Every so often I like to post some advice from an Every Last Vendor pro- hence the title of “Pro Insight”. Today’s Pro Insight post is from ELV caterer Dine By Design Catering, and it’s chock FULL of information all about the different serving styles for weddings. I’ll be honest- when my caterer first asked me what serving style I wanted, I had no idea about what my options were, and I’m sure some of you will be faced with the same questions I had. Well, Kim of Dine By Design is here to answer those questions for us today!
Choosing Your Serving Style
For the purposes of this menu discussion, let’s assume that your mother and you, the bride, are in perfect accord. This may or may not be the case, but its well beyond the purview of this document to discuss mother/daughter relationships, which are – by far – the most complicated in existence!
So back to food..
There are two basic styles for a wedding meal: seated or walking about. And there’s a lot to be said for both options.
A lot of brides are attracted to a seated function because it represents the wedding they imagined as girls: It’s elegant and timeless. Often people believe the seated function to be less expensive since the portion sizes are controlled, but, if the dishes chosen are not comprised of expensive ingredients, it can actually be more expensive, since it requires more staffing. It also can be perceived as somewhat stiff, restrictive and overly formal.
One associated complication is the need to track whether a guest has chosen the beef dish, the chicken dish, or the fish dish. And you’re not done there! You’ve still got to associate the appropriate creature with the seat assignments; to be sure that Auntie Tilly is sitting in a position in front of which there’s a little card that says BEEF! And, in case you’re very new at this and believe people will actually do as they’re told, allow me to invite you into reality: People will change places willy-nilly and forget their BEEF, FISH and CHICKEN signs! An experienced service staff can surmount this obstacle, but it will slightly increase the service wait.
An alternative to the choice approach is to present each guest with a duo of items that will satisfy almost any palate. Obviously you’ll need to be mindful of vegans and vegetarians, but for the most part, beef paired with chicken or fish is going to make a large number of people very pleased with you.
An alternative to the standard seated event is what’s known as Family Style. It’s a little less formal than the classic approach, and the passing of dishes and platters causes your guests to interact with one another, so they’ll end the evening knowing each other a lot better than if there’d been no reason to speak up; people will shout out if nobody’s passing them the Fried Green Tomatoes! In terms of expense, it consumes more food than a plated meal and the staffing requirements are the same.
Then there’s the buffet, which for the purposes of this document, we’ll define as stationary food. I know… I really do get it; the word alone conjures up visions of dusty ballrooms and row after row of industrial looking chafing dishes. It just makes you want to sigh. But don’t! Just because you’ve decided on the buffet style, doesn’t mean your food will have the feel of a prison cafeteria! Lots can be done with a buffet to make the presentation stylish, unique and fun. In general, a buffet will require less staffing than a seated event, because you go to the food, it doesn’t come to you.
However, you must keep in mind that there’s no controlling how many pounds of roast beef Bubba’s going to serve himself. Nor is there a way to explain to a kiddy the difference between what he believes himself capable of eating vs. what will actually fit in his tummy. So, yes, there will be waste. In addition, the more items you wish to serve, the more waste there will be. If you’ve got chicken, beef and fish on your buffet, you’ve got to have enough of each so that you won’t run out of any. Experienced caterers know how most people eat (it has to do with demographics, planetary alignment and magic), but we still need to cover our (and your) derrieres! You don’t want the McAllister clan leaving your reception thinking “Boy, that caterer they chose is really cheap!” Or, even worse, “Boy, the mother of the bride must squeak when she walks!”
There are two ways to minimize the amount of damage a buffet can do to your bottom line:
1. Have the buffet monitored and the food served (thereby increasing your staffing expenses but reducing portions)
2. Serve the more expensive items as passed appetizers in your cocktail hour, (when there’s a time cut-off) that will ensure no one person eats three pounds of crab cakes.
Most caterers have a formula that helps them figure out the number of appetizers per person, and when they’re done with the crab cakes, they send out the mini Muffalettas!
The last thing I’ll say about buffets is this: If you’re a large group, be sure your caterer has considered your numbers. Two common approaches are to either set up for double-sided service (so people can line up on both sides of the buffet tables), or a mirrored buffet, which means that you’ll have two separate and identical buffet lines (and, yes, more waste). You really don’t want your guests leaving with thoughts of the lines they endured, rather than the fun and fabulous food they experienced.
Stations are a subset of buffets. People enjoy stations when they want to serve a greater variety of dishes, and encourage mingling and grazing. This is often confusing to people of my generation, who are more accustomed to straight lines. Not so for younger people today, who’ve got plenty of experience with tapas bars and small plate restaurants. And, in the end, if the aromas are tantalizing, if people are seen moving here and there in groups, and returning with appealing plates, not to worry, the older crowd will find the food!
Stations are great fun. People love the process of discovery, here for sliders, and what’s over there? Oh, Korean Tacos, wow! And across the way, yep, freshly shucked oysters. Some stations can sit unattended (though they’ll obviously have to be replenished), and some stations require a chef or other human, actively preparing food. And there you go; you’ve just increased your staffing.
In the end, it’s about style. And budget… which pretty much sums up real life anyway!
Wow, was this post not FILLED with information or what? I hope this helps some of you out when you’re faced with deciding on what style you want your reception dinner to be served! A huge thank you to Kim of Dine By Design Catering for letting us all know about the serving styles that are out there to choose from! Check out their ELV listing for more insight and information too! They know their stuff! :)