“What’s your fancy?”
Planning Your Food Service Style Comes Before the Menu
When it comes to setting the mood for your wedding reception (and staying within your budget), deciding how to serve your guests is just as important as the menu!
Do you envision a formal sit-down plated dinner, or a dinner buffet? Or do you love the party-style atmosphere, with lots of small bites, or maybe a casual family-style meal? How do you decide?
First and most crucial, identify your vision and priorities. What is most important to you? Next: Budget. Sometimes this is decided for you, but never the less, identify your limits. After you have your vision and budget squared away, you can easily decide your style of service to compliment both!
Hors d’Oeuvres for Dinner? YES!!
The fashionable trend these days is treating your guests to a taste of luxury. Imagine servers walking around with scrumptious little morsels atop silver platters for your guests to ooh-and-aaah over all night long. Plan for about 12-15 bites per person if you are not planning other meal options.
Little Bites All Around!
Appetizer buffets and hors d’oeuvres are especially fun for that cocktail hour between your ceremony and dinner, all available for your guests to enjoy at their leisure while mingling.
With dinner to follow apps, we recommend keeping hors d’oeuvres lighter, about 5 bites per person. Budget tip: choose your appetizer menu wisely based on your budget and vision. Is your goal to “wow” your guests with tasty morsels, or give them a little filler to cut dinner portion size? Both are valid options, so choose wisely.
Let’s Share: Family-Style
For a fun and casual dinner, try family-style platters. Your main courses (and possibly the salad course) are served on large platters to each table. Appropriate serving utensils are needed, where the guests serve and pass the food themselves. Make sure your table decorations don’t dominate too much of the table space, as you will need a lot of room for several platters of food.
Get in Line: The Buffet
A buffet is a great way to stay in your budget, and get all the amazing food you selected displayed together. Several protein options on the buffet (in smaller portion sizes) are the newest trend, and definitely a crowd pleaser. Steak, chicken and salmon all offered, but each at 1/3 the traditional portion. Don’t forget your best friend who will take at least four portions of steak, leaving none for your other guests, so begin the buffet with “Take one piece and come back as many times as you want. Let’s get everyone through the line first.” Or, you can also plan for buffet servers to keep portions consistent.
Keep in mind, the traditional buffet has a drawback: everybody is hungry waiting in line. Ask your caterer for options to speed things up before you get in a bind.
Mix it up! To add to the elegance while keeping costs down from a fully plated dinner, opt for a plated/served salad & bread course before the main dinner buffet. This also allows your guests to get a bit to eat before heading to the buffet. Orchestration is key for this style, so put someone in charge: The tables served the salad course first will also be first through the buffet line, and so forth. This allows for a steady flow of service, and not leaving your favorite Aunt May waiting too long for her turn at the buffet.
Traditional Elegance: Plated Dinner
Plated or served dinners are definitely the most elegant, but the most costly and labor intensive with more servers and chefs on the clock. Does everybody eat the same thing? That’s a huge question. Here are the ups and downs. A plated dinner where everybody eats the same thing will always come out of the kitchen smoother and faster than a mixed menu. The cooks can create an assembly line for efficiency.
Offering your guests a choice from a limited, say four-item menu, always aims to please. But, if there are multiple plated items for dinner, there may be lag time in getting individual tables all fed at the same time. Do you care if your caterer may only be able to plate and serve one entrée choice at time? For example, everybody who ordered steak gets fed first, then chicken, then salmon and so forth. This usually is not a problem with smaller events but it can be a huge issue for a large guest list. Discuss the capabilities of your caterer in advance, to help make your decision.
With the plated dinner option, choose your caterer and menu before invitations go out so your guests can select and reply upon their RSVP.
Make it or break it!
How do you make sure every guest gets the right dish? Place setting indicators for each guest. Be imaginative: distinctive table decorations, name tags, stickers, etc. assigned to each person. But be careful to not make it so fun that your guests end up playing with or trading them away, breaking your entire service pattern.
Everybody Wins: Service Bar
What is a Specialty Service Bar? Remember hotel brunch, where the chef at the omelet bar allows you to choose the perfect mixture of ingredients for your favorite omelet. Then he makes it for you, right there, on the spot? Now imagine that for dinner! How about an Italian pasta bar, an Asian noodle bar, or creamy risotto bar? The sky’s the limit, if your caterer is up for the challenge.
You’ve got it nailed!
Allergies, intolerances and food preferences are easily accommodated by the chef at a service bar, instantly making everyone happy! To keep the love flowing (and stay-the-hunger while waiting in line) offer passed hors d’oeuvres or an appetizer buffet (or both) in addition to the service bar, creating a dynamic and social atmosphere. Provide both sitting and standing tables (if it’s feasible) offering a comfortable place for everyone.
BONUS: Service Bars are becoming increasingly popular for rehearsal dinners, forcing both sides of the family to intermingle!
I’m Gluten Free: Special Diets
Keep options available for those with dietary sensitivities too, but don’t let them overwhelm your decisions on menu. In your invitation, simply ask your guests to contact you well in advance for dietary restrictions, helping your caterer (and your guests) be prepared for the feast.
Remember, it’s your day! Work closely with your caterer to create the environment you want to see, feel (and taste!) Then, your only responsibility is to have fun and celebrate your wedding!
Sam Risho, Owner & Event Coordinator, The Silk Road
Restaurant & Catering