buffet catering or other styles like plated family food truck cocktail services styles appropriate for an event

A Quick Guide to Choosing the Best Catering Style for Your Event

We can all agree that no event longer than an hour should go without some sort of snack. To leave out such a fundamental part of the human experience… shame! But after settling on the idea of including food to your event, you need to decide on your approach to catering.

Catering typically takes up 30-35% of the total budget. You’ll want to ensure that you’re using every bit of that budget correctly—you’d be surprised how quickly it goes! If you’re just getting started in event planning, you probably lack the extensive event coordinator training to know exactly the type of catering you need for every occasion. Don’t worry! We’re going to break it all down for you.

Keep reading to find out how to choose the best type of catering for your next event!

Buffet Catering Service

buffet catering service for career in event planning

Buffet catering service is where all the food is located in one area of the venue. Tables of guests take turns walking along the buffet line and serve themselves. Although, additional wait staff may be hired to serve in line at the buffet. Depending on the number of attendees, there may be more than one buffet station located apart from one another in the venue.


  • Fewer wait staff
  • Variety of food
  • Offers choice to guests with dietary restrictions
  • Less serving time
  • Guests can return for seconds
  • Guests determine portion control per serving


  • More expensive than plated meals as you must order more food
  • More casual than what formal events require
  • Buffet stations require additional floor space to host the station and queue
  • Certain foods need specific temperatures to remain fresh and safe to eat

Plated Catering Service

formal event with waiters serving plated meals catering services

As the second of the main service styles, plated catering is more formal and classy compared to the buffet. Events that are most suitable for this style are generally semi-formal to formal. Attendees decide on their meal choices ahead of time—an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. Meals are similar to those you’d find at a mid-to-upscale restaurant, and everyone is served at the same time.


  • No lines
  • Sophisticated meals that aren’t bite-sized portions
  • Meal pre-selection means caterers know exactly how much food to make


  • Less mingling time available for guests
  • Must hire more wait staff
  • Time-consuming as meals are served in courses
  • Portions are controlled in the kitchen
  • Fewer meal options

Family-Style Catering Service

family style catering service where guests have all food options at each table

Family-style catering is a compromise between the buffet and plated catering styles! Instead of having complete meals on individual plates, each plate is loaded with just one dish. Waiters bring out large plates of food from the kitchen to the center of each table. Guests around the table can then help themselves.


  • A large variety of different foods at a single table
  • No lineup


  • Wait staff needed to serve plates to the tables
  • Can turn chaotic
  • Tables cannot have too many guests so that each table can hold enough food for all guests

Food Truck Catering Service

food truck catering style for casual events

Food truck catering is best suited for casual events. One or more food trucks are parked at the venue. Event guests then elect when they would like to eat and line up to get their chance to order. Food is made-to-order. Guests then find a seat in communal dining areas.


  • Social atmosphere
  • Made-to-order food is fresh
  • Smaller portions so guests can eat at multiple themed trucks
  • One of the most affordable options—no need for wait staff


  • Restricted menu options
  • Ensure trucks have their own insurance and check with lot permits

Cocktail Reception Catering Service

finger foods served cocktail reception style at event

Finger foods and small, snack-sized meals are served buffet-style on a table. Guests are invited to socialize as they serve themselves from the table. Hors d’oeuvres are attractive but aren’t designed to completely fill stomachs.


  • Perfect for events of less than 2 hours that don’t require full-service meals
  • Bite-sized food variety can range from casual to formal
  • Suitable foods can be found for all event themes


  • Amount of food prepared is pre-determined
  • Portions are less than that of dinner service

Butlered Hors D’oeuvres Service

butlered hors d'oeuvres catering service for upscale event

A formal way of serving food. The food options are often bite-sized canapes, similar to what you would find at a cocktail reception. The difference lies in the service style. Servers walk around the mingling guests with trays of food. Guests then choose the finger foods they want from the trays and serve themselves.


