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Dinner Styles – What Are They?

POV: You just got engaged, your guest list is compiled, your budget is set and now it is time to start booking vendors! The first vendor that wedding professionals recommend booking is the venue as each venue will have their own unique offerings for your special day. Once the venue is booked, and based on their offerings, the next big vendor is catering. Catering is such an integral vendor on your wedding day as they often set up your tables, chairs, dishware, any food displays and the bar. They also serve all your alcohol, food, cut and serve the cake and even take care of the trash at the end of the night! Hiring a professional catering company can change the entire experience of your event to you and your guests. If your venue has a list of required caterers, you are in good hands with any of them. If your venue has a list of preferred caterers, it is highly recommended that you stick to that list, because those are caterers that have proven to the venue that they take care of the space and of each couple that has their magical day there!

When reaching out to caterers, it is best to have your invited guest count ready, so that you get an accurate quote, and to have a basic idea of which dinner style you would prefer. So, what are the dinner style options? There are five main dinner style options: Heavy Hors d’oeuvres, Stations, Buffet, Family Style and Plated. Each one is fantastic in their own way, their descriptions are below!

Heavy Hors d’oeuvres

A seated dinner is not for everyone, especially given the last couple years. Many modern couples are going for more of a casual reception and want their guests to mingle rather than be glued to a seat. Instead of a fully seated reception, opt for a cocktail style reception where about 60% of guests are seated and 40% of guests are standing. During the hour or so that dinners take, have your catering team pass around heavy hors d’oeuvres! This allows guests to mingle and gives them many options of little plates to try, while not interrupting their conversations. This is also a great option for brunch or late night weddings where you do not want to offer a full meal!

Photography by V / Fleuressence / Champagne Taste


Food stations, or action stations, are wonderful for the creative couple! Stations typically take four or so categories of food and create an entire display of that food with all their different offerings. A few of our favorite examples of stations are a meat carving station such as brisket, mac and cheese or potato station with all the fixings or a taco station with a few proteins and tons of toppings! Stations are meant to be creative and fun, so any ideas are more than welcome when creating a menu for stations! Stations are also particularly helpful with large guest counts so that multiple tables are able to be released at a time, but they do not have to stand in a long buffet line, and guests are able to go to stations as they please.

You can also pair Stations with cocktail style seating and open up the stations and dancing at the same time!

The Gernands Photography / Cater 2 Events


Buffet style is the most popular and familiar dinner style to many people. This is where food tables are set up in a row and the menu options are lined up down the tables. Guests will start at one end of the tables and either serve themselves or have the caterer serve them and go down the line with the usual 2-3 side options and 2 entrée options. Buffets are the simplest dinner style and often the most cost efficient of the five dinner styles. Buffets can also be paired with preset salads before the buffet opens to add a little extra to the reception!

Verlee Bishop / Groovin Gourmet

Family Style

As a personal favorite at the mansion, family style is the perfect mix of buffet and plated dinner styles. This is where your five or so dinner options are plated onto big serving dishes and placed directly on each dinner table. It creates a homey atmosphere where guests can simply pass dishes around as they would at their own dinner table. Guests can also go back and get more of their favorite dish with no hesitation. A huge key with family style though, is that the centerpieces have to be very small. There needs to be room at the table for the dishes, so pairing family style with high and low centerpieces (pictured below) is the way to go!

Amanda Arnold Photography / Black Creek Florals / Cater 2 Events


Plated dinner styles are perfect for formal weddings. There are two ways to offer plated dinner to guests. The first is to offer two protein options and a vegetarian/vegan option to your guests when sending out invitations. Your guests will select which dinner option they want on their RSVPs. Place cards are essential for this dinner style so that each guest is served their designated choice and there are no confusion over which dinner they selected. The other way to offer plated is dual entrée. This is typically two proteins or a protein and vegetarian/vegan option plated together and served to each guest. For this, place cards are less essential as all guests are being served the same dish. Another big thing to keep in mind with plated is that the table settings often consist of silverware, a napkin and sometimes a charger as all the plates must be in the back for plates to get dressed. A bonus of plated dinners is that you have a detailed hand in creating your menu, but they can also be the most expensive dinner style with protein selections and the staffing needed to individually plate and serve dinner.

Studio 2b / Weddings by Vogue / Champagne Taste

How do you pick which dinner style you want? Take some time with your soon-to-be and think about past events and weddings that you have attended. Now, what are five things you loved about dinner and five things you did not like? Compare your lists and talk through which dinner style would work best for you, your guests, overall atmosphere and budget. Once you pick your dinner style and have your approximate guest count, it is now time to book your caterer! We recommend reaching out to 3-5 caterers that caught your eye, fit in your budget and offer what you are asking for. From there, pick 2-3 to set up tastings with to make your decision. Remember, this is your wedding, pick what you like and do what you want!