There are a number of big decisions in planning a wedding, but right up there near the top is “what’s on the menu”.  We’ve worked with a lot of couples and for most, making the choices about what to serve is one of the most perplexing.   Your menu ultimately boils down to preference and budget.  One of the most common questions we get about catering is buffet or plated. There are a number of factors to consider when making your final choice, but rest assured that most professional caterers are comfortable with either option and will serve a beautiful meal either way.

Budget:  As far as the actual cost involved, it’s pretty much a wash.  With a plated dinner the caterer is better able to control your food portions and thereby your costs,  But you will have to hire more wait staff to serve the meal.  By serving buffet style, the labor costs will be lower but most caterers recommend 15% to 20% more food since there will be no portion control and people may come back through the line more than once. (Caterers want to insure they will not ever run out of food!)   Many couples like to offer several selections for guests with the standard being 2 proteins and a vegetarian option.  With a plated dinner, the guests would make choices prior to the event and be served the selected option.  With buffets, a majority of guests will serve themselves all 3 options.

The Experience:  The budget may be a wash, but plated and buffet style dinners offer to very different experiences for your guests.  A plated dinner is going to have a more formal and cohesive feel.  Once the dinner service starts, the plates will come out so your guests are all dining together.   Your guests will also be presented the food as the caterer, intended it to be presented.  Watch any cooking show and you will see presentation plays an important role in the dining experience.  All in all, a plated dinner will present itself as a calmer room experience.  Because the staff is not having to focus on keeping the buffet stocked, they are better able to focus on seeing to your guests dining needs.  If you have offered your guests protein choices, you will need to have assigned seating or ‘markers’ so the wait staff knows who gets which options.  Assigned seating means more planning and setup time.  Not only do you have to decide who sits where ( and sometimes more importantly, with whom they will be sitting), you will also have make and organize a seating chart or cards. 
 A buffet style dinner is going to be a much more casual feel.  Guests will be up and mingling and conversing.  With a buffet, you can have open seating since guests will be serving themselves.  You can ‘reserve’ the family and head tables, but other than that guests can sit with whomever they choose.   Be prepared for the dinner service to last longer, by as much as a half an hour.  Some guests may linger in conversation before going through the line.  You will also have the guests that go through the line first finishing dinner just as others are getting served. 

Family Style:  Family style is when large platters are brought to each table and is a great option for a smaller wedding (50 to 75 guests).  As far as budget, it will generally be more expensive because you will need the wait staff associated with a plated dinner, but also the larger food portions required by a buffet since caterers will want the platters to be full and bountiful.  You will also incur extra rental fees for the various platters and vessels required for this type of service.  When selecting the courses, keep in mind your guests will be required to pass the platters around the table which can be a little messy and interrupt conversation.

The Bullet Points!

  • ·          Whenever possible, meet your caterer and taste their food.  If you are out of town and not able to meet, seek out references from other area vendors.  This is where the advice and recommendations from a professional wedding planner are worth their weight in gold.
  • ·           If serving a plated dinner, consider the mixed grill.  Instead of guests picking an option, each guests will be served a smaller portion of each of the proteins you choose.  You should still have a vegetarian option.  This allows for open seating or assigned seating since each guest gets the same plate.
  • ·          Consider the Venue.  If you want to serve a buffet, make sure the room can accommodate the actual buffet line as well as allow for comfortable traffic flow.
  • ·        Leftovers.  Most caterers do not wrap leftovers due to safety concerns and the packaging required.  If you need a plate prepared for a guest that is arriving late or to make sure that your Dad actually gets dinner after chatting with everyone of your guests, inform your caterer prior to the service.
  • ·          If you are throwing a wedding in a pristine meadow in the middle of nowhere with no running water or electricity, expect the catering to cost more.
  • ·         Most caterers will require a 50% non-refundable deposit to secure the date.
  • ·         Many caterers will assist in setting the tables and will bus the tables, clean and repackage the catering rentals, and haul food related garbage.  They do not set or break down the room.  That is to say, they don’t set up table and chairs or break them down.  They may offer it as an option, but there will be additional charges.  Be sure to ask where their services start and end. 
  • ·         Which brings us to the most important piece of advice we can give about any vendor…Read The Contract.  Though we just said many caterers will assist in setting table, be sure!  It is essential you know exactly what services are and are not covered by the caterer.
Article by Montana Bride
Thank you to Emily Ryan from Food For Thought

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