When planning a dinner reception, many different little decisions have to be made to figure out how the dinner will flow perfectly. But the first thing you have to decide on is how dinner will be served! We discussed each option at length for our reception, and today I want to share the pros and cons for each of 3 options when planning a dinner reception.

  • Option 1: Plated, Sit-down Dinner
  • Option 2: Buffet
  • Option 3: Family Style

A plated, sit-down dinner is traditionally considered the most formal, and most people assume it is the most expensive. However, while it is definitely the most formal, it is usually the least expensive. The caterer will be preparing exactly the amount of food that is needed, whereas with a buffet or family style meal, they have to prepare much more than the quantity needed, as people serve themselves. With a plated dinner comes the responsibility of assigning not only table numbers, but placements at the table, so the caterer knows exactly what to serve to whom. It also requires knowing what guests will be eating ahead of time - so in addition to making sure you get that RSVP, you need to get the meal preference too! It can also be the quickest way of serving dinner, since everyone will be served around the same time, and guests aren’t waiting to be called to eat.

A buffet style meal is probably the most popular - and it’s easy to see why! You can provide a variety of options and don’t have to ask your guests ahead of time; guests can get as much as they want to eat, and it’s more relaxed. It often does cost a bit more than a sit-down dinner, but doesn’t take as much work to orchestrate. Typically you’ll only need to specify to guests which table they are at, and they can chose their location at the table since they’re serving themselves. I’ve found that depending on the size of your wedding, it can take a long time for guests to get their food, and there’s a lot of down-time for guests while they’re waiting to eat or waiting for others to finish eating. It does give the bride and groom more time to visit everyone though!

Family style is what we really wanted to do, but the price tag was way too high! We loved the idea of this, since it encourages table-mates to talk to one another and get to know each other. It also gives you the comfort and “formal” feeling of a plated meal while giving the “relaxed” feel of a buffet meal where you can serve yourself. You could either assign place settings or leave it up to guests to decide where they want to sit - and really, you wouldn’t have to assign tables either! The only downfall to this is that the caterer will have to provide a lot more food if you want to have a large variety for guests to chose from, and it’s likely there will be a large amount of leftover food afterwards (but that’s not unlike a buffet, either).

A photo from our tasting at the Richmond Country Club

A photo from our tasting at the Richmond Country Club

Each of these options can really give your reception a different vibe depending on your theme, your personalities, and your guests. We opted for the plated meal because it was more formal and the most cost-effective. It kept things running really smoothly - everyone was done eating in about 45 minutes! For 100 guests, that’s pretty good!