Guide to Service: Plated, Buffet, or Family Style?

One of the first questions I typically ask a couple is which service style they would prefer—plated, buffet, or family style? There are pros and cons to both and this guide will help you determine which option is right for you. 


Let’s start with the most common reception choice: plated. This option is usually considered the most formal.


  • Number of courses: This is usually a 2-3 course meal including a starter, a main course, and sometimes dessert (we definitely suggest including dessert). The starter can be a salad or an appetizer, and you can offer your guests 1-3 main course items (meat, seafood, and vegetarian). You can always add as many courses as you like, but for larger groups (15+) guests typically start to get distracted after 4 or more courses.


  • Number of staff: Plated meals require the largest number of staff out of all the service styles since more staff are needed to serve and clear courses. For plated we often suggest 1 staff member for every 15 guests. This is something to keep in mind when determining your budget.  This is especially important if you are holding your reception at a far away location, as each additional staff member will add an additional travel fee.


  • Dietary restrictions: If you have guests with severe dietary restrictions, plated might be the better option to avoid cross contamination of serving utensils that may be a risk with family style and buffet. It also allows guests the chance to express their dietary restrictions in their rsvp and give the chef notice to prepare a custom meal for them. This makes your guests feel considered and not like they are making a complicated request.


  • Timing: Plated service can sometimes be longer, allowing for speeches between courses, and time to clear and serve all guests. That is why it is important to build a schedule for your meal service with your caterer and wedding planner so kitchen staff know when to pause service for speeches, or plan ahead to work in a short reception window if your venue has a shut down time for your event.


  • Side Note: Seating charts are crucial for smooth flow of service when choosing plated meal service.
Deep Fried Squash Blossoms
Newton-Santos Wedding


Buffet is usually considered the most casual, but definitely does not have to mean any sacrifice in quality or elegance—food can be displayed just as beautifully and taste just as fresh plated or family style.

At Miere Catering we often opt out of chafing dishes and use platters instead for two reasons.

1. We find the aesthetic to be much nicer.

2. It requires staff to watch and maintain the buffet, often refilling regularly on new clean platters and not allowing food to dry out as it sits on sterno.


  • Number of courses: Buffet normally has the highest number of courses so guests have more options to choose from and the serving table is filled out. We typically suggest 5-6 options for courses including 2 proteins and 3-4 starches/sides. Dessert can be served buffet style as well, whether it is pre-cut and plated cakes that guests can help themselves to, or an assortment of smaller desserts.


  • Number of staff: Buffet requires the smallest amount of staff out of all the service options, but they are still needed to help run empty platters, refill beverages, and collect all dirty dishes. For buffet we often require 1 staff member for every 30 guests. This will lower costs in labor fees, however buffet does usually have higher food costs since quantities are more significant.


  • Dietary restrictions: Buffet may be a riskier option when dealing with severe allergies. While staff do assist during buffet in informing you what is in each dish, there is a higher risk of cross contamination. Guests may use a pair of tongs meant for salad to grab bread and this could cause serious risk to anyone with a gluten allergy. We are more than happy to provide a separate plated meal for any guests with severe allergies, just be sure to inform your chef ahead of the event.


  • Timing: Buffet can be served surprisingly fast, especially with a larger guest count. While buffet is usually more free flowing and you will not be needing a seating chart, it is still good practice to develop a schedule with your wedding planner and caterer so kitchen staff can pace refilling the platters and know when to shut down/clean up dinner service and move on to dessert. If you have a large guest count we advise sending guests up by table to control the traffic and ensure food is consistently filled and fresh.

Family Style

Family Style is probably the most intimate of all the options. Filling your table with a variety of courses, passing, sharing, and conversing with your guests. This style works with any size group whether it be 5 guests having a picnic, or loading up each table at a wedding of 100+ guests. It really is the happy medium between plated and buffet.

  • Number of courses: Family style is similar to buffet meaning you will want a larger number of options for guests to choose from than plated service would usually provide. We typically suggest 4-5 courses (1-2 proteins and 2-3 sides). Dessert can be just as fun family style after the table is cleared from the main meal.


  • Number of staff: Family style usually requires 1 server for every 20 guests. While it does require less service staff than plated, it will usually involve more food and a slightly higher rental order for serving dishes.


  • Dietary restrictions: Just like buffet, family style may be a riskier option if you have severe allergies in your group. It’s especially a cause for concern when passing multiple dishes and serving utensils around the table.


  • Timing: Family style may be a little slower paced than the other options. It gives guests the time to talk and enjoy each other’s company without servers constantly removing and adding individual courses. It also allows guests to incorporate speeches more fluidly throughout the meal.
Kyle and Olivia
Beth + Greg

Make It Your Own

You are by no means required to choose just one experience. At Miere Catering we specialize in customizing your service style to your event. Many clients choose a hybrid of the options above.

Make appetizer service a buffet so guests can arrive and snack before settling into a seated 3 course dinner.

Have a plated dessert course and also have cake cutting afterwards, servers placing out plates of sliced cake with forks for guests to help themselves to as the night continues.

Beverage service may be a combination of self-serve beer from ice tubs, but also bartender mixed signature cocktails.

It is completely up to your imagination and we are here to help make it come to life!

How to Navigate Dietary Restrictions

Dietary restrictions and severe allergies are more common than ever, but we are here to make sure each and everyone of your guests is taken care of and fed. When starting the planning process with your wedding coordinator and caterer, make sure to ask your guests to let you know if they have any severe allergies or intolerances. Our chef is always happy to make a special meal for any guest that needs one at no extra cost. 

Depending on your service style  and guest count there are a few different ways to serve these guests. For large weddings serving buffet or family style, it is best to request a separate plate for any guests with restrictions in order to avoid cross contamination. Meals will be prepared ahead of service and your guest can ask any server for their meal. Our staff are always briefed on the number and types of allergies before each event so they are able to serve the correct meal for your guest. 

If you are having a plated dinner service with several courses, your chef will have prepared a special meal for any guest with an allergy or intolerance and serve it with each course. This is where it is crucial to have a seating chart so our staff can seamlessly bring each dish to the correct guest.

An additional note is that physical limitations can be overlooked when it comes to dietary restrictions. We are happy to serve any of your guests an amazing custom meal even if they have a difficult time swallowing, require a liquid diet, or need items cooked to certain temperatures. 

Don’t forget to ask your vendors if they have any dietary restrictions as well!

Vegetarian and Vegan

Chef Kara believes that any plant-based menu should be made with the same quality of ingredients that any of our other menus are made with. She strives to create menu items that highlight ingredients in their most natural form and to avoid using highly processed items such as plant-based meats, cheeses, egg products, etc.

Everything is made from scratch to ensure that your dietary choices are being met. 

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