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October 19, 2023 | catering, wedding, corporate, budget

Buffet vs. Plated Service: A Guide

Food is one part of the experience. And it has to be somewhere between 50 to 60 percent of the dining experience. But the rest counts as well: The mood, the atmosphere, the music, the feeling, the design, the harmony between what you have on the plate and what surrounds the plate.
— Alain Ducasse

In anticipation of the busy holiday season, the experts at Caroline's Fine Food would like to share some practical considerations to guide corporate event planners and private hosts through some of the important choices they'll face in creating a successful event. While our pointers are generally geared to large gatherings, they can also be tailored to smaller get-togethers. This month, we'll be delving into the pros and cons of plated vs. buffet-style gatherings and the best way to choose the right option for your needs. For clarity's sake, we'll start with some brief definitions:

Plated Service:

Plated meals consist of multiple courses served to seated guests by hired staff. This style of service is generally reserved for formal functions, such as weddings, fundraisers or awards dinners.

Buffet Style:

Buffet service involves guests choosing from and helping themselves to a variety of dishes usually displayed on a banquet table. Catering staff help with this service and keep the buffet table neat and replenished.

Both styles of service have advantages and disadvantages to consider.

Plated Service Pros:

  • Formality: If your event calls for elegance and formality, then plated service will probably be the best fit.
  • Portions are counted and controlled by the kitchen. There is less food wasted as a result.
  • Each guest receives individual service.
  • The food is professionally plated by the kitchen and is served fresh and hot.
  • Your guests don't have to stand in line.
  • If the event is sufficiently staffed, everyone is served each course at the same time.
  • If you have guests with mobility issues, a seated dinner trumps a buffet.

Plated Service Cons:

  • Plated service is more costly than buffet-style as it involves more staff.
  • Late arrivals may miss out on service, whereas a buffet would still be available.
  • Plated service generally entails a smaller menu than buffet service, therefore limiting your guests' food choices.
  • Because there are fewer menu items, guests with specific dietary restrictions might find their choices limited. (This can be avoided through a little foresight and strategic menu planning with your caterer.)
  • If your event is sparsely staffed, meal service can take much longer. (A knowledgeable event planner can help you make this determination.)

Buffet Service Pros:

  • Buffets generally boast a wide selection of dishes.
  • A wider selection of dishes is more likely to suit guests with dietary restrictions.
  • Buffets create a more casual atmosphere. Guests are able to mingle and socialize with greater ease.
  • The portions are more flexible since guests are generally serving themselves. (It is sometimes advisable to have catering staff serve the proteins if they are counted.)
  • Buffets are more cost-effective and require fewer staff.
  • Disposable plates and silverware are used more often on buffets than on plated service. This lowers costs and makes cleanup easier.

Buffet Service Cons:

  • The lines can be long which means people are not sitting down and eating at the same time.
  • Portion control may be a problem - particularly with proteins. (A knowledgeable caterer can help you with suggested portion sizes and margins for overages.)
  • Buffet-style service may not be appropriate for some formal events.
  • Buffets may present mobility challenges for the disabled.
  • Food may cool over the course of the event although this may be addressed with chafing dishes in most cases.

The occasion, the tone you'd like to set and your budget will be your primary considerations in choosing between these two service styles. Caroline's Fine Food would love to share the benefit of our considerable experience with you. Our seasoned event managers are here to help you navigate and troubleshoot the logistical details and staffing considerations as well as to suggest exciting culinary possibilities for your event. We work one on one with you to design and deliver the memorable, stress-free gathering that best reflects your vision and needs.

Caroline's Fine Food also offers two "hybrid" service options: "Family Style" and "Fix-It-Yourself" food bars. "Family Style" service lies somewhere between a buffet and a seated dinner. Platters of food are delivered by staff to each table and guests serve themselves and pass the dishes around. "Family Style" events are less formal than classic plated service. They are a little more relaxed and intimate while still retaining the cache of seated service. "Fix-It-Yourself" bars are a casual approach to buffet service and add a fun creative element to your event.

For a deep dive into our Fix-It-Yourself bars, plated service, buffets and family style menus or to explore a range of creative possibilities for your next corporate event or milestone, you can reach us here.