By Bev Bennett
It’s not easy planning and pricing a menu. Seated meals incur wait-staff costs, buffet and family-style dinners pile on added food costs. What’s right for you? Here’s a look at the benefits and drawbacks of your food options
Your family is in perpetual motion. They’re going to hug or shake hands with everyone at your wedding reception – being tethered to a table wouldn’t sit well with them. You’re also thinking about frail relatives. How can you make them wade through a buffet line?
As you’re discovering, selecting the appropriate food service is just as important as the food itself at your wedding celebration. Your decision will depend on the venue, your guest list and menu.
Budget is also a factor, and costs will vary with your choice. However, you may discover that what you assume is the most economical option isn’t necessarily so.
Before you take a stand – or a seat – on food service, here’s what to consider.
Serenity is being assured everyone has a seat and a full plate, without the discomfort of juggling plates and glasses. That’s the advantage of a sit-down meal.
What you may not know is that this luxurious treatment maybe be less pricey than a buffet, according to caterers (see sidebar).
“There’s a perception that a buffet is cheaper, but it’s not, because you’re serving a greater quantity of food,” says Daniel Briones, president of the National Association of Catering Executives.
Unlike a buffet where some guests may heap their plates, everyone at a sit-down dinner receives a set portion. Caterers compensate for heavy buffet eaters by making more food available, which you have to pay for.
Bar service is often less costly, as well, since you can control how much wine is poured at the tables.
When selecting this sophisticated service, caterers say your best menu bets are the ever-popular beef tenderloin and/or lobster.
Drawbacks: Some guests will undermine the seating arrangements to get their preferred spot.
If you enjoy informality, but want your guests to eat in comfort, passing platters of food at the table may be the answer.
It’s the middle ground between a buffet and being served by the wait staff.
“In family style service, you can control portions better than a buffet,” says Briones, who is director of catering at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia.
“You’re also giving guests a little more variety than one specific item,” he adds.
Best food bets: Italian, Southern with chicken and greens, or Asian, according to Briones.
“Anything that will sit well on a buffet would translate well onto a family-style menu,” he says.
Drawbacks: Some guests may not want to serve themselves. Some caterers provide wait staff, but that adds to the cost.
Family-style requires large, clear tables. If the settings include a centerpiece and several glasses for each guest, there might not be room for the platters, according to Briones.
You may have visions of unattractive chafing dishes, heaps of steamed food and restless guests at a buffet.
Buffets have appeal, says Michael Lamando of Amici’s Catered Cuisine in Tampa Bay, Fla.
“If you are social and want your families to mingle, buffets are a good way to do it.” Presentation makes all the difference.
“You want greenery, flowers, pillars and accent materials that match the bridesmaids’ dresses,” Lamando says.
Hide chafing dishes with glass blocks and set the dishes at varying heights to escape the look of an all-you-can-eat chain restaurant.
Best food bets: Salads, coated or crusted fish that doesn’t dry out, Italian dishes.
Indian food, which is a hot trend in wedding fare, works well in buffets, too. “People like to take a little of a lot of different things; different curries,” says Angie Kemp, director of catering at The Dana on Mission Bay in San Diego.
Drawbacks: Buffet trays need to be refilled frequently so the food remains bountiful and appetizing.
Guests may not want to stand in line.
Serve up adventure and personal stories when you feature a range of food stops, or stations, each with a different culinary selection.
Stations can reflect your heritage, say regional Italian cuisine, or how you met, maybe food from a vacation in Japan.
Although similar to buffets, stations are spread out. Each station has its own style, says Liene Stevens, owner of Blue Orchid Designs in Scottsdale, Ariz. This suits her clients’ interests in ethnic fare.
Best food bets: Asian, such as Chinese pot stickers and Japanese sushi are favorites among Stevens’ couples. In Tampa, Lamando’s guests prefer pasta stations. “Guest choose their own pasta and sauce with a variety of toppings including shrimp, chicken, sausage and scallops, Lamando says.
Drawbacks: You’ll need a large room to accommodate the bar and separate food areas.
Marry the best of different styles for the reception that suits you.
For example, seat guests for the salad and entrée but provide stations for dessert.
“You want to get people up and moving around,” says Kemp.
A new combination may satisfy your guests.
“It’s a station with food that’s already plated in small portions. For example, you can have one plate with grits and sea bass and another with filet with mashed potatoes – all small bites,” Kemp says.
(c) CTW Features