Family-Style, Buffet or Plated: The Dinner Debate, Broken Down

Some couples prioritize the venue. Others, the band. My fiance and I: we’ve prioritized food. But while it was easy to narrow our options down to “good food,” picking between buffet-style, family-style, and plated, sit-down dinner was harder. First, there’s cost; second, there’s ambiance.

For the sake of vibe, we settled on family-style–it’s more intimate, interactive, and we like that the food will be on the table, should people want to help themselves to more without having to get up, and without having to awkwardly ask servers permission–but it is costing us over $1,000 dollars extra. That’s the price we’re willing to pay, but would you?

The catering bill accounts for nearly 50% of the total wedding budget, and because that figure’s undoubtedly daunting, we’ve broken down the pros and cons of the three most popular meal options to help with your decision-making process. Remember, whatever you choose, your Lake Tahoe wedding will be spectacular; there is no right and wrong way to feed your guests. It’s your wedding, your choice.


  • Most casual option
  • Fewer serves needed, making it the most cost-efficient option
  • Large variety of food choices, so you can satisfy all palettes, allergies and dietary restrictions
  • Promotes mingling and interacting
  • Each table will have to wait their turn to go to the buffet
  • Lines may form
  • You may have to rent linens, chafing dishes and serving pieces, if your caterer doesn’t provide them
  • Guests have to serve themselves and carry their plates back to their table
  • People tend to eat more when they serve themselves, which increases cost

Plated Dinner

  • Most traditional and formal option
  • Guests are served three courses: appetizer, entr�e, dessert
  • Guests are given a choice to two (sometimes three) entr�es, which they select beforehand
  • Everyone’s served at the same time
  • Less food wastage
  • You can spread out activities (like dances and toasts) between courses to make sure guests stay engaged, and keep their energy levels high
  • More servers are required, which costs more
  • Limited food options
  • Picky eaters might not appreciate everything on their plate


  • Guests are assigned seats and tables, for the most part
  • Less formal than a plated dinner, more formal than a buffet
  • Creates a warm and familiar atmosphere
  • Large portions of the dinner offerings are presented on serving platters and placed on each table
  • Guests fill their own plates–it’s just like having dinner around the table at home
  • It’s efficient: guests can start eating as soon as they’ve filled their plates, and they can comfortably refill their favorites
  • More space is needed on the tables, taking away from other d�cor, but that also means you’re saving money on centerpieces
  • More money will be needed for each table’s platters and serving pieces, as well as for making sure there’s enough food to refill platters once they’re looking low
  • Potentially messy, with guests passing food around the table