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Perfect Day Wedding

Which Format to Choose – Sit Down, Buffet, Family-Style, Or Food Stations?

Which Format to Choose – Sit Down, Buffet, Family-Style, Or Food Stations?

Pros and Cons of the Different Options for Your Next Event.

Planning a wedding, business function, or other event with catering often involves making a choice: sit down or buffet? Other alternatives such as a cocktail reception with hors d’oeuvres and food stations, or family-style service are both great choices? There are advantages and disadvantages to each option, so determining your goals and priorities will help you find the best fit for your event. Is your event formal or informal? Is the quality of the food most important or is having a large quantity and variety your primary concern? Do you want guests to be up and mingling while they eat or sitting down for an hour or so to dine?

In a sit down format the food should be at its freshest and is plated to order as the dishes are being served. Admittedly, many hotels and lower budget caterers may pre-plate entrees and hold them in a warming box before saucing and send them out. This practice is often why food is dried out or rubbery at larger events. Make sure to ask your caterer how they plate hot food or go into the kitchen of the hotel you’re considering during plate up and observe how they operate.

At a sit down event guests are more likely to eat the dish as it was designed to be eaten, with the correct amount of sauce and appropriate side dish to protein ratio. The presentation of the food can be very refined or rustic depending on the particular event. Either way the food maintains its integrity and can most easily be presented at the appropriate temperature and with attention to detail. Ideally, it is going right from the pan onto the guest’s plate and being served immediately.

Family-style is a sit down dinner where courses are served on platters that the guests pass around the table. Each guest serves themselves from the platters or is assisted by a member of the service staff. This style of service can evoke the feel of a Tuscan villa where everyone is dining on long farm tables or “kings tables,” the set up where several eight foot tables are arranged together to form one long, narrow table. Some precision in presentation and temperature is lost while the food is being passed around on platters but family-style can be an attractive, less formal format with a properly designed menu. One drawback is that the last guests to be served from a particular platter don’t get to appreciate the same presentation as the first served.

Buffets have become less popular recently because many hosts don’t want their guests to have to spend time standing in line. As guests load up plates they can sometimes become a jumble, with different flavors and sauces running together. Keeping the food the appropriate temperature can also be a challenge in the buffet format. Chafing dishes, one common solution, tend to dry out or overcook food as it sits in them and have fallen out of favor with upscale caterers who often prefer to present buffet food on warmed, regularly rotated platters. On warmer days it can also be challenging to keep cold food cold on the buffet, such as salads or sushi, but skilled caterers often come up with creative solutions. Waste is a significant factor with buffets because guests typically take more than they can eat.

The primary advantage of buffet-style service is that it is easier to offer a wide range of food choices, which can be a good option for a diverse group with widely divergent tastes. Buffet service often utilizes less service staff and can sometimes be less expensive than a sit down event. Buffets can also encourage interaction between guests because they’re forced to get out of their chairs and mingle in line.

A better option for encouraging guest interaction and providing variety is the cocktail reception or food station menu. Typically hors d’oeuvres are passed around as well as individual food stations being opened. It has overtaken standard buffets in popularity. Food stations are located in different areas of the room and each one can have a different theme or they can all have one cohesive theme. “Action stations” are popular, where chefs prepare food to order in front of guests, which also results in a fresher, hotter product than on a typical buffet. Meat can be carved, pasta tossed, oysters shucked, and sushi rolled to order and then put right on the plate. Guests constantly interact with one another as they go from station to station and get smaller individual plates from each one.

Many of the most successful events are combinations of formats, such as a sit down first and main course followed by a dessert buffet or the first course served plated followed by a family-style main course.