To Sit or Not to Sit: How to Choose the Best Dinner Service for Your Wedding

You’ve spent hours getting ready. You’ve just walked down the aisle and exchanged vows. You are officially married. And now you’re famished! Choosing your dinner service dictates the flow and vibe of your wedding and can sometimes be a daunting decision. Do you go with a seated, more traditional dinner? Or do you mix things up with a cocktail style, roaming service? Or do you even opt for the flexibility of the sometimes-dreaded buffet?

We love food here at Brooklyn Winery. Some have even called us a bit obsessive. So, the question of how to best serve a couples’ first meal together weighs heavily on us as well. In this post we break down each type of dinner service and analyze the merits and pitfalls in the following categories: flexibility, food quality and choice, cost, and crowd control.

First, take a moment and reflect on the following:

  • Mentally fast-forward and think about what you want your wedding pictures to look like. Do you want pictures of your guests toasting and smiling over lighted candles with elaborate flower centerpieces? Or do you want the freedom to move about your wedding, grabbing candid shots with guests as you mingle about the space? This may feel like you’re jumping the gun (or broom…which you’ll soon be doing!), but take a moment to visualize the wedding you’ve always dreamed of.
  • What type of dinner reception best fits your venue? Trying to fit 8 foot by 12 foot tables in an intimate space better suited for cocktail tables may make planning more stressful than it needs to be.
  • Consider who’s on your guest list. We always want our couples to host the wedding that fits them best, but you’ll also want to make sure you are providing the right accommodations for the most enjoyable guest experience.

Now, let’s talk pros and cons of the different types of food service.

The Buffet Dinner
Flexibility: Opting for a buffet at your wedding provides more menu flexibility. Guests can pick and choose what they want to eat and can help themselves to as much food as they like (whether it’s their first trip to the buffet line or their third).

Food Quality and Choice: Buffets have gotten a bad rap in the past, but buffets done right, with the right caterer, can be both delicious and unique. With options like action stations (for example, a chef shucking oysters at a raw bar), carving stations, or even themed stations, you have more choice on what to serve guests. On the flipside, if you don’t have a catering team that is experienced and on their game, food can go cold, or even worse, run out!

Cost: With less service staff and overall planning, the price of a buffet dinner service is often more budget-friendly for the cost-conscious couple.

Crowd Control: Nobody likes lines. Especially when it’s for food (or, let’s be honest, Disney World rides). You run the risk of worrying about crowd control. Too often, guests swarm the buffet, creating never-ending lines, which make for unhappy faces in your wedding photos.

The Cocktail Party Dinner
Flexibility: Cocktail receptions can be elegant and stylish, allowing your guests to enjoy the space and each other. We hear a lot from couples that they want their wedding to feel like a “big party.” A cocktail reception definitely fits the bill here, as it tends to encourage a more relaxed, casual atmosphere. If your venue is small, cocktail receptions allow you to invite more guests.

Food Quality and Choice: The cocktail party reception provides the same pros and cons presented by the buffet dinner option: more options in terms of choice, but more room for error in execution. We are all big fans of our Stationed Dinner Party here at Brooklyn Winery, for example; it’s a preparation that requires painstaking attention to detail in terms of presentation and temperature control.  If you are considering a cocktail party reception, be sure you ask your venue or catering how they handle food service to ensure a stress-free dinner service.

Cost: While you might anticipate a cocktail reception to be a cheaper option, your guests will likely drink more than at a dinner reception. Also, in an effort to make sure that you are providing enough food for your guests, you may overspend to create a feeling of abundant offerings.

Crowd Control: If your wedding invite list includes kids and elderly guests, the cocktail party format may prove to be more difficult. Imagine your Grandma trying to eat at a cocktail party table or your nieces and nephews trying to figure out what to do with a bamboo skewer. Things could turn a bit chaotic if the party style doesn’t match the guests.

The Seated Dinner
Flexibility: A seated dinner is the wedding standard, with a built-in elegance factor and a sense of formality for your special occasion. However, it can also limit the space in your venue and the flexibility in your guest count. A seated dinner introduces some additional coordination, like seating assignments. And as the story goes, with more more coordination, there also comes a higher margin of error. If you choose a plated dinner service, be sure to discuss how guests’ entrée preferences will be managed. Some questions to keep in mind: Will guests select their entrées ahead of time or will servers take entrée orders during dinner service? Will there be “silent” vegetarian dishes available?

Food Quality and Choice: Here at Brooklyn Winery, we’ve found that the best way to serve and control the quality of our food during weddings is with our Family Style Sit-Down Dinner. Execution is key to maintaining the temperature and quality of 100+ person dinner services. We serve our sides and salads family style to encourage a more intimate feeling amongst guests; however, other venues or catering companies may execute plated service.

Cost: In most cases, a seated dinner service is usually the most expensive dinner. As discussed previously, more coordination and planning requires more staffing, which can add to your costs. With a seated dinner, you often have more choices for extravagant menu options, like Grilled Rack of Lamb or Prime Rib.

Crowd Control: The seated dinner allows everyone a respite to sit and gear up for a night of celebration. Seated guests are essentially a captive audience, allowing ample time for speeches and toasts.

We hope this breakdown has helped in your planning process. Food brings people together and your wedding is no exception. So, bon appétit and happy eating!