One of the biggest catering-related decisions you have to make for your wedding is whether to have a buffet or a pre-plated meal. There are pros and cons to each approach.
Wedding Buffet Advantages
1) A buffet offers more options for your guests. You can do multiple meat options, a pasta course, and a vegetarian course. You can offer food stations—think made-for-you grilled cheese, baked potatoes with your choice of toppings, or a carving station with prime rib. You can do a sushi buffet, or a breakfast buffet for a morning wedding. The possibilities are practically endless!
2) With a buffet, no one will end up with food they don’t like because they get to choose what goes on their plate. (Unless they hate everything, in which case they’re a lost cause and you shouldn’t worry about them!)
3) Everyone gets to decide their own portions. Let’s face it, some people eat more than others. Some people are dieting. Some are dealing with food restrictions. Giving people control over their portion sizes makes them happier.
4) It’s easier for you! When you have a buffet, you don’t have to put meal options on your response card or keep track of what everyone wants for dinner. You also don’t need to make individual escort cards indicating the guest’s meal choice. Instead, you can make one large seating chart. Also, some venues require assigned seats for a pre-plated meal, which means you have to make both escort cards (to tell people which table is theirs) AND place cards (to tell people which seat is theirs).
5) It could save you money on staff. Most caterers bring more staff members to serve a pre-plated meal table-side than they bring for a buffet. They still need staff to pour water and wine, to clear dishes, and to replenish the buffet chafing dishes, but it’s generally not as many staff as are needed to serve table-side meals.
Pre-Plated Wedding Dinner Advantages
1) I’m not going to lie, a pre-plated meal served table-side is always going to be more elegant than a buffet. It’s more like dining at a nice restaurant vs. dining at Golden Corral.
2) It can be easier to handle specific dietary restrictions with a pre-plated meal. If you know you have one (or several) gluten-free guests, it’s easier to have just a few gluten-free meals to accommodate them than it is to make an entire buffet gluten-free. The same is true for guests who can’t have dairy or soy. If you know you will have guests will food allergies, it’s best to discuss with your caterer how to handle meal preparation.
You can take a hybrid approach to get some of the advantages of a buffet while still having a pre-plated meal. Serve multiple entrées on the same plate and give everyone the same two entrées. You still don’t have to include a meal choice on the response card or keep track of everyone’s selections, but you get to give guests a little more choice and flexibility in what they eat.
Or serve dinner family-style. You have a pre-set menu and you don’t have to keep track of individual meal choices, but people can serve themselves only what they like to eat. This also has the advantage of saving time. You don’t have to wait for each table to go through the buffet line, and it’s much faster for the catering servers to place platters of food on each table than to deliver individual plates to each guest.
How to decide which approach is right for your wedding?
Think about your overall vibe. If you want your wedding to be elegant and fancy, go with the pre-plated option served table-side. But if you’re aiming for a more fun and relaxed vibe, then do a buffet.
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This post was written by Sacramento wedding planner Risa Weaver-Enion. If you're feeling overwhelmed by planning your wedding, we are here for you! Read more about what we do on our Welcome and Packages pages. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or want to inquire about getting help with wedding planning. And if you'd like to have future blog posts delivered to your inbox, please join our Insider’s Club on the Welcome page.