Dinner’s Ready! Which Wedding Dinner Style Is Best For You?

October 27, 2023

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Let’s talk about my absolutely FAVORITE TOPIC OF ALL TIME – FOOD. We all know that food makes allllll the difference and is one of the things guests often will talk about after your wedding day. Some people argue that this isn’t the case but if you’ve ever been to a wedding with MEH food, you totally get this – you do remember how bad the food was. Or how slow the service was.

Here at Olive Branch Events Co., we think good food is something that should absolutely be a priority. Good food doesn’t have to be expensive either! We’re talking about the different ways you can serve dinner (or breakfast!) on your wedding day and are breaking down the differences. Hopefully this will help you make a decision on what is best for yourw edding!

Plated Dinners

Plated dinners are the traditional choice for wedding receptions. Guests are served a pre-plated meal with all the courses served to them at once. This style of service is a good option for couples who want to provide a more formal experience for their guests and lean a little more traditional, or just HATE lines. Listen, you can totally make a plated meal more laid-back too – if so, opt for something like italian, pasta dishes instead of the common chicken and steak (or do both!)

The Madison Club Plated Dinner
Venue: The Madison Club | Photography: Dana Dufek


  1. Elegance and Formality: Offers a more traditional, upscale feek
  2. Portion Control + Easy Accommodations: Ensures each guest receives the same amount, reducing waste, and perfect also for guests with dietary restrictions or sensitivies.
  3. Streamlined Service: You can time other reception events around known meal service times. OH and bussing of your plates, flatware, everything. Prepare to be wined and dined!


  1. Limited Choices: It’s not secret that plated meals require a ton of work and preparation, so caterers often limit your choices to 2-3 entree choices max. And, of course, guests have to choose one out of those, unless they want to swap dishes halfway through dinner. 🙂
  2. Requires RSVP with Meal Choice: More work on the invitation process, day-of stationery (you need to indicate the meal choice for caterers), and you also need to provide more details to your vendors for seating arrangements, dietary restrictions, and be thoughtful about where you seat people.
  3. More costly: Personal service might mean higher staffing costs. What you avoid in long lines and wait times, you trade for more staff, however this also allows for more personalization and an overall experience for your guests where they don’t have to do a thing.

Family Style Meals

Family style meals are a growing trend in wedding receptions. This style of service involves serving several dishes to the table, where guests can serve themselves. This style of service encourages conversation and allows guests to share their meal with one another.

Note: Many caterers prefer that family-style meals are served around a round table, but keep in mind that decor and centerpieces should be kept at an absolute minimum – bud vases and candles are the max. If you opt for rectangle tables, cluster the decor with bigger spaces in between for platters.

Venue: The Tinsmith | Catering: A Pig In A Fur Coat | Photography: Anda Marie


  1. Conversational: Encourages guests to interact and share in a communal experience!
  2. More Variety: Allows multiple dishes to be sampled for all those foodies out there who love to try a bit of everything!
  3. Less Formal but Intimate: Gives a homey, intimate feel! Like a Thanksgiving dinner, assuming these aren’t super dramatic and super awkward – haha!


  1. Portion Estimation: Risk of running out of popular dishes – this definitely has happened to us at weddings. One solution is to beef up the amounts given in family-style portions. Be sure to talk to your caterer if you want more of a specific platter at each table.
  2. Takes Up Table Space: Large dishes can crowd table real estate. If minimal decor is your thing, then even better!
  3. Can Be Messy: Potential for spills, and obviously, you need to be willing to share serving utensils as you pass platters around!


Buffets provide a more informal experience for wedding receptions. Guests can serve themselves from a variety of dishes and can enjoy their meal at their own pace. This style of service also allows for a greater variety of dishes, which can be a great way to showcase a couple’s unique tastes.


