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Catering Styles: How to Feed Your Guests on Any Budget

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

In last weeks post I discussed several different seating styles you can choose for the meal at your wedding reception or special event. This week I’ll break them down for you, as well as the factors of your event that will help you choose your seating and meal style, including how much it will cost for each seating style in relation to catering.


Styles of Wedding and Special Event Catering

Including Approximate Pricing

$ - usually cost effective

$$ - mid range costs

$$$ - priciest options

1. Served – $$$

Common choices for this meal are chicken, beef, or fish. More experimental caterers are coming up with fantastic pasta and other vegetarian options. You may provide RSVP cards for your guests to choose their option, or they may choose on site. Some venues and caterers offer “surf and turf” where every guest will get two proteins and no choices.

2. Buffet – $$

A few tables will be set up with chafing dishes of several different mains and sides. Although it’s known as a more informal option, guests often like the idea of being able to choose the exact amounts they’d like, and go back for more if they’re still hungry.

3. Stations – $$

Often seen at cocktail hour and sometimes at receptions, stations can be a fantastic alternative to served or buffet. You’ll choose a few different catered stations where some items will be out for guests to grab and go, and some items will be prepared to order. You can often provide some really interesting options that will excite guests.

4. Family Style – $$

This can be a fun option, especially with a smaller guest count. A mashup of a served and buffet style, large portions of each main and side will be served to each table. Guests will pass around each bowl or platter, taking their portion of each.

5. Cocktail – $

Also often seen at cocktail hour and sometimes at receptions, this style of food is likely strictly passed appetizers. More recently, caterers we work with are serving larger and more hearty food options being passed, sometimes on their own individual plates. Guests never have to go and seek out food, it’s always brought to them.

6. Food Truck/Table Service – $$

A trend over the last few years is to hire in one or more food trucks to cater your event. Sometimes they supplement the main meal (i.e. ice cream truck or pizza truck at the end of the night), and sometimes they are the main meal. We also bringing in local restaurants and chefs to set up a table, cart, or booth and cook a selected menu tableside where guests can walk up and either take what’s available or order their food.

Helpful Deciding Factors when Choosing a Style of Catering:

1. Budget

So many different factors will affect the costs of your meal and seating choices. If you need lots of servers, permits for the food truck, rental costs, this will all add up. Weigh all of your costs against your ideal and runner up options for your meal and seating.

2. Formality

If you envision hosting a black tie event, you’ll want to provide your guests with a seated and served meal. If your event is more casual, you’ll want to consider buffet or stations. If you want a fun and unique event, consider a food truck or bringing in a local restaurant to serve.

3. Venue

Look at the space that you have to work with. You may or may not be able to fit tables for all guests, furniture, food stations, etc. Also check with your venue or your event planner to see what options are available to you.

4. Experience

You want for you and your guests – you’re inviting your guests to spend several hours with you so you definitely want to provide some form of food and beverage. If you want really delicious local food, reach out to the options around you and see what’s manageable. If your guests need a quick meal, provide a buffet or cocktail style where they can eat as they need and don’t have to wait.

For help on catering styles and ideas for your wedding or special event, reach out to us for wedding or event planning help!


Photo Credit: Isabelle Selby Photography

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