all appetizer party, try adjusting the hours. 8-11pm or 2-5pm. This basically tells guests to have lunch or dinner first and come for a bite after. Or shorten your even 6-8. or 7-9.  It is often less expensive to have a few appetizers and buffet dinner, than 5 hours of appetizers!


Sit Down-Plated Service - With a formal sit-down dinner, your guests sit at tables and the meal is served to them by the waitstaff. This is considered more formal than any other type of service. It looks elegant and stylish, and guests will eat the dish the way it was designed to be eaten, with the right amount of sauce and appropriate side items. Another big advantage of a sit-down dinner is that it gives you more control over the timing of your reception. You can plan the exact time for each element of your wedding reception (champagne toast, the first dance, etc). Also, your guests don't have to wait in line to get their food.


While the food costs are usually less than the other styles of service, since the portions are controlled, your staff costs will be much higher, as you will need at least 1 server per 1-2 tables, plus the service captain, plus more kitchen staff to execute the plating in an efficient and timely manner.


Family Style - This is very trendy right now. And it's perfect for a more informal couple or event. However, it is also surprisingly, the most expensive!  First off, you need more food, since every platter needs to look plentiful when it's placed on the table. And since everyone can serve themselves, including seconds, you have to have enough of each item for every person. Plus you need lots of staff to bring all the platters to each of the tables. You don’t want the mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables to get to the table and get the braised short ribs and creamed spinach 10 minutes later.  Lastly, the cost to rent all the platters needed for each of the menu items, for each of the tables, can be very high. With that said, if you're looking for a relaxed, casual environment, where guests have more control over their meals and maybe even some leftovers, family style might just be perfect for you!


Buffet Service - This style consists of platters or chafing dishes of foods artfully arranged on central tables. Guests usually move along the buffet line and serve themselves or an attendant will assist with the main courses. When their plates are filled, guests take them to a dining table to eat. Servers usually provide beverage service at tableside. The pros/cons to this style of service is you have a little bit lower staff costs, but higher food costs, since you don't know what the guests will select, and they control their portions and can come back for seconds. Plus, even with a two sided buffet line, you will have people lined up to take their turn.  Key to the success of buffet is to call tables one by one. Rather than having a free for all with all 150 guests in line at once.

Another way to off set the waiting is to have the first course, usually a salad, pre placed when guests get to their tables, or just after, so guests have something to eat/do while waiting for their turn at the buffet line.


Action Stations/Food Stations. Similar to a buffet, except Chefs prepare and serve foods at the buffet (rather than in the kitchen). Adding a couple of action stations to Buffet style of service can help alleviate the long lines at the main buffet, plus it adds a fun interactive element to the event and guests love the chance to interact with the chef.


Foods that lend themselves well to action station service include wok stations, mashed potato bars, fajitas, pasta stations, grilled meats, omelets, crepes, sushi, gourmet taco, gourmet burgers, and flaming desserts. These stations are sometimes called “performance stations” or “exhibition cooking.” Extra cost associated with these types of stations are one or more chefs for the station(depending on guest count), extra pans/tools for cooking and plates for each serving.

Hand Service. This is a very elegant, expensive style of service that is sometimes used for small gourmet -meal functions. Guests are seated. There is one server for every two guests and all guests at a table are served at precisely the same time. Servers wear white gloves. This style is sometimes called “service in concert or synchronized service.