Seated or Buffet or Cocktail-Style Food Stations? How to Pick the Best Reception Format for Your Guests

Hello everybody!

I had a meeting with the caterer the other day for a wedding I’m planning in April.  We did a site survey, which basically means we walked the property and tried to figure out the best way to set everything up.  We had been planning to do a loosey-goosey cocktail-style buffet reception, but this particular venue (with this particular number of guests) really lends itself better to a seated dinner.  So I called the bride and told her the caterer’s ideas and we’re making the suggested changes.

Some brides have a firm opinion going into things about the format of their wedding reception meal.  A few brides really have their hearts set on having a formal sit down dinner with placecards and lots of crystal on the table.  Other brides want something more relaxed where their friends can mingle and eat over a period of hours.  You can probably have whatever you want wherever you’re getting married, but how well it works is determined, for the most part, by the site where you’re holding the reception.

For example, some villas are big enough to hold all of your guests inside and/or out, so you have an automatic “Plan B” in case of inclement weather.  But they don’t all have a space big enough to hold tables and chairs for 60 people and still have room for reasonable mingling during the cocktail and dancing portions of the evening.  Never fear!  We can usually put up a tent in the yard (if it has a flat enough space) to hold all of your formally set tables for the seated dinner.  But if the villa is on a hill and doesn’t have enough flat space for a big tent, you’d better rethink your plan.

The second way to have a slightly less formal (and less expensive cuz you need fewer servers) seated dinner is to serve dinner buffet style, although your guests will first sit down at the table to a salad, and you’ll probably use placecards.

The third way to do it is referred to as cocktail-style buffet stations and that’s one of the most relaxed and fun ways to serve food at your reception.  The food is put out on several different smaller buffet tables and replenished over a long period of time.  Tables are scattered throughout the reception space, but no place cards are used and guests are encouraged to sit wherever they like.  You don’t even have to have all your tables on the same level or in the same room, but be sure that somewhere on the property there are enough seats to hold all of your guests at one time, just in case they all sit down in unison. 🙂

So what’s the best advantage and worst disadvantage to each format?

Seated meals are the most expensive way to go, most of the time.  They require approximately one server for each 10 guests, significantly more than any other format.  But they also allow you to use placecards, set a beautiful table, and get the closest feel to a formal wedding at home.

Buffets mean that your guests can pick and choose what they want to eat, and you can usually offer more varieties of each item.  But your guests have to be called up to eat one table at a time to avoid traffic jams, and unless you have a good caterer and wedding planner, they can look a little cheesy.

Cocktail-style receptions have been very en vogue the past few years.  They’re the least expensive way to get the most kinds of food and to serve it for the longest period of time.  You might do stations (a carving station, a veggie station, a starch station), or you might do tapas, or you might just use the format to make sure that all the seafood is on one table apart from the rest of the food because you know you have a few guests with shellfish allergies.  However, your guests are on their own for finding a seat, and the seating may be scattered all over the venue in order to accommodate everyone.

What’s my favorite way to do it?  Probably cocktail-style.  I don’t think most wedding guests in the Caribbean love to have placecards and be forced to sit in one place for a long period of time.  People feel more relaxed here and they enjoy being able to roam around enjoying the view while they celebrate your wedding.  With that said, some venues lend themselves better to one format over another.  And in those cases, my favorite format is whatever the caterer thinks will work best in combination with the venue and the menu (unintentional rhyming going on here).

Whatever you choose will be lovely as long as you coordinate things properly.  If you don’t have a firm opinion going into it, then you can relax and let your wedding planner tell you what is going to work best.  And sometimes, depending on your budget, even that will have to be modified a bit.  Try to be open-minded and you’re much more likely to be happy with the end result.

It’s a holiday today but I don’t have the day off!  I’m relabeling water bottles and stuffing goody bags in between laundry loads!  But it’s a beautiful day in Vieques.  Sunny, low 80s, breezy.  Isn’t it time that you started planning your wedding in Vieques?


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