Before you decide whether you are having a buffet, station or plated meal at your wedding reception, you will have to look over a catering menu (or two!) to review your options. What kind of stations do they offer? How many entrées and sides do you get with a buffet? What about cocktail hour or after dinner food options? We get it, it can be overwhelming! Let’s break it down.


Cocktail Hour


The most traditional food served during cocktail hour is passed hors d’oeuvres (which is just a fancy word for appetizers, essentially). These small passed bites are typically priced per piece or by the dozen and you should plan on four to six pieces per guest for a standard one hour cocktail hour. If you are going to have other cocktail hour food options, you can get away with fewer pieces. It is common to have a variety of passed foods, we recommend around three selections, with at least one vegetarian option. 


This would be your classic cheese tray or fruit display. They are typically done by group size, either a small serving for 20 -25 guests, or a larger serving for 45-50 guests. 


A unique idea for cocktail hour (if you aren’t having a stationed dinner) is an interactive station like a quesadilla station or shrimp and grits bar. Make sure this is not the only food being offered, otherwise there will be a very long line. Stations are typically priced per person and should be one serving per guest. 




Most buffet options will include a salad, two entrees and two sides (one vegetable and one starch), but make sure you clarify with your caterer what is included. Also, pay attention to any upgrades there might be, particularly with your entrée selections (certain cuts of meat or fish often have an upcharge). Otherwise, buffet costs are a pretty straightforward, one-stop-shop price for a full meal.


Stations are a little trickier and most often priced individually per person, with the exception of carving stations that are priced per serving size. So, the taco bar might be $10 per person, the mac and cheese station $8 per person and the slider station $12 per person, so your per head price would be $30 for dinner per guest. With stations, make sure you account for enough stations for a well-rounded meal. 


With a plated meal, each entrée option is typically a different cost. You can choose to give your guests an option, normally a poultry or fish, beef and vegetarian option. The chicken plate may be $25, while the meat plate might be $30. When making your choices, keep costs in mind. Typically, beef is the most popular option, followed by chicken or fish and then vegetarian. The other option is to not give a choice and have everyone receive the same plate (with the exception of vegetarians). This could be a single protein or a duet option. Check with your caterer if a salad is included in the entrée price or if that is an additional cost per person.


Dessert and Coffee

Depending on if you want a traditional wedding cake or want to explore other dessert options, your caterer might have some options for you. If you plan to hire a baker to bring in a cake, check with your caterer if there will be a charge to cut and serve your cake. If you have coffee drinkers, make sure you ask your caterer about coffee options. 


Serving Essentials

After you’ve thought of the food, make sure to account for anything else you need for dinner service – think water goblets, wine glasses, flatware, plates, chargers, napkins, serving dishes, etc. Ask your caterer what’s included with your food cost and what is extra to account for these items in the budget.


Learn about other questions to ask your caterer here:

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Photo Courtesy of Catering by Design