When choosing a dinner style for your wedding day you are likely considering two factors: price and preference. These are both important things to think about and I will briefly break down the pros + cons of each option below. However, most of the time people forget to consider how their service style affects their design. I am going to lay out everything you need to know + think through right here for you! After reading through this you should have a better idea of what dinner service style will not only suit your budget + preferences but also your design vision for your big day!
First things first, let’s discuss what a standard place setting consists of + how it should be set. This will help you understand the rest of the information I am going to give you.
Charger: a large decorative plate on the table underneath the dinner plate that aids in aesthetics, do not put food on these
Dinner Plate: sits on top of the charger, main course goes here
Salad Plate: sits on top of the dinner plate, salad goes here
Bread Plate: sits to the upper left hand corner of the dinner plate, this is where bread + a butter knife will sit
Dessert Plate: these can be placed at the dessert table or served to guests at their seats when dinner concludes
Flatware listed left to right: salad fork, dinner fork, knife, steak knife, spoon
Other flatware that goes above the plate: dessert spoon + cake fork
Napkin: may be placed on top of the plate, hanging off of the table or next to the plate
Water Goblet: should be placed in the upper right hand corner
Red Wine Glass: should be placed in the upper right hand corner (typically not at the table, your guests will likely get a drink from the bar to bring to the table)
White Wine Glass: should be placed in the upper right hand corner (typically not at the table, your guests will likely get a drink from the bar to bring to the table)
Champagne Flute: should be placed in the upper right hand corner (some people do a champagne toast but it is ok to go without)
Buffet: Price + Preference
When it comes to price, your cheapest options is typically going to be a buffet meal. This is because it requires less servers. Your guests will still be provided a warm + delicious meal if you are working with the right caterer. And typically, even with large guest counts, your catering team will know how to get people through the line quickly. You should expect it to take about 20 minutes per 100 people to get through the buffet line. This does not include them sitting down to actually eat dinner. Of course if it is self serve, meaning there is no catering staff serving at the buffet, it is going to take substantially more time. If you are going this route, it may be helpful to delegate this task to family or friends who want to help out with the wedding. Having someone help serve will keep things moving nice and quick! Typically catering staff will dismiss tables for you but if they are not make sure you also have someone to do this task. Other good options would be your DJ, wedding coordinator or a family member.
If you are having a buffet meal, the only dinnerware pieces that need to be set on the table are the napkins, flatware + water goblets. For some, this is perfectly fine! For others, it is really important to have an intricate place setting. Some things you can easily add are a charger, menu card, place cards, favors, etc. These will work seamlessly with a buffet meal. However, if you are renting special dinner plates + want those displayed at the tables, you will need to specify this with your caterers. They will naturally put the plates at the buffet table but it is always an option to have them placed at tables for guests to bring to the buffet table with them. Also, if you want a beautiful salad plate as well this will need to be discussed with your caterers.
Family Style: Price + Preference
A family style meal is middle tier when it comes to price. A family style meal requires more catering staff than a buffet meal because they are delivering platters to each table. However, it requires less than a plated meal because they are not bringing out individualized meals for each person. A family style meal is great for the couple that loves a communal dinner feel. This makes the event feel more home-y and comfortable. You are also provided an abundance of food so nobody will be going hungry. This takes away the logistics of dismissing tables + waiting in line. If you want your guests to get their food quickly but not have to pay quite as much as a plated meal, this is the service style for you!
Family Style: Design
The most critical thing to think about when it comes to a family style meal is the amount of space that it takes up. Because of this, it is better to go really simple on your centerpieces so that it doesn’t feel too cluttered once the food is placed. You must also consider which type of table you want to use. A round table with a small centerpiece should offer a substantial amount of room for food. However, for long tables you will want to request wider than normal banquet tables. A typical long table is 8ft long and 30 inches wide. You will want to get 8ft long tables that are 40-42 inches wide. This way there is room for everything. If you do not feel like dealing with the logistics of this, you might be better off picking a buffet or plated meal.
Plated Meal: Price + Preference
A plated meal is the highest in cost but it is also the highest end of service. Nobody has to leave their seats and they are served a warm meal all at the same time. This removes lots of logistics for the night and saves a ton of time. If you have the budget for it, a plated meal is definitely suggested and your guests will appreciate it.
Plated Meal: Design
As far as design goes for a plated meal, you must consider the fact that your dinner plates will not be on the table. It is still worth it to rent pretty plates because your guests will get to enjoy them during dinner. However, when considering your photos, just remember that the plate will not be in those prior to dinner being served. If you want to create a gorgeous place setting I would recommend having a charger, specialty napkin, a menu card, etc. Continue reading to decide what salad service you will fit your needs and best compliment your design vision as well.
Salad Service Options: Preference + Design
Your salads may be served in a few different fashions. If you are having a buffet meal, the default is that the salad will be in the buffet line with the rest of the food. However, you will most likely have the option to have a plated salad. This is sometimes an extra cost per person. Likewise, for a family style meal your salad will most likely be served alongside the rest of your food. For a plated meal you are obviously going to have plated salads included as well. For a plated salad your caterer is going to either have these pre-set immediately when your guests arrive to the reception or they will pass them out once everyone is seated. If they will be pre-set, I would highly recommend suggesting that they be placed above the dinner plate or charger on the table as opposed to directly on top of them. I suggest this because if you have a menu card or a thank you note your guests will never get to see it because the salad will be right on top of it. If the salads are plated and passed out you will not have this issue. Another option is to do a family style salad, regardless of what meal style you have chosen. This will allow you to place your salad plate directly on top of the dinner plate or charger, giving it a higher end look. If it were up to me, this is what I would opt for.
When it comes to choosing which dinner service style you want for your wedding day, there is so much more to think about outside of cost. As you can see, it greatly affects your design logistics as well. Your vendors will work to achieve your vision no matter what service style you choose. However, educating yourself before-hand will help you know what you expect and what questions to ask. After reading through all of that, which would you choose?
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