The Pros and Cons of a Wedding Buffet

The surprising things to consider before you decide on a buffet style meal service.

wedding dinner buffet tables with center tree
Photo: Voir Pictures

As far as your wedding meal goes, you have a few different options: Some couples prefer a plated dinner while others like the freedom a buffet affords. If you're thinking about a big-day buffet, know that this style of meal service can be as simple or as elaborate as you'd like. While you can set out just a few chaffing dishes with two mains and a few different sides, you could also select several different dishes and offer attended options like a carving station. This type of meal service comes with very unique pros and cons, so we talked to two wedding professionals to find out what you need to consider before deciding for or against a big-day buffet.

Pro: A buffet may better reflect your wedding style.

Tommy Waters, event coordinator for The Renaissance, says that buffet style meals are a great choice for couple who want a more informal reception. If a multi-course meal just doesn't feel like you, or else you want your guests to be able to get up and hit the dance floor as soon as they're ready, then a buffet might be a better fit in terms of the style you're going for.

Con: You have to think carefully about food safety.

Of course, having food kept out for an extended period of time can cause some ingredients to spoil. "You want to avoid keeping food out longer than necessary, and make sure that your caterer is up-to-speed on how weather can affect the freshness of the food itself," Heather Jones of Wente Vineyards says. She also adds that an open buffet may lead to some uninvited guests like bacteria and critters, which can make your dinner service memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Pro: There's plenty of room for personalization and options.

Choosing a buffet does not mean you have to serve something standard. You don't have to skimp on extras, either. You can add more unique, personalized options like a carving station, or even action stations where guests can make their own mashed potato combinations or select a custom-made pasta dish. Even if you don't add in attended options, you can still serve a selection of your favorite foods-an option you don't have when you're picking one or two plated meals.

Con: It can be harder to accommodate guests with allergies.

Serving your meal buffet-style means it's a little harder to accommodate guests with food restrictions or allergies. Allergen-free dishes shouldn't be placed on the same buffet table as the rest of the food due to the risk of cross-contamination. "While you can certainly provide alternate dishes for those that are vegan, for example, it may feel a bit isolating to have their food displayed away from the rest," Jones explains. In this case, it would be worth talking to your catering team to see if they can prep plates for those with allergies in the kitchen so that they skip the buffet line entirely.

Pro: Guests can take what they like.

Another perk of choosing the buffet plan is that you may be able to cut down on waste. While it's true that your caterer often has to make more food overall to ensure everyone is fed, Jones adds that giving guests the opportunity to serve themselves means they'll generally take only as much food as they'll actually eat. This may also mean that your guests can go back for seconds. "Keeping an open food display also decreases the chance that guests will go hungry after the initial food rush," Jones adds.

Con: It may take everyone some time to eat.

Waters also points out that while buffets can get your guests up and mingling, it can be a slow process for each person to get through the buffet line and back to their seats. The last thing you want to see on the dance floor is a traffic jam caused by guests traversing back and forth to the food.

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