The menu you select for the wedding meal should reflect the time of day and formality of the event. Would you serve BBQ ribs when your invitation asked for black-tie dress? When it is time to plan the menu, you must consider all of the elements of the wedding to make the right selections.
What is the difference between buffet, sit-down, family style, or stations? When it comes to meal service, you have options; however, you must realize particular venues and caterers may specialize in one style or another, and not all caterers and locations will be able to accommodate all of the options.
The sit-down or plated meal is a traditional and usually more formal meal service. It usually involves at least three courses, a salad/soup/appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. Other combinations include a salad/soup/appetizer, an intermezzo, and an entrée. Of course, many upscale locations offer four- and five-course meals as well.
A buffet offers a display of food that guests can revisit as often as they like. For buffets, make sure there are enough clean plates for multiple visits through the line, that the catering manager or emcee of the evening has a system for sending guests to the buffet to avoid long lines, and finally, if it is a large wedding, that there are two or more buffet lines to avoid bottlenecking.
Food stations offer a selection of made-to-order dishes. You can generally expect to have at least three stations set up around the venue, each offering specialties (sushi, pasta, salad, carving, etc.). Due to the labor involved (chefs on hand at each of the stations) this is one of the more costly options.
Family-style meals are now being seen at both formal and at casual weddings. The caterer serves dishes to the tables and the guests pass them around, serving themselves as if they were in your home.
What to Serve
Our reception will begin at one o'clock and be over by five o'clock. Do we need to serve a sit-down meal? Hors d'oeuvres or other light fare would be absolutely appropriate. If your reception will take place during a typical meal time, the guests will expect to be served a full meal.
We gave our guests a choice of entrees, but how will the caterer know what each guest wants? You should discuss this with your caterer or location manager before you determine the system, but generally you will use the escort or place card to designate the meal choice. One of the simplest ways to do this is to have the back of the card or another card state the guest's meal choice. The guest can simply hand the card to the wait staff. Another way is to put a clipart image representing the entree somewhere on the card (e.g., a cow for beef, a chicken for chicken, etc.). You can also use a decorative accessory, like a ribbon or crystal, to accent the card, with the accessory designating the meal choice. Lastly, using different colored cards is an option. For example, if your wedding colors are moss green, chocolate brown, and tangerine, use each color to indicate a meal choice. Ultimately what is important is that the wait staff knows what to look for and the caterer has an accurate count of the selections.