Pros and Cons of Wedding Service Styles

So, when you are planning a wedding or other large event, you will have to make a number of choices about how your event will be run. It can be difficult to consider all the choices available and make the best decision for your event. So I’ve run through some of the popular options for serving food and made pros and cons list for them so you can be sure to make your guests as comfortable as possible (which is your main aim as a host).


This is your traditional food service style- all the guests are seated at tables and waiters come around and bring them prepared plates of food, possibly in several courses.


  • Tables are generally served together and the people at that table get to sit and talk with each other while they wait and while they are eating.
  • Generally fast and convenient for hosts and caterers.
  • Everyone gets the same thing and you are unlikely to run out of food or leave people hungry.
  • You can do speeches and dances in between courses.
  • Is practical for everyone regardless of mobility.


  • Less mingling time for the guests.
  • You generally need to assign seating, especially if the guests had to indicate beef or chicken or whatever ahead of time.
  • Guests who are at a table they don’t like are stuck with it for the whole meal (too bad for them!)
  • Less choice of food and less ability to offer unique food options.


This is one or two very long tables set up with a variety of dishes. People get up and serve themselves and bring their food back to their tables.


  • Able to offer a wide variety of foods and everyone can choose what they like.
  • People can mingle a bit while waiting in line or waiting for their table to be called.


  • Some popular dishes may run out (when doing a buffet, it’s best to plan on too much food so the last people to go through aren’t stuck with dregs)
  • Difficult for guests with mobility issues to navigate. Also difficult for parents with small children (if you have many at your wedding)
  • Can have long , slow lines (hard for people in heels!) (Can be fixed by having duplicate buffets and/or utilizing both sides of the table)
  • If you call people up by table, the first group may be done eating by the time the last group gets their food, creating a lull in the party (keep those lines moving fast!)

Family Style:

This is when everyone is seated at a table and the waiters put big platters of food in the center of the table so everyone can serve themselves.


  • Able to offer a wide variety of foods and people can choose what they like.
  • Combination of the best of plated service (everyone sitting and eating together) and buffet (being able to select your food).


  • Some piggy guests might take too big portions of a dish leaving not enough for the rest of the table (make sure your servers know to keep an eye out and refill as necessary)


This is where there are several stations of food set up around the room (such as a carving station, a taco stand, a soup bar) and people go to each one and then bring their plates of food back to their table. Kind of like a spread out buffet.


  • You can get REALLY crazy and fun with the food- think mashed potato bar, build your own tacos, fresh carved roast beef, etc.)
  • Like a buffet, people can select what they want and in what portion.
  • People can mingle and compare the different options.


  • Guests can spend even more time in line than a traditional buffet since they will probably have a wait at each station.
  • A line for each station may mean guests’ food from the first station might get cold as they’re waiting for the fourth.
  • Hard to coordinate eating with your table companions since everyone is jumping up and down to visit the different stations.
  • Can be difficult for guests with mobility issues.


This is when you just serve small bites and appetizers either passed by waiters or at stations.


  • Can do really delicious foods and a big variety.
  • Can be cheaper than full meals (though not always!!!)
  • Encourages walking around and mingling.


  • Generally cannot serve as a full meal. Current etiquette says that if you have your reception over a generally recognized mealtime (11am-2pm, or 5pm-8pm), you need to serve a full meal.
  • Can be difficult for guests with mobility issues.


Part 2 will be different seating styles!



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