  • Control the amount of food in circulation at a time
  • Control when guests have access to food
  • Guests have the opportunity to mingle around the venue


  • Guests have to wait for the servers to come by
  • Portions and amount of food is less than that of dinner service

Final considerations

number of guests including type of celebration such as wedding affects catering

Remember that no matter the budget, you should always consider the number of guests attending the event. Knowing these two factors will help you narrow down the type of catering services dramatically. Other factors include the type of event, level of formality, and venue restrictions. Always communicate openly with your client and you’ll be able to find a solution that everyone is happy with!

Did we miss any other catering services styles? Let us know!

Catering doesn’t just come down to the service on the day-of. Check out this post for 4 meal planning tips for your next event!

19 responses to “A Quick Guide to Choosing the Best Catering Style for Your Event”

    Thanks for sharing valuable information regarding catering for Your event.

    If a caterer is willing to provide references, then don’t be afraid to contact those references and ask for their opinion. Look at reviews on the internet and generally ask around for testimonials to see if they’re reliable.

    Stefan Bradley says:

    Thanks for mentioning how plated catering services allow caterers to know how much food they will need to prepare. My sister is getting married, and she wants to make sure that there is enough food for everyone on her big day. I’ll let her know that she should find a catering service that can prepare the food at the venue.

    Ron Booker says:

    I like how you mentioned that catering is a more formal and classy way to have your food delivered. My aunt wants to have a family reunion for Christmas and she wants to have catering. I’m going to help her find the right place to make the catering.

    Eli Richardson says:

    It caught our attention when you indicated offering a food truck service for guests to try something different. My boss is hosting an event for his employees and their children. I’ll suggest him hiring an ice cream truck to offer kids a special treat.

    Ron Booker says:

    It’s interesting that you said that catering services can offer you casual to formal food variety and control the amount of food. My dad is having a party for my sister’s graduation and he said that he wants to hire a catering service so that they can take care of all the food being served. I’m going to look online for a good catering service available for the occasion.

    Ellie Davis says:

    It’s interesting to know that a buffet catering service will allow you to have fewer wait staff in your event. My sister is planning a corporate event, and we are looking for advice. I will let her know about the different styles of catering services that she has to choose from.

    It’s great to know that a catering service will offer casual or formal food variety. My sister is getting married at the beach and needs to hire the right food catering service. We will help her choose one that will provide a beach style catering.

    Thanks for sharing this information. i was planning for a family event and was in confusion for selecting a good one. This article helped me know a lot of things.

    Thanks for the reminder that it’s important to consider if they will adjust for any dietary restrictions since it’s likely that some of the guests will have allergies or preferences. I’ve been trying to help choose a caterer for the grand opening party of the new building at my work, but it can be difficult knowing the right questions to ask. Dietary restrictions are an important factor to consider, so I really appreciate you sharing that advice.

    Sarah-Lynn Seguin says:

    You’re very welcome, Jay! We’re glad you found that information helpful. 🙂

    I like how you mentioned that catering is a more formal and classy way to have your food delivered. as a caterer, we always offer classy and best catering services to our customers. thanks for this information.

    Sloane Seguin says:

    Hi Santosh,

    Thanks so much for reading, and for leaving such a thoughtful comment. 🙂 We couldn’t agree more!

    All the best,
    The QC Team

    Srushti Tete says:

    hey, thank you for the information. I really like reading your blog A QUICK GUIDE TO CHOOSING THE BEST CATERING STYLE FOR YOUR EVENT! hope to read more from you… thanks for sharing

    Sloane Seguin says:

    Hi Srushti,

    Thank you kindly for taking the time to not only read our article, but also for leaving such a great comment. 🙂 We’re thrilled that you enjoyed our blog post. Out of curiosity, what part of the article did you enjoy most and/or find the most beneficial?

    All the best,
    The QC Team

    Thank you so much for proving such an important information it seems to be very helpful in my upcoming family wedding .

    Sloane Seguin says:

    Hi Mansi,

    Thanks for commenting! We’re very happy to hear that you found the information provided within this article to be so useful. Have you had your family wedding yet? If so, we’d love to hear how it went! x

    All the best,
    The QC Team

    yash says:

    the best catering services i have ever seen in my life

    Sloane Seguin says:

    Hi Yash, thanks for the awesome comment! Is there a particular catering company you’re referring to in your comment? If so, feel free to link them so we can check them out! 😀

    All the best,
    The QC Team

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