As wedding planners who love food, our goal is to guide you through the process of catering, so that when it comes time, you don’t have to go in as a newbie, you can go in with confidence! In today’s blog, we want to break down the different types of meal service options that are out there, plus give you pros and cons to each of them. Now-A-Days, there are a TON of options when it comes to how and what you can serve for wedding food. You have appetizers, plated meals, and buffets, but have you thought about others like food trucks or interactive stations?
There are some factors that play a roll into the type of meal service you can have at your wedding, when you book with your venue, you will be told what the catering options are. Once you know what those are, you can start thinking about what kind of meal service you want to have. One of our earlier blogs talks all about the different types of catering venues offer, you can read more about catering options by clicking (Here).
We want to mention that not every caterer will offer all these options, most of the time (not all the time) you will have a food and beverage minimum to meet. (you can read all about food and beverage minimums in our last catering blog by clicking (Here)). So, work with the caterer that you have and let them guide you in the direction that works best for you.
The most popular of the bunch, having a plated meal is classic, timeless and elegant. You and your guests get to feel fancy while people serve your food to you.
Most of the time, wedding meals come in three courses. Salad, entree, & dessert. Sometimes a couple might decide to not have cake served and opted for a dessert station in which guests would then help themselves. That is something that you can discuss with the caterer or your planner (Hi)
If you want to give your guests choices, plated meals are a great option. I would say most of the time, a caterer will let you have a Chicken, Beef, Fish or Vegetarian option as well as accommodate any food allergies.
Plated meals require extra effort in that you must have the meal options on the RSVP cards so that guests choose ahead of time what meals they will have.
You also will have to provide place cards with the guest’s name on it and meal option. When making the place cards, make sure you have the food choice be clear as day on the card. This will help catering staff see it while they are serving food. Something to remember, the lights usually dim for dinner so it can be hard for the staff to always see the options.
You can get creative with this or keep it simple by just writing “Chicken or C” “Beef or B” (You get it). Just don’t be silly and do gemstones that are similar colors... (Like black and navy) or something so silly that it slows down food service. I once had a wedding that did origami animals that indicated what they were eating and, when my staff went to serve dinner, no one had their origami still intact nor could they even tell what was what.
Pro Tip: Print out a list of each table with the guests’ name and their meal choice that matches the place cards. Your catering staff will love you for being so organized and dinner service will be more efficient.
Things to consider. Do the caterers keep the food in a hot box until its ready to be plated? Or will they plate the food as they serve?
Think about the layout of your venue. Do they offer a full kitchen or is only a small prep space that they must work with? Your planner and caterer can help you determine if plated is the best option for you considering your venue space.
Pro Tip: If the kitchen space is not convenient to where the meals are being served, skip the plated meal!
I love food stations! My most successful event to date was for BMW and we had a mix of interactive food stations as well as butler passed and stationed food stations. This event was very focused around food and it was a huge success. Guests LOVE Food stations, they love watching chefs out there toasting things with blow torches! They love the idea of having a huge variety of foods and its usually super fresh and made to order give you some flexibility to get super creative and give your guests more of an experience with their food! When I worked in catering, food stations were my favorite and it also was a way to save money as well. (This was just in my case, might not be the same for every caterer)
Maybe you want to combine your heritages and have a mix of both cultures’ foods?
Pro Tip: Have the catering staff set the tables, and have salads served to them, this way, everyone has a minute to gather. You will be able to do the welcome speech or blessing and explain the different stations that are around the area. That way, guests don’t all flock to the same station at once and leave others.
Pro Tip #2: Don’t overwhelm your guests with too many options, we suggest 3-4 stations depending on if you have a plated salad or a salad station.
Some people have a real hard time with buffet dinners. We personally don’t get it… We understand that buffets are a more casual style of dining, but sometimes it just makes more sense and depending on the caterer, it could be more cost effective.
Your guests get to serve themselves portions so if they don’t really want a ton of meat but love mashed potatoes, they can take what they are going to eat.
A con to buffets is that you might have to provide your own china, glassware & flatware. Always check these costs because some caterers might charge $6.50 per place setting, whereas a rental company might charge $3.50. That is a huge cost difference.
Also note, if you rent place settings, ask your caterer if their staff will set the tables or if you will need someone else to do it.
Pro Tip: Confirm with your caterer that flatware and goblets will not just be rolled at the buffet. Ask your caterer to still set the table with silverware and add chargers to glam it up! That way the tables are still set nicely and will look great in photos!
Family style meal service is not my favorite if I am being completely honest. We will never discourage you from doing something that you are set on doing, but we will explain why we don’t like it.
Family style takes up WAY TOO MUCH space on your table. If you want extravagant centerpieces, you add 4 platters of food to each of those tables, it’s going to get tight.
Yes you can get two meat options so that if someone wants a little chicken and a little beef, they can do that, but also some people can take more than a healthy serving and leaves some of the rest of the table with not a lot of a serving.
Make sure that your caterer will have extra food, this might increase the food costs, but that is better than running out of food.
The guests must serve themselves, so they have to grab the platters and pass them around. I have seen spoons being flung through the air and whole platters fall into laps. It stresses me out just typing it!
Depending on the caterer, they might have different options when it comes to how appetizers are served. Butler Passed and stationed apps are what we are familiar with. When apps are butler passed, a server will walk around with a tray and asks guests if they would like to try xyz… This is awesome because they are well versed in what they are serving and so the guests can ask questions. Stationed apps are where they are set up on tables (just like stations) and you can pick and choose what you want. You can do a mix of butler and stationed apps as well, which can help you save money and its fun for the guests.
If you are having a smaller wedding, you have a unique venue that doesn’t allow all guests to be seated in the same room, or you are having a later in the evening reception, heavy apps are a great option.
If your wedding day starts at 2 and ends at midnight, we suggest giving them more meals throughout the day.
Pro Tip: Do a mix of interactive food stations and apps. Like salad shooters, build your own pasta station, mini gourmet burger display & French fry bar, along with some butler passed apps.
Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about food trucks! Food trucks are all the rage and for good reason! You want to show your style, investigate food trucks! There are so many of them out there, it might be hard to choose which one you want, our option is ask a professional for their thoughts (raising our hands) get a list of them and start asking questions! You might want to do a couple so that you can give your guests options, or you might want to keep it simple. Just make sure it is one that will be able to handle your guest count and they have a reputation for working weddings.
If your venue doesn’t allow food trucks, ask them if having one as a late-night snack could be an option? You could do late night tacos, mini donuts, or so much more!
A pro to food trucks is that it can cut down on food waste because it is usually made to order.
Another positive to food trucks is the options are endless
The downside to some food trucks is they might not have a serving staff. You will need people there to make sure trash and food is thrown away.
Catering is going to be one of the biggest expenses of your wedding. Don’t skimp, don’t just go with the basic, cheapest option. Let your dinner service mirror your personality, don’t be afraid to get creative and never hesitate to reach out to us if you need some ideas! We love food and we love discussing food!
Christina + Adam