Planning your wedding reception can get stressful. There are a lot of decisions to be made, and food is one of the most important ones. But before you plan your exact menu, you need to decide how you want the meal to be served.

Do you envision formal plated sit-down dinner, or a bit more interactive family style meal? Would you prefer buffet style or food stations? How about casual cocktail reception?

There is no right or wrong here. People sometimes ask if a buffet dinner is tacky for a wedding reception. It’s not a question of tacky or not. It all depends on overall style and theme of your event. If you are planning a formal wedding reception, than a buffet style meal might look out of place. On the other hand, if you’re having an informal fun party at a nightclub, a cocktail reception might be your best option. For a traditional Greek or Russian wedding, a family style dinner usually works the best.


With a sit-down dinner, your guests sit at assigned tables and the meal is served to them by the wait staff. This is considered more formal than any other type of service. It looks elegant and stylish and guests will eat the dish the way it was designed to be eaten, with the right amount of sauce and appropriate side items. Another big advantage of a sit-down dinner is that it gives you more control over the timing of your reception. You can plan the exact time for each element of your wedding reception (champagne toast, the first dance, etc). Also, your guests don’t have to wait in line to get their food. Sit down dinners are usually more expensive, primarily due to a large number of servers it requires. Another disadvantage is that with a sit-down dinner, your guests have a limited number of food choices. Normally, only 2 entrée options are offered and your guests have to confirm their choice when they send you their RSVP.

Family Style

Family style is similar to a plated sit-down dinner. Guests are assigned to tables and food is served by the wait staff. But instead of individual plates, the food comes on large platters and is placed in the middle of the table. Guests help themselves with the food and decide which items they want and how much. Family style set-up is considered to be less formal, but it provides better opportunities for guests to interact with each other.

Buffet style

With a buffet style all food items are set on a long buffet table. Gusts pick up a plate and serve themselves choosing items they like. Buffet style is usually cheaper than a sit-down dinner because it requires significantly less wait staff. But you need to keep in mind that with the buffet style people tend to have larger portions. One of the main disadvantages of the buffet style is that your guests might have to wait in line to get their food.

Food Stations

Food stations are great alternative to a buffet style. Usually a few stations are located in different areas of the banquet room and each one can have a different theme – carving station, pasta stations, Oriental station. Chef prepares food right in front of the guests providing great interactive opportunities. Plus, the food is usually fresher and hotter compare to the buffet style.

Living room reception

If you’re hosting your wedding reception in a lounge, night club or art gallery, living room reception might be the right choice for you. Reception style is always less formal, but can be pretty chic with hi-quality food, creative presentation and fancy cocktail bar. Hot and cold hors d’oeuvres are passed around, a few appetizer platters and dips can be set-up on a buffet table for guests to serve themselves. Another great idea is to combine reception style with food stations. Living room reception is not going to be cheap as it requires a lot of wait staff. The price also depends on the ingredients used in hors d’oeuvres. Ordering the right quantities of food for the reception can be tricky. Read our article “How much food do I need for my catered reception?” to get some ideas.

Whatever set-up you choose for your wedding, keep you budget in mind. Think about overall tone of your wedding. Do you prefer classic and formal, stylish and modern, fun and interactive. Consider your audience and your guests’ expectations. Communicate with your caterer to design the perfect menu for your wedding and to get the best use of your money.