5 Wedding Catering Styles: Which One is Right for Your Reception Menu?

Wedding Catering Styles

Let’s talk wedding food. No matter what style of wedding your planning, chances are food will be involved. To what degree—that’s up to you. But let’s begin here, with the 5 wedding catering styles you’re likely to choose from.

photo above: Hannah Pickle from this New Orleans Micro Wedding | catering: Black Pearl Catering

How you determine what’s right for you comes down number of guests, where you’ve prioritized food in your budget, your venue, and the style of your wedding. We checked in with caterers and wedding planners to break down all 5 wedding catering styles and help you decide which makes the most sense for your reception menu. Let’s dig in!

Best Catering Style if You Can’t Pick a Menu: Food Stations

catering food stationFood stations offer a variety of options set up in different areas around your venue. Many caterers truly thrive in this type of service and are especially helpful in supporting a wedding theme through different cuisines.

photo: Luke and Mallory | catering: MIHO Catering Co.

Food Station Pros:

  • Food Allergies: “With so many people being sensitive to different kinds of food, having stations that are gluten-free or dairy-free can make your guests feel like you really took time to consider them.” —Steve Robertson, CEO, Eventective.com
  • Crowd Control: “Food stations allow you to keep away from a single line that can be interminable with just a few very picky buffet-line folks!” — Steve Robertson, CEO, Eventective.com
  • Create Variety: “Food stations allow for great variety and encourage guests to explore the room. It’s a great opportunity to tie in a meaningful theme (like your favorite locales in an around-the-world theme), and really get personal and creative!” — Nora Sheils, Founder, Bridal Bliss

Food Station Cons:

  • Limits Social Distancing: “Unfortunately, grazing boards where guests serve themselves and customize their selections have had to be put on pause with the precautions that are now in place.” — Sarah Kuhlberg, Creative Director, Colette’s Catering
  • Expanded Serving Times:This is not for those concerned about getting your guests fed in a minimal amount of time. It’s all about taking your time, enjoying the company, and mingling through the experience over the course of the night.” MIHO Catering Co.

Best Catering Style for a Laid-Back Wedding: Buffet

wedding catering stylesWe’re all familiar with a buffet. Food set in large warming dishes is plated out by staff as guests move make their way down the line.

photo: Mandy Ford | catering: MIHO Catering Co.

Buffet Pros:

  • Buffets Offer Control: “A pro is that we can control the buffets and have our staff serve the guests safely.” — Sarah Kuhlberg, Creative Director, Colette’s Catering
  • Relaxed + Affordable: “If you’re looking for a more relaxed, communal atmosphere this is definitely the best option! It also helps that this option reduces service labor costs, which impact the overall dining costs.  Allows hosts to select a hearty menu that appeals to everyone.” – Amrit Dhillon-Bains, Anais Events

Buffet Cons:

  • Style Clashing: “Because buffet-style is more of an informal wedding catering style, it may not suit your wedding or venue aesthetic. We at Anais Events service a lot of large guest counts, so our pro-tip is to discreetly excuse each table personally by either the planning or the banquets staff. DJ table (cattle) calling is a big ‘no-no’!” – Amrit Dhillon-Bains, Anais Events

Best Option for a Conversation Starter: Family Style

family style wedding catering
Family style is the bridge between a full plated service and a serve-yourself option. Platters are brought to individual tables and passed around for guests to plate their own meals.

photo: Luke and Mallory | catering: MIHO Catering Co.

Family Style Pros:

  • A Safe Option: “One of our favorite ways to serve dinner, family-style can still be done safely! With smaller, more intimate dinner tables at receptions, showers, etc., we can make platters for each small table to enjoy.” — Sarah Kuhlberg, Creative Director, Colette’s Catering
  • Great for Community: “Family-style table service is a great conversation starter. The dynamic of the table changes when you have to ask someone you just met to pass the carrots. Consider this comfortable format when you want the table setting to be more casual and friendly.” — Joel Lippman, Hutton Brickyards
  • Great Variety: “As opposed to plated dinners, here you get to experience several mains and sides.” MIHO Catering Co.

