Perfect Setting Catering

Dining Style Details

Dining Styles – Which one is right for you?

The Dining Style you choose can help complete your wedding day vision.  After the Cocktail Hour has ended, how do I want to approach the meal?  There are three basic reception styles to be considered: Seated-Served, Buffet and “Stations” Menus.  This choice may be an easy one – you may have always imagined a seated-served dinner, for example, and that’s the end of the matter – or your choice might be influenced by the lay-out of that “perfect” function facility.  You’ve fallen in love with the place and you’ll do whatever is necessary to hold your event there!  Let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of all three dining styles.


Our first suggested dining style is Seated-Served. A seated-serve menu is a traditional plated meal offered course by course at a dining table.  Three courses are typical at wedding receptions, a soup or salad, the main course and dessert (wedding cake, petit fours).  Each table should be fully set with china, silverware, all necessary glassware, and linen napkins.  Floral arrangements or some other kind of decorative table centerpiece is appropriate.

Pay particular attention to service when planning a seated-served event.  Your table attendants will be much in evidence so they need to be professional, well-groomed and properly attired.  Service must also be thorough so make sure the “guest to server” ratio is at least 15:1.   Don’t hesitate to cross-examine your caterer on points-of-service.

All of your guests must be seated, obviously, so the size of the reception venue is of key importance.   A hotel or country club should pose no problem as space is rarely an issue.

Finding a “unique” location (old mill, mansion, historic farmhouse) location for a seated-served reception for a guest list of over 100 can be difficult if you require all of your guests to dine in the same room.  A magnificent mansion setting can be enchanting but even turn-of-the-century titans of industry didn’t build dining rooms that accommodated an entire wedding party.  In such instances tenting is usually offered to accommodate your guests for the meal.


Our second dining style is more about choice. Buffets still represent a popular option for serving the meal – particularly if you want your guests to have a variety of food options.  At a buffet the meal is spread out along a single service line.  Buffets should minimally feature a salad, a main course, a vegetable, a starch and, of course, rolls and butter.  Most brides opt to include 2-3 entrees and, perhaps, pasta as well.  You can add to a buffet to whatever extent your budget will permit.

By and large, buffets speed up service and give you more time for dancing.  Buffets are very flexible.  You can still choose to serve a course at the table, say, the salad course, and then invite your guests to the buffet.

If you are working with a good caterer buffets can be impressively beautiful.  Buffets need not be flat and unimaginative, veritable “food troughs”.  They can have movement.  The can have “highs and lows”.  You can continue linen and floral table schemes onto the buffet and further enhance the look with complementary linen accents.  There can be candlelight!  Suffice it to say that the buffet style of dining can be very, very special.

There are two ways to set guest tables should you choose the buffet option.  You may decide to set the table formally — much as you would for a seated-served reception (though it is recommended to remove the first course silver).  A less formal approach would be to put linen and silverware “roll-ups” at the buffet and limit the table setting to a floral centerpiece and votive candles.  Place cards then can be dispensed with and guest seating becomes “casual”.

You will need slightly more venue space for the buffet reception style of dining.  Since full guest seating is usually required additional space will be needed for the buffets.  Make sure your caterer supplies you with enough buffets to serve your guests in a timely manner.   One buffet line per 50/60 guests is recommended to ensure that all of your guests have been served in fifteen minutes.  One final tip:  make sure your party coordinator invites people to the buffet by table.  It is unnecessary to have your guests waiting in line when they could be enjoying their champagne at the table while they wait.

Food Stations

The last dining style can be one of the most interesting. A food stations menu can bring tremendous energy and excitement to a wedding reception.  They are anything but “traditional” and, of course, not for everyone.

In this style of reception the meal is broken up into “stations”.  A “carving station” may include tenderloin of beef and a marinated breast of turkey.  This station would have various accompaniments such as sauces, perhaps crusty rolls, or maybe even a potato.  A salad station might offer an assortment of salads and perhaps a cold vegetable.  Raw bars and seafood stations are extremely popular.  Ditto for pasta stations.  (FYI: the pasta station becomes an “action station” if the pasta is made-to-order.)   Finally, stations may also be theme-based incorporating the décor and cuisines of such traditions as Polynesian, Caribbean, Southwestern or the Pacific Rim.

Stations menus are best appreciated if you throw the “book” out the window when planning your reception.  This reception style is meant to promote mixing.  The mood should be casually elegant.  You may want to consider casual or cocktail seating, for example.  Most stations should be set with smaller plates, salad forks and cocktail napkins.  Guests are invited to try different stations at their leisure.  Servers should move among the guests providing information about the various stations, removing dirty plates and suggesting that fresh ones can be found at the next station.
It is important to give yourself over to the spirit of this style of dining.  An engaged couple may have been to a great stations party and want very much to replicate the excitement — then run into a brick wall when their family strongly “suggests” a more traditional approach (“Your Uncle Harold will have a stroke if he can’t figure out what’s going on!”)  A “compromise” is reached and the tables are set for dinner, the stations are arranged a “little” closer together and large plates are placed at every station.  And on the evening of the event the walls are lined with people going from station to station trying to fill their plates.    It bears repeating:  it is important to give yourself over to the spirit of this style of dining.

Since casual seating is recommended for a stations event a time will have to be arranged for the “rituals” such as introductions, toasting and the first dance.  Usually, this can be accomplished toward the end of the cocktail hour while people are gathered together in one place.

There is no “best” reception style.  As with the selection of your venue, it’s a matter of personal taste.  It is also a popular misconception that one approach is less (or more) expensive than another.  There’s a notion that if you “go with a buffet” you can save money.  In fact, a simple seated-served menu may be less expensive than a buffet, especially when you begin to add multiple entrees to the buffet.  When it comes time to make menu decisions you just don’t find too may folks opting for a single-entrée buffet.  A stations menu, often considered the priciest, could very well total less than a four-course seated served dinner with a filet mignon entrée.    It is quite simply a matter of selection.

Choose the style that best suits your personal style and find a caterer honestly willing to work within your budget!  Have a great reception!

This article was authored by Jerry Diehl of Perfect Setting Catering and first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s My Wedding magazine.  Jerry Diehl and his wife Deborah founded Perfect Setting Catering, a Berwyn, PA custom catering company, in 1991.  Together they bring over 45 years of combined experience to their clients in Philadelphia and its suburbs.