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A common question that we hear from Brides and Grooms when they first come to us is, “What are the pros and cons of buffet vs sit down wedding receptions?”  They don’t know it, but they are actually asking us a bit of a trick question.  

There are lots of terms in the wedding world that can cause confusion because they can mean different things to different vendors.  One perfect example is event coordinator vs wedding coordinator vs catering coordinator vs event producer vs event planner vs event consultant (a topic for another post!).

When someone asks about the pros and cons of buffet vs sit down wedding receptions, the “trick” is that with some caterers, like Caribbean Caterers, buffet receptions are all fully-seated, “sit down” wedding receptions.  So buffet receptions are sit down wedding receptions… sort of.

Seating Style vs Service Style

Ok, so let’s talk wedding terminology.  We obviously know what these question-askers are really getting at.  “Sit down” and “plated” are often used interchangeably, and between “plated” and “buffet” service styles, there are inherent differences.  But the seating style is very often the same.  Let’s break it down just to be clear:

Seating Style: this refers to how tables are arranged, and the style to which guests are or are not seated during the reception.  Basically, there are fully-seated (all guests have a seat at a table), limited guest seating (tables and chairs, but no formal table settings) or standing service (cocktail tables available, but no seating).  Or, there can also be a combination of standing and limited seating. All of these seating styles can also have an array of seating arrangements based on different types of tables (round, rectangular, serpentine, etc).

Service Style: this refers to how the food is served to guests.  The most common service styles for wedding receptions are plated (often called “sit down”), buffet, stations, family-style, cocktail, brunch and tea.  Some receptions might even have more than one (i.e. buffets and stations).  

Major Differences Between Buffet vs Sit Down Wedding Receptions

Now that we’re clear that buffets are often seated, and that “sit down” often refers to “plated” let’s go over a few of the main differences between the two service styles.  Keep in mind that very often what may be a “pro” for one person is a “con” for another, and that you really want to work with your caterer and wedding planner to figure out the best fit for you and your guests.


There is no question that plated receptions are the more formal option of the two.  There is nothing quite as luxurious as intricately plated food delivered directly to you, course after course.  If a classically elegant wedding is more your style, this is a great choice.  

Buffet receptions are a little less traditional and tend to have a more laid-back feel, but can still maintain a high level of elegance and sophistication.  Our buffet receptions all have formally set place settings, complete with linen, flatware, glassware and menus just like you would expect from a plated dinner.

Where the Food is Served

During a plated reception, food is brought directly to each guest and everyone is served at roughly the same time.  During a buffet reception, guests are invited one table at a time up to the buffet area where they are served from an array of menu items.  

As long as you work with a seasoned catering company, both service styles should have a smooth and steady flow, with no noticeable lags.  The difference lies more in the ambience created by how (and where) the food is served.


The biggest “pro” of a buffet style reception is that there is more opportunity for menu variety. You and your caterer can plan a menu that not only fits your theme, but that also accommodates everyone from vegans to guests with food allergies to picky eaters.  You also won’t need to track guests’ entree choices since they are making the choice a la minute, so it can be a win-win!

Usually the only menu choice that your guests have with a plated reception is the entree, and since the choices are pre-selected you will need to keep track of all of that information so that each entree gets to the correct person.  If you prefer the restaurant-style look and feel of a plated dinner over variety, then the extra coordination that it takes to make that happen is probably worth it to you.


Typically, a plated dinner will end up being about 20% more expensive than a buffet reception with a similar menu and similar decor.  There are always exceptions to the rule, but generally this is the case.  Much of this has to do with the extra staff, flatware and china that are needed during a plated dinner service.

Have More Questions?

At Caribbean Caterers, we pride ourselves on producing one-of-a-kind experiences that are elegant, but never stuffy.  Our clients want flavorful food, top notch service in a gorgeous setting that fits them as individuals.

Give us a call for your free 10-minute initial consultation.  We have over two decades of experience planning all different styles of wedding receptions, and can not wait to hear what you have in mind.

Click here for more detailed summaries of some of the other reception styles that we offer:

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