Reception Styles: Pros and Cons

By: Meghan Cease, M. Elizabeth Events

Did you know that there are many different options to explore when picking how to serve your reception meal? There are a number of many important factors you must consider when deciding on which of these options to pick and your wedding planner and caterer will help you pick the best option for your budget and reception site. Below, I explain the definitions of each option and the positive and negative sides to each.

Buffet: Usually, buffets are set up in the middle of  long tables where guests can walk along and serve themselves. Most of the time, this option would be considered for a more casual atmosphere.
+Pros:
    •    Less servers are required for this option since guests are serving themselves,  which could save money!
    •    Different and more options are often available
    •    Food is available for a number of hours.
    ◦    TIP: Talk with your wedding planner or caterer and be sure that your food will remain fresh for the number of hours you would like it to remain on the buffet. Some items will not have as long of a “shelf life” as others.
    •    Guests can go back and forth as many times as they would like and serve themselves the exact amounts they would like.
    •    Promotes moving around and interaction with guests.
–Cons:
    •    Since buffets are normally set up to allow for guests to serve from each side of the chaffing dishes, lines will form.
    ◦    TIP: Depending on the number of guests you have, you might need to account for 2 sets of buffets so that guests don’t have to wait super long. They will still end up waiting in a line, but it will not be as long.
    •    You do have to be careful on the options picked because there are some items that don’t stay as fresh as they would be served right out of the oven.
    •    You also might have to rent chaffing dishes and pieces if the caterers do not provide them.
    •    Guests have to serve themselves and carry their own plates.

Sit Down: A traditional sit-down meal is one where everyone is seated at tables and the servers bring the food out to them. This option is normally chosen  for a more formal atmosphere.
+Pros:
    •    You can spread out activities in between meals so guests don’t lose interest in your reception, without taking away from the party time!
    •    You and your caterer will know exactly how much food to have since each meal is pre-selected.
    ◦    TIP: If you allowed guests to pick from a list of items, have place cards indicating what each guests pre-chose so they aren’t able to change their minds at the last minute and mess up the counts for each choice.
    •    Since guests do not have to wait in line, this is can be the fastest option out of all of the options if you do not break it up with activities. This will allow for more dancing and activity time post meal.
–Cons:
    •    Options are limited to what you picked during your tasting. Most times the dish picked offers one or two options meat, but will mean that guests that don’t eat, say fish, on a surf and turf plate will only eat half of what is on their plate.
    •    Picky eaters might not fill up.
    •    You may need more servers due to the table side serving, than you would for a buffet option.

Stations: A station style reception is one where the food is spread out in different “stations” around the room. There may be one area that is a carving station, a pasta station, an hors d’ouevres station, dessert station, and so forth.
+Pros:
    •    You can mix carving stations, pasta stations, buffet items and displays to create many .
    •    Since the food items are spread out and there are many options, guests wont wait in lines unless the shrimp and grits station is a hit, but even then…they can come back after they fill their plate with other goodies and the line goes away!
    •    Cook to order-guests can ask and make items to their liking and it is fresh each time!
    •    Promotes interaction among guests.
–Cons:
    •    Your reception space must have enough room to accommodate tables, chairs, and the various stations you will need. This could require 1/3 more space.
    •    You will need more chefs if you have interactive stations (ie. pasta, carving stations, etc) adding more money to the bill. 

Passed and Stationary Hors d’oeuvres: Before this became a popular option for the reception food as a whole, passed hors d’oeuvres were the pre-curser to the main meal. They are usually one- or two-bite size portions and can be served cold or hot. Hors d’oeuvres can be passed by servers or stationary for guests to get themselves and are a great choice for those wanting a more casual atmosphere.
+Pros:
    •    There are so many creative ways to showcase this option. Presentation really takes the stage with these little beauties!
    •    Portions are meant to be bite size so guests can take one piece and as they are moving about, can pop it into their mouth and eat it in one bite……promoting interaction.
    •    If you are careful with what you pick and stick to only a few different pieces, this could be one of the most cost effective/budget friendly options.
–Cons:
    •    On the flip side, this option can get pretty expensive since your caterer will have to make a variety of dishes with many different ingredients.
    •    Guests will probably not fill up.
    ◦    TIP: Pick some hearty ingredients to use as the base of your hors d’oeurves. Meats and breads will help.
    ◦    TIP: Put on your invite that this is the type of reception you will be offering. That will allow guests to eat prior or not expect to fill up at your wedding.
    ◦    TIP: Make sure you offer stationary hors do’oeurves as well as passed. Some guests might not get more than 1 piece if they are solely passed by servers.
    •    This option might reduce the length of your reception.

Family Style: Like a sit down/plated dinner, family style has guests assigned to tables, and waiters bring the food to the table. Large portions of your dinner items will be placed at each table with serving pieces for your guests to fill their own plates. It is like sitting down for dinner at home! This is probably one of the most cozy and casual options.  Of course you can keep it more formal by setting the tables with china, chargers, linen napkins and crystal stemware.
+Pros:
    •    Portions are to your guests liking since they are the ones supplying their plate with food!
    •    Guests will eat fairly quickly since servers will place items on each table and allow guests to serve themselves.
–Cons:
    •    This option will need a lot of space on your table. The idea is that guests will serve themselves from the large portions on the table so there must be room to fit them all!
    •    You might need to up the budget of rental items since each part of your meal must be served in their own dish with their own serving pieces.
    •    If you have greedy guests at the table, you might run out of food in the dish.
    ◦    TIP: Make sure your caterer has enough behind the scenes to re-fill the dishes.
    •    This is one of those options that doesn’t have large variety so be sure to have 2 meats/options for guests to pick from.