Family Style Cons:

  • A Crowded Table: “One major downfall is that the platters can take up a large footstep on your tables. That means fewer florals or decor. One way to combat that? Hanging installations!”  Nora Sheils, Founder, Bridal Bliss
  • Requires Direction: “Guests can sometimes be confused as to what platters/dishes belong to their section of the table when you are serving long communal tables. This is where our experienced in-­‐house trained servers are essential in communicating how to enjoy their meal.” MIHO Catering Co.

Best for Elevated Style + Foodies: Plated Dinner

plated dinner wedding catering
A plated dinner is the most classic wedding catering style. Several courses are dished out to seated guests throughout the dinner hour.

photo: Luke and Mallory | catering: MIHO Catering Co.

Plated Dinner Pros:

  • Overall Efficiency: “Your timeline will run more efficiently as servers deliver meals all at once. Whereas a buffet, for example, takes longer to serve when you allow for guests moving back and forth from their seats.” – Erica Trombetti, Infinite Events
  • A Chef-Driven Experience: “There are some major pros when it comes to having a plated dinner service at your wedding. First, the meal is beautifully presented with a more chef-driven dining experience. The elevated guest perception is wonderfully paired with perfectly executed service.” — Sarah Kuhlberg, Creative Director, Colette’s Catering
  • Social Distance-Friendly: “Plated dinners allow for guests to remain seated and socially distant.” — Sarah Kuhlberg, Creative Director, Colette’s Catering

Plated Dinner Cons:

  • Labor Cost Increase: “A disadvantage to this would mostly reflect on total production costs. More labor would be needed to produce the plated courses, whether it be with chefs or service staff.” — Sarah Kuhlberg, Creative Director, Colette’s Catering
  • Gathering Meal Choices: “If you don’t want to choose their meals before, you can opt for table-side ordering and your guests can choose their meal choice when they sit down.– Erica Trombetti, Infinite Events

Best Type of Catering that Fits all Wedding Styles: Food Trucks

wedding food truckFood trucks bring the kitchen—and the goods!—to you. Many food trucks offer packages for weddings so that guests have options within a certain menu.

photo: Heirlume Photography from this Modern Greenhouse Wedding | food truck: Wild Posy

Food Truck Pros:

  • Great for Outdoor Settings: “This catering style works best with a private residence tent wedding, or if the wedding is in a barn at a farm. In other words, lots of land and embracing the outdoor feel!” — Valarie Falvey, Kirkbrides
  • Local Foodie Fun: “Food trucks are another good way to provide options and an interactive experience for your guests. For us located in the Pacific Northwest, it is a great way to immerse guests into the local foodie culture! At this point, many carts are well versed in COVID precautions so you can rest assured that your guests will remain safe.”  Nora Sheils, Founder, Bridal Bliss
  • Adaptable + Affordable: “I love having food trucks for a unique twist at an elegant wedding. They serve amazing food, you can have fun with your menu and pricing is so affordable.” — Natalie Good, Creative Director of A Good Affair

Food Truck Cons:

  • Venue Conducive: “Your venue must be logistically conducive to this setup and not be too far or inconvenient of a walk for guests.” — Valarie Falvey, Kirkbrides
  • Best for Smaller Events: “Many carts are not used to huge rushes of people at one time. It tends to work best to have an event that encourages grazing, smaller portions, and a more casual vibe. In addition, plan to spend a little more to bring service staffing in to help bus and guide guests, and also regulate COVID requirements.”  Nora Sheils, Founder, Bridal Bliss

The best wedding catering style will obviously depend on your unique style, requirements, and budget. But now that you’ve got the down-low, maybe making a decision will be easier than deciding where to eat out on Saturday night. Maybe. Bon appetit!