Should I do a buffet or plated dinner?

Here are some things to consider when deciding between a buffet and a plated dinner:

1. Cost- Buffets are generally cheaper because they don't require your caterer to hire as many staff members. If you do a buffet you can either do disposables or real china. Real china will cost a little more, 1. because you will have to rent the china itself, and 2. because your caterer will probably charge a little more because it's more work to clean off and stack real dishes than it is to just throw away disposable plates. There are some really nice disposables out there too (we often have people ask us if it's okay to throw them away because they look so nice!) But real china will certainly give you a more formal feel. With a plated dinner, the labor cost on your catering quote will be more because it requires extra hands to deliver each individual plate. Keep in mind, if you choose to do a plated dinner you will want to rent real china, again making it the more expensive choice over a buffet.

2. Dietary restrictions- We get a lot of questions about dietary restrictions in regards to the decision of plated vs. buffet. The truth is, whether you do a buffet or plated dinner, as long as you have a seating chart (or at the very least table numbers) and have given your caterer a list of those guests and where they're seating, either a buffet or plated dinner will be fine!

More about dietary restrictions-

If the only dietary restrictions your guests have are vegetarian, a buffet with appropriately labeled dishes would eliminate the need for a seating chart.

The guest can simply only choose the vegetables as they go down the buffet.

But if you have guests who are vegans, gluten free, have a heart condition, etc., you will definitely want to do a seating chart. If you don't, this is what usually happens: while the other guests are going through the buffet line, those guests with dietary restrictions would have to track down a member of the catering staff to notify them of their restrictions and ask for a special plate. Does the guest then stand and wait there while the staff member retrieves their plate... in the middle of running back and forth replenishing the buffet food... or do they go sit down... but then the staff member doesn't know where they went... now they have to find them. None of that would provide a good experience for your guest. The safest bet is to give your caterer a list of the guests with their dietary restriction and what table they are sitting at (bonus points for place cards!)

3. Guest options- Because portions are controlled with a plated dinner, guests can't control how much of each food item they get as they would with a buffet. I know for me, I want a plate with 80% mac n' cheese and 20% rolls! (I'm a kid at heart) Your guests won't get to personalize their plates based off of their preferences with a plated dinner. With a buffet, your guests will get to choose what they want and how much of it they want. Some bride's ask if they will have to pay for more food with a buffet because people sometimes take larger portions of an item, but it usually evens out with them taking smaller portions (or none) of another item.

4. Formality- Generally, plated dinners have the feel of being more formal. While that may be true, that doesn't mean that buffets are 'tacky'. Buffets are becoming increasingly popular at even some of the more formal events. If the thought of a buffet scares you because you're picturing that dreaded long line of guests, don't let that be the reason you choose plated. if you have a wedding planner (which you should!), then they will know how to dismiss the tables appropriately so no one has to wait in line longer than they have to.

5. Venue layout- If you have limited space in your reception area, but have a larger prep area either in the kitchen or somewhere else the caterer is setting up, a plated dinner may be your best option. You can save space this way because you won't need room for all of those buffet tables. However, your catering staff will need to pre-prepare the plates and plenty of space to do that in the kitchen. If your situation is reversed and you have a large reception space and limited kitchen or prep space, a buffet will most likely be your best option. It's always best to talk with your caterer about your venue and what they would suggest!

*Check with your catering company to see if they even provide self-serve options (some companies don't!)


Brette and Christina

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