Buffet vs. Plated: Which Style of Catering to Choose

Wondering if you should do a buffet or plated dish for your wedding? Learn about the pros and cons of each with this complete guide.

By Jennifer Prince

Buffet vs. Plated Which Style of Catering to Choose
Photo by Fiona Conrad Photography

The First Look ✨

  • There are pros and cons to plated vs. buffet meals, and the cost varies depending on the type of food served.
  • Plated meals are served at the same time, and guests need to wait in line at a buffet.
  • A buffet allows you to offer your guests more options, whereas plated meals are set in both cost and quantity.

After you say your I dos, guests want to celebrate with you at your reception meal. In your search for a caterer, you’ll sample delicious appetizers and carefully curated main dishes. However, your chef will ask a series of questions, which will no doubt include wedding food catering styles. So, which should you choose—buffet style or plated American service?

With buffets, our mind often wanders to images of sneeze guards and people being less than sanitary. Yikes! That’s thankfully not the norm when it comes to wedding catering styles. However, if you think plated meals need to be stuffy, think again. So, which one is better when comparing buffet vs. plated wedding meals? Let’s delve into the types of meal service options and figure out which is best for you and your venue.

Wedding Catering Costs for the Food Service Styles

There’s some debate as to whether buffet table style is more or less expensive than plated American service. Sources on the web swing either way, so here are some reasons why fans are on both sides for wedding food.

Why Would Buffet-Style Service Be Less Expensive?

Buffet vs. Plated Photo Credit // Our Day Wedding Photography

With a buffet, there are two things to consider when making sense of the cost. The wedding catering company needs fewer staff members for a buffet. Even if you have food service workers dishing out the food, it requires fewer people than running plates to tables.

A plated, served meal is more aesthetically pleasing than simply plopping food on a plate, which happens with a buffet. Individual meals are prepared and garnished for presentation, all of which takes time—and staff. For these reasons, it makes sense that a buffet is an ideal option for wedding catering on a budget.

How Does a Plated Meal Affect Wedding Catering Costs?

When you choose plated American foodservice, there is usually a fixed cost for the caterer per meal. Say each plate contains one piece of chicken, a serving of mashed potatoes, and six stalks of asparagus. Each plate has a set cost.

With a plated meal, some guests may crave more food, and others won’t finish their meal. There are also fluctuations when it comes to the quantity that people will eat with buffet service. However, the caterer needs to account for guests loading up their plates and coming back for seconds with a buffet. Quantity is an argument for plated meals being easier on the budget.

What Should I Choose for Wedding Catering on a Budget?

When you’re calculating your wedding catering cost, it’s a great time to chat with your chef and be honest. They can work within your budget and suggest ways to cut costs or go all out if finances aren’t a concern.

Converse with your caterer about your must-haves. If you have your heart set on steak, a rib-eye may be more economical than a filet. Your chef will also know what’s best for buffet vs. plated meals, and they can help determine the best dinner service for your budget.

Pros and Cons of Buffet Service Style

Pros of Buffet Wedding Catering

  • A plate can only hold so much food, and you don’t want to pack it overflowing. Therefore, there are usually only three or four selections per meal. However, with buffet-style service, you can offer a wide variety of options for your guests.
  • Guests will most likely only take what they can eat. If your aunt doesn’t like green beans, she doesn’t have to get them, as she would with plated service.
  • Although your guests won’t experience a perfectly garnished meal, a carefully curated buffet has a beauty all its own. Your caterer or a designer can style your food into a visually appealing display.

Cons of Buffet Service Style

  • Having a buffet tends to be a more casual style of wedding catering. Is this genuinely negative? It depends. If you’re having an informal event, a buffet is perfect. However, a buffet doesn’t have to indicate a casual affair. It’s merely less formal than a plated meal.
  • Anything that needs to be at a specific temperature—whether hot or cold—isn’t ideal for a buffet. Steaks can potentially get overdone, and frozen desserts can melt while sitting out on a dessert table.
  • Although you will provide your wedding caterer with an accurate guest count, there may be fluctuations. Consequently, the chef will need to allow extra portions so that you don’t run out of meals. Overpreparing results in leftovers, which are best to avoid both for cost and conservation purposes.
  • Guests need to wait in line. Although there is a bit of a wait with plated service, it pales compared to a buffet. Waiting can be a negative; however, guests can chat with those not sitting at their table while they wait, which can be a plus.

Pros and Cons of Plated American Service

Buffet vs. Plated: Photo Credit // Weddings By Thom

Pros of Having a Plated Meal

  • Portion control is a massive plus with plated wedding catering. When considering plated service, think about the style of food you’re offering your guests. Expensive meats, such as filets and lobster tails, are best left to plated meals.
  • For dedicated foodies and those that thrive on presentation, serving your guests perfectly garnished culinary delights is essential. A meal prepared on a plate can be an impressive art piece.
  • Instead of waiting in line, guests are served at roughly the same time. Tandem service alleviates the food envy experienced as those first in line at the buffet come back with their plates.

Cons of Plated American Service

  • Having a plated meal communicates a certain level of formality, and it’s the most upscale of the foodservice styles. However, many guests enjoy being served, so offering a plated meal at a casual event is perfectly acceptable. It’s not stuffy at all.
  • Did your second cousin bring a plus one? Uh oh! You—or your wedding planner—needs to communicate that to your wedding caterer ASAP so that they can arrange another plate. Buffet service easily allows for guest count fluctuations with both additions and deletions.
  • With plated meal service, you have to please the masses. Unless there are dietary restrictions, such as gluten-free, everyone will receive the same sides, regardless of meat choice. A set plate means fewer options for your guests.

Considering Sanitization With Food Service Styles

Of course, recent events have had couples thinking about how to keep their guests safe and healthy. As sanitization standards are top of mind, moving from buffet-style service to plated meals has become a trend.

Yes, a plated meal restricts the movement of guests and is overall more sanitary. However, it’s possible to create a safe environment with a buffet. Have food service workers serve guests at the buffet. Staff can wear gloves and masks, and you can request that your guests wear a facial covering while in line.

Considering the safety of your guests and keeping your budget in line is just as important as your menu choices. No matter which food service style you choose, realize that the two types of catering provide a different experience. Whether you’re hosting a casual event or a posh affair, your guests will experience a delicious meal in celebration of you and your love.

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