Wedding Reception Catering Styles

Food is an important part of a wedding. It leaves a deep impression on guests – whether positive or negative – so it is no wonder that much time is spent on choosing a caterer, designing the menu and ensuring that everything tastes delicious. Now that you have the “who” (caterer), “what” (menu), “when” (wedding day), and “where” (reception venue) decided, don’t you think it’s time to put some thought into the “how”? How will the food be served at your wedding reception?

There are, in general, three catering styles that are used at weddings. These are buffet, seated meal, and finger food reception. Please read on for an overview of each catering style, some advantages and disadvantages, and pictures to give you an idea of how it looks.


We all know what buffets are – ALL YOU CAN EAT! This means variety when it comes to your menu and no limit to the guests’ potion size. Food can be placed on long tables (beware of long lines and impatient guests) or strategically by stations (ie pasta, salad, etc). This style stimulates socializing and mingling among guests. You decide if you want to assign seating.

In regards to cost, this option is cheaper in terms of wait staff but, overall, it may be more costly. Why? Because people will naturally eat more (and hopefully not waste more) and they have the freedom as to what they eat. Depending on what you offer, guests will head to the higher end menu items. Caution is needed when choosing your menu to ensure you stay within your budget while providing enough for your guests.

Catering - Buffet

Seated Meal

The most traditional and formal of all serving styles, guests are seated in pre-assigned seats and served by waiters. Don’t assume that this is also the most expensive style as you must remember that unlike the buffet, guests can only eat what they’re served and nothing more, giving you control over quantity. Another way to save money is to decrease the number of courses.

What should you include in your entrees? Items that will have the widest appeal, therefore chicken is honestly the safest option. It is also the least expensive meat. If you really want seafood, farm-raised salmon is quite reasonably priced and popular among guests. Always have the option of a vegetarian entrée. If you have to cut corners even more, provide dinner rolls and other inexpensive sides to fill up your guests tummies. Whatever you choose to serve, ensure that it will not get soggy or cold while waiting to be served to all the guests.

Catering - Seated

Finger Food Reception

Really tight budget? This is the style for you; it is the most wallet-friendly and least stressful. Rather than hosting a full reception, at a finger food reception, the reception is shorter in duration as waiters circulate the room with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails to standing guests. On average two hours in length, this option is ideal for late afternoon to early evening receptions.

As a general rule, make sure all food is easy to eat using fingers or toothpicks. You don’t want any guests dirtying their fancy clothes. And how many appetizers should you offer? Another rule: Serve at least 6 different appetizers for a 2-hour reception and at least 9 if you choose to lengthen it to 4-hours.

Catering - Finger Food

[Image Credits: Wedding Engagement NoiseWedding BuffetYelpCarter CenterAnonymousKiss My TulleColorado CateringPull Up A SpoonMartha Stewart WeddingsIt’s A Bride’s LifeHostess With The Mostess, C Web News]


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