Wedding Catering Service Styles

What is the difference and which is best for you?

Who knew there were so many different ways you could serve food to your wedding guests? There is a small variety of wedding catering service styles to choose from, read on to learn the specifics of each, a few questions to ask, and decide which is best for your wedding.


You know the drill here – guests line up as their tables are called and dish up from a line of enticing food. Buffets are nice for guests who like a little bit of everything, and good for you and your fiancé because after you choose the menu your involvement ends. The downside is that buffets tend to be one of the slowest service styles; the first table of guests is likely to be done eating by the time the last table is even standing in line. It can take around one minute per guest to get through the line, if you have 100 guests it will take about an hour and a half to serve them all. Guests served last may feel rushed as they eat if the ones who are finished are antsy to get the party started, and perhaps a little chagrined that they had to wait so long to eat.

Family Style

This is a good solution if you wish to address the downsides of a buffet while retaining the benefits of self-service, and wish for a casual feel. Guests who like a little bit of everything are served well with this style, but don’t have to wait to be called to the buffet table or wait in line once called. A platter combining each entree and side choice is served to the table by waitstaff and then passed around from guest to guest, each helping themselves to their choice of food. Family style is often a good icebreaker for tables of guests who may not know each other well; comments about the yummy beef can lead to sharing of stories and conversation in unexpected ways! A downside to this style may be the necessity of passing platters around. Some guests may find it difficult to manage them, especially if your centerpieces take up a lot of room on the table and there isn’t a good place to set them once they’ve made a round. If you’re set on family style and share some of these concerns voice them to your caterer or venue and ask for a solution. They may be willing to pick up the platters once they’ve been passed or watch out for those who would have trouble passing them and lend a helping hand.

Dual Plated

One step up from family style in terms of service level, yet still relieving you of extra organization in your wedding planning, is dual plated service. Dual plated gives each guest a little bit of everything on one plate, served to them by waitstaff. There is no standing in line or passing around platters and everyone gets to try everything. Plus, it has more of a formal feel. A downside to this type of service is that guests may not like one of the items served and so may not get enough to eat. Ask your caterer or venue what their policy is in this instance – would they bring this type of guest extra of the entree they like?


This style is considered the most formal and creates the most work for you. Each guest will indicate their entree choice on their RSVP card and you will provide tallies to your caterer or venue of how many of each entree is requested. On each guest’s place card their food choice will be indicated so the servers know which entree plate to serve them. This creates more work for you in your wedding planning, but presents a formal feel, so the extra work is worth it if you desire a formal wedding. A potential downside is if a guest changes his or her mind and decides they want the option they did not originally choose. Some caterers/venues will not allow a change, which can be awkward for guests and waitstaff. Ask your caterer or venue what their policy is for dealing with this situation to see if it is something you feel is reasonable ahead of your wedding day so everyone is on the same page if it occurs.

Things to ask your caterer or venue about food service

  • How do they determine the quantity of food to prepare? What if food runs out? Some caterers/venues only prepare enough for the amount of guests you have to eliminate waste or keep costs down, others will prepare for some percentage more than your guest count so that they won’t run out. Some will not bring out more food, others will continue feeding your guests until they refuse anymore.
  • What about dietary restrictions or preferences – how are these guests served? Do you have to order special meals for them at an additional cost? Will they be accommodated within the menu you have chosen? Will they be served separately?
  • What is done with the extra food, if any? Oftentimes the extra food is used to feed the staff who has worked your wedding. Don’t expect to be able to take it home with you, if this is important to you then be sure to clarify that as a need so you’re not surprised after your wedding is over and you’re looking for a late-night snack.

Being aware of these policies will help you avoid any confusion, anger or misunderstanding on your wedding day so you can focus on the reason you’re there: your wedding!

Want more options, including non-dinner options? Take a look at this list of 7 different ways to serve wedding reception food.

At Wild Basin

Here at The Basin, we offer a wedding package charged at one, simple per-person price. All food is 5-star quality and included in that price: your choice of two appetizers, soup or salad and a bread roll, two entrees, two sides, and in-season sautéed vegetables. Our food is served either family style, dual-plated, or plated, and is included in the package price. We do not charge extra for these service styles; our 5-star chef wouldn’t allow it! Food service is the most important service provided, in our opinion. We want everyone to be served fresh, hot food at about the same time, finish at about the same time, and be ready to start the party at the same time! Contact us to learn more.

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