  1. Quantity: Offers a wide range of dishes. Guests eat at their own speed. And there is usually always so much leftover, so guests can come back again for seconds.
  2. Cost: Buffets generally cost SO much less than a plated meal (because you are not spending on service). Keep in mind you will need to plan to use disposable plates and have someone else buss (not usually included in a buffet service) or if you do want real china, you will need to hire someone to manage the cleanup.
  3. Customization: Allows guests to pick according to their preference, although keep in mind that because food is made in big batches, it is not the most accommodating to dietary restrictions.


  1. Lines and Waiting: Waiting and more waiting. Depending on your guest count you can avoid long lines by doing two buffet setups or a double-sided buffet (please, do NOT do a one-sided buffet unless there are catering servers on the other side. For everyone’s sake!
  2. Potential Wastage: Not all dishes might be equally popular, and because everything is made in bulk, you may have a ton of leftover green beans but no cheesy potatoes.
  3. Less Upscale: Some might see it as a less formal choice. It doesn’t necessarily have to be, but it’s defnitely

Food Trucks

Food trucks are a great way to provide a unique experience for wedding receptions. Couples can choose from a variety of different cuisines and can provide their guests with a fun and memorable experience. A few considerations: food trucks do not usually provide service/staffing outside of the food truck. Because most meals are made to order, this is a better option if you don’t have a lot of planned or structured activities the rest of the night (first dances, toasts/speeches), etc. Expect the wait time to increase depending on your guest count. To work around this, we have encouraged our couples to do up to 3 food trucks and enforce a “ticket” system or a way to organize the guests so that trucks are aware of how many people will want to order from each food truck!

Photography: Kyndal Elise Photography | From our very own Ellie’s wedding! <3


  1. Unique Experience: Adds a fun, memorable element, food is fresh and perfect for laid-back vibes
  2. Variety of Cuisines: Can cater to various tastes and preferences especially if you have multiple trucks
  3. Flexibility: Easier to scale up or down based on guest count, and VERY affordable


  1. Weather Dependent: Outdoor setting might be affected by weather
  2. Waiting Time: Might have lines during peak times, probably the absolute longest food service you could choose (you can discuss with the food truck to do more assembly vs. made to order if this is a concern)
  3. Space Requirement: Need ample space for trucks and queues and make sure to discuss other logistical needs with food trucks for power needs


Tapas are a great way to provide a variety of dishes in a more informal setting – it’s basically app night made fancy! Guests can enjoy a variety of small plates and can mix and match different flavors. This style of service is perfect for couples who want to provide a casual but still elevated experience for their guests.

Photography: Audre Rae


  1. Diverse Flavors: Guests can sample a wide range of dishes, fun and allows you to graze all night!
  2. Casual and Fun: Encourages a laid-back atmosphere, super fun and super tasty
  3. Interactive: Gets guests discussing and sharing, butler passed or at stations usually


  1. Portion Sizes: Some guests might want larger portions, it’s definitely not a full-on meal unless you’re like me and eat 50 apps.
  2. More Dishes Needed: To ensure variety and options for guests, which could mean overall cost
  3. Potential for Increased Cost: Due to variety, ingredients needed, and individual plating/serving for individual portions

Other Alternatives

In addition to the above options, there are many other alternatives for wedding reception dinner service. Couples can opt for a cocktail reception, a brunch buffet, or a dessert bar. We’ve even seen hog roasts for the perfect summer picnic buffets! The possibilities are endless!

Photography: Erika Diaz | Catering: Blue Plate Catering

One of our clients did grazing tables at each table! It was AMAZING and I’ll never forget it. And there was actually more than enough food leftover!


When it comes to wedding reception dinner service, couples have many different options to choose from. Plated dinners, family style meals, buffets, food trucks, tapas, and many other alternatives can provide a unique and memorable experience for guests. No matter what style of service you choose, your guests will be sure to enjoy the meal!

We’re the perfect planners to help you not only plan your dinner and design, but also your menu (as we’ve worked extensively in catering and menu selection)! Reach out to us today to plan your Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Destination wedding!