catering food

Buffet vs. A La Carte

Food is an important part of any wedding or party, and as a planner, you’ll spend a lot of time with your clients deciding on all the details for the event’s meal. A large portion of the budget will be attributed to the food, so some major decisions will need to be made. And arguably for some, the most important decision to make is the type of serving style is best suited for your clients, and their budget! There are pros and cons to each type, and today we’ll focus on the two main service styles your clients are likely considering; buffet style and à la carte.

Buffet Style

If you and your clients decide on the buffet style, you will set up food stations that can be arranged in different ways, depending on the event’s venue or your clients’ personal style. You may decide to designate a particular area in the room where the food stations are set on long tables in an organized line, or you might decide to place stations throughout the venue based on the type of food that is being served. For example, a trendy mashed potato station with “all the fixins” you could imagine, a pasta bar in another area, a vegetarian station in another, and so on. The guests will either serve themselves from the set-up stations, or be served by a hired server standing behind the table or designated station.

Choose bufft vs. a la carte for event planning meal

Here are some pros and cons you should consider:

Pro: Variety!

If choosing the buffet style, your clients will be able to save money on the wait staff, as you won’t need as many servers as you would with a plated dinner. This will allow you to offer a larger variety of items in the buffet line. This is especially important if there are concerns of allergies and dietary restrictions of those who will be in attendance. In addition, the guests will be able to select exactly what they want, and how much of it they want. This can be particularly beneficial to picky eaters and children, and will ensure that no one will leave hungry as everyone will be able to find something they like!

Buffet Variety

Pro: Totally casual!

The buffet style is a great choice for a more casual feel to the event. For clients who want to do away with the stuffiness of a formal, served meal, the buffet is a great choice to create a relaxed atmosphere for your guests. Again, it allows your guests to choose what they want to eat and also go for seconds for their favorite item! It allows for guests to mingle and releases the pressure of staying put at your designated table during the dinner hour.

Con: Too casual

A buffet style meal is not ideal for your clients if they want a traditional, formal ambience to their event. As mentioned, a buffet style promotes a more relaxed atmosphere and could get disorganized and loud if your clients plan for hired entertainment throughout the meal, or if at wedding, you’ve organized to get the speeches going during this time.

Pro: The line!

For some, the line of the buffet is the best part! It’s a great way to socialize with other guests at the event, which can be particularly useful for those who don’t know many people there. It’s a chance to step away from any assigned seating and not feel confined to your designated area.

event planning with Buffet Line


While some can find the positives in standing in a long line waiting for food, for others it is a daunting and annoying task. Especially if you’re getting hungry and it’s been a long day, you’re just ready to eat something, anything! The line can end up being a negative experience for many.

Con: It can take up precious space

If your clients don’t have a lot of space to spare at the venue where the event is being held, a buffet dinner is not the ideal choice. Because you’ll need to set up the food stations in an area accessible to all guests, this can take up a significant amount of space you may need for other activities or seating at the event.

A la carte:

Should your guests decide to opt for a plated, sit-down meal, the guests will be served by a wait staff with at least three courses: an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. Guests will be given 2 to 3 options to choose from beforehand (usually to be determined at the time they RSVP to the event), or they will be served with a “duet plate” that includes two proteins, for example, beef and chicken, or chicken and fish.

The meals served are typically comparable to ones at an upscale restaurant, as opposed to a family diner or pub. With a plated meal, everyone is served at the same time by trained servers.

A la Carte meal at event

Here are some pros and cons you should consider:

Pro: Formal and classy!

There’s a certain “je ne sais quoi” to a served meal that just makes the event so classy! If it is an especially formal and sophisticated function, and guests are wearing expensive, extravagant outfits, staying seated during the meal will be easier for everyone.

Con: Ugh, too formal and stuffy

Just like the casualness of a buffet meal can be seen as a negative or a positive depending on the clients’ preferences and the type of event, a plated meal can seem too stuffy for some.

Pro: No line!

There’ll be no waiting in line for your guests! Everyone will receive their meal in a timely manner and your guests will stay exactly where you want them to. This is a perfect opportunity to provide some entertainment or begin any lengthy wedding speeches between courses.

Con: Can’t mingle with other guests

A formal plated meal encourages socialization with table mates, who likely already know each other, rather than mingling with other guests they may not know as well. This can be especially frustrating for any social butterflies amongst the invitees! If your clients are very social and outgoing, there’s a good chance their friends and family are this way too! So a buffet style may be the better option.

Pro: Sophisticated, gourmet meals!

Having a formal, plated meal also gives your clients the chance to serve their guests with a sophisticated and gourmet meal, where the presentation is on point and everything cooked to perfection. As guests are able to pre select their meal, the caterer will know exactly how much food they will need in order to feed everyone in attendance. This will keep the food costs lower, but you’ll spend a little more on the wait staff.

Serving A La Carte Dinner at event

Con: Fewer options

I think it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: there are fewer options for a plated meal (unless your clients are ready to break the bank). You’ll likely narrow it down to 2 to 3 options for guests to choose from, with at least one being vegetarian or vegan friendly. Guests will choose well in advance which meal they would like to be served to them at the event. And what happens if they end up not liking the meal at the event? They’ll be leaving hungry, and probably a little cranky!

Make sure you know what your clients want!

These are just a few pros and cons to keep in mind when trying to decide the best option for clients, as there are endless things to consider. The meal is an essential part of any function, and can sometimes make or break the guests’ experience. It’s important to read your clients well, ask questions, and ensure you understand their vision and the feel they want their event to have in order to pick the best serving style.

Working with Clients to choose bufft vs. a la carte

Find more great ideas on event and wedding food station ideas for your next big planning contract!

2 responses to “Buffet vs. A La Carte”

    Amanda Sorenson says:

    There are definitely pros and cons to each! I’ve been to a lot of weddings with both of these styles. Sit-down meals are always nice but the best wedding meal I’ve ever had was a buffet! 🙂

    Kylie Dotts says:

    I like how you said that by choosing a buffet you’ll be able to save money because people will be able to plate their own food. My son just got engaged to his girlfriend and they are planning their wedding for October. I think that they would really benefit from something like buffet catering because it would help them save some money.

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