The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Dinner Serving Styles

You’ve got your wedding dress, you’ve picked out your venue, you know how you want to decorate your wedding. But what about the food? What type of dish will you be serving at your reception? Will you serve a plated meal dinner with servers and plates, or a family-style set up where guests can help themselves?

The essence of any party, including your wedding, lies in the food. The type of meal you serve to how you serve can affect the whole wedding vibe. It should match the style of the wedding and blend with the theme of the day.

However, with many different serving styles, it can be overwhelming to choose a serving style that best suits your taste and preference. Each menu style has its pros and cons, with some being more expensive than others. Therefore, it’s crucial to first research and understand your chosen dinner serving style, your guests’ requirements, and your catering budget.

This blog will cover the different types of wedding dinners to help you make an informed decision that’s best for you. Read on to learn more.

The Plated Meal

The plated meal dinner style is the most traditional and formal reception style. It is seen as the most appropriate, especially for older guests. It is also the most effortless style when it comes to logistics. A plated meal style consists of three courses, an entrée, a main meal, and dessert. Guests sit down and are served a formal dinner by the caterers.

When giving out the order, you have to choose two to three different options for each course. Choosing between various proteins like beef, fish, or chicken is recommended to intrigue your guests. You can also have one alternative option to cater to those with dietary requirements.

Your guests can order their meals when they RSVP, or they can order once at the reception. If you want your guests to choose their menu before the wedding, you should do it in advance, so your caterer can prepare or order enough food for each meal.

Alternatively, you can ask your guests to choose their preferred meal and indicate on their wedding invitations. To ease things out, you can create a wedding website and have them select their meal. This allows you to track all their selections in a central place.


  • It’s simple to organize. You don’t have to spend hundreds of hours doing logistics. You only need to select your preferred meal options for each course and let the caterer deal with the rest.
  • It is an excellent option for a more formal gathering.
  • There is minimal wastage since every guest is given enough food portions.
  • Since serving happens at the same time, nobody can miss the food


  • It is expensive since it requires more staffing to help with plating and serving.
  • Due to its formality, it limits you on the wedding vibe. For example, if you want a casual and more relaxed vibe, it can be hard to achieve.

The Family Style Menu

family-style menu is just as the name alludes to. It is similar to the plated meal style; however, guests are assigned a specific table, and servers bring food, the serving utensils for each dish, and place it in the middle of the table. The guests then pass around the food as they help themselves.

This dinner style offers a more laid-back and casual ambiance and is a great option to keep guests seated at the tables. The first course is usually served with one or two options. The main course can include a protein and two sides, or several proteins with numerous sides e.g. beef stew and grilled steak served with naan and mashed potatoes. 


  • It gives the reception a more laid-back and casual feel
  • It offers an efficient way to serve your guests. They don’t have to wait in line to get their food.
  • It’s an excellent community-building strategy as people engage and chat as they enjoy the food.
  • It offers a variety of choices to accommodate even the pickiest guest or those with dietary restrictions.


  • It’s hard to assume how much each guest will consume, which can be trickier for your caterer when estimating the cost per person.
  • It is expensive because of the service ratio, high amount of food, and the cost of the rentals.
  • With people passing and serving themselves, your tables will be left messy, filled with food spilling.

Buffet Style

A buffet dinner style is similar to a family-style menu, with guests helping themselves from a variety of meals, though from a separate location. It features a long table topped with different cuisines. 

The guests have then invited either one or two tables at a time, are given a plate, and your caterers serve them from behind the buffet table. They can choose the foods they like or can try them all.

After their plates are full, the guests walk back to their seats and enjoy the food. A buffet-style is an excellent option for the pickiest guests and those with diet restrictions, as they get to choose what they want to eat. It offers a more casual setting, and guests can mingle and interact between themselves.

You can opt to have a buffet for the main course or include an entrée and a dessert. Pasta dishes, salads, and salmon fillets are tested and great buffet options you can try. The essential thing to consider in a buffet style is how to get your guests food quickly and efficiently, to avoid keeping them in line for long.

With a buffet-style, staffing costs are cheaper compared to the plated meal. You only need a few caterers behind each cuisine, serving the guests. This significantly reduces the catering costs. To suit your wedding theme, you can set the buffet style with matching light, linens, and décor.


  • It offers a variety of food options, so guests can choose what they want and in what portions. The variety of cuisines also suites the pickiest guests and those with dietary restrictions.
  • It is visually appealing and photogenic when executed well with matching linens, light, and décor and sets the whole wedding vibe in check.
  • Since the food is set up in a communal place, none of your guests will miss out on any dish because of sitting too far away.


  • It’s expensive due to the wide variety of foods you need to serve the guests.
  • There may be long queues that can affect the mood of the guests. If you don’t want your guests to queue for food, this isn’t a good option.

Food Stations

Food stations are much like the buffet style as they give your guests a variety of foods to choose from. A food station usually has tables and designated areas dedicated to particular dishes. They are more interactive and allow your guests to have more personalized food items.

Their setting creates a stunning visual display and encourages engagement between the guests. You will, however, need to staff the food stations to have your guests serve their food. A food station allows you as a couple to inject your personality into the food. From crepes to sushi to oysters to pizzas, the food options are endless.

If you want, you can still stick to a designated cuisine. To appeal to your guests, you can have stations for meats, salads, appetizers, bread, desserts, or anything that suits your fancy. However, staff ratios and rental costs can be high with a food station dinner style. It’s also essential to keep the size of the venue in mind since stations may require huge spaces.


  • Food stations create stunning visual displays that blend in with the wedding theme and are perfect for lovely wedding photos.
  • They encourage interaction between guests, mainly when they discuss and consult about what food options they would love to eat.
  • It presents a wide variety of foods to suit both the picky guests and those with dietary restrictions.  


  • It’s quite expensive due to staff ratios and rental costs.

Key Takeaway

Now that you know the different dinner serving styles, you need to think about which one best suits you and the guests’ preferences. If you still feel stuck on the one to choose, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are your guests, and what guest experience are you after?
  • What is your catering budget?
  • What kind of tone do you prefer for your wedding – a posh one or a casual one?

It’s also crucial to ask your caterer about their pricing and equipment. The last thing you want is to be hit with surprise invoices over some specialty cooking equipment your wedding venue doesn’t provide. Some of the questions you can ask your caterer include:

  • Do they offer taste samples for the different menu options?
  • How well versed are they with the cooking style you have chosen?
  • Are there any additional costs you should be aware of?
  • Do they charge per person or charge a lump sum after the wedding?

By keeping the above tips in check, choosing a wedding dinner menu style won’t be complicated. You can also consult with your venue planner or coordinator for more insights.