After cocktail hour comes dinner. There are two main ways to do dinner at a wedding, sit down dinner and a buffet. There is also a third option while less common is still very practical. Let's break each one down.
Buffet: They are more casual and usually less expensive. They require far less wait staff for the guests which is key if you are staffing your own event. Buffets are great for early weddings because brunch items usually are very adaptable to buffets. Buffets should always offer at least two different types of entree. One of the best parts of a buffet is that you can offer more than one or two entrees. If you are only doing two types of meat I would stick with chicken and beef. However, I've seen fish substitute the beef and it works as well. The buffet should also include a choice between two vegetable and two starches. Think about it this way it's just like dinner at your house you want to cover at least three food groups. You also want to coordinate foods. If you are doing a filet, rosemary roasted potatoes would work well. You don't want to do beef tenderloin and Jasmine rice. The image below is an amazing buffet display. Notice the coordination and the table decor. I love the chalkboard menu too!
image via studio foto
As far as a salad or first course there are two ways to do this. You could have a plated salad. A waiter or waitress would bring each of your guests a salad or the salad would be placed at the seat while your guests are at cocktail hour. Below is a great example of what a simple plated salad would look like when the guests enter the room. Pretty right?
image via Mary McHenry
You could also include a salad in your buffet. Placing a salad bowl before the other food works well. I think it's best (if budget allows) to have a waiter or waitress at least manning the meat portions. Here is a great example of the salad portion of the buffet table.
image via Anna Kuperberg
Setting up your buffet is crucial. I love when buffets are accessible on both sides. I also think it's easier if silverware is at the end of the buffet. At least make sure that the buffet is off the dance floor you don't want food spilling and people falling and make sure that it's easy to access. If you have a wedding over 100 people having two buffet stations may be necessary (over 175 you may want to avoid a buffet all together). Creating risers is also really helpful and it adds depth to the food presentation.
Waitstaff or a DJ or can direct which table to go by either having the DJ announce it or a waitress or waiter stand at the table when it's their turn. You really don't want all your guests jumping up at once to grab dinner.In the image below you'll see a great example of a buffet that can be accessed from two sides.
image via Natalie Watson
One last tip on buffets they have a shelf life of about 2- 2 1/2 hours for both health and taste reasons.
Sit down: The more formal of the two options and usually (but not always) more expensive. You usually give your guests at least two options or serve a main dish that has two main components. If giving your guests an option try to include at least one menu on the table as it is often hard to hear servers over the other guests and music. As far as a salad or first course often times there is not an option and every guests gets the same plate. The image below shows a typical beef presentation at a sit down dinner.
image via Style Me Pretty
Some caters will request a rough estimate of how many people will want beef, chicken, or fish at your wedding. This can be done rather simply by including the three choices on the RSVP card. Again, guests can usually change their mind the day of the wedding as it's just an estimate.
Sit down dinners usually take more time than buffets so if you are both large party animals and don't want to spend time enjoying a full meal you may want to skip the buffet.
Family Style: In my experience this is the least common of the three dinner services, but offers some definite benefits. Cost wise this falls in between buffet service and sit down. It gives you a bit more formality (but still on the casual side) than a buffet service, but keeps the cost lower than a sit down meal. Family style basically means that two to three different dishes are presented on each table and divided between the guests at the table. Guests will either serve themselves or waiters and waitresses can serve the table. The salad could be plated individually or could also be added to the table. There are a few things you want to be aware of here, make sure your table arrangements are minimal as the food will take up a large portion of the table and you don't want things to get to stuffy. For the very same reason I'd also suggest keeping the amount of people at each table to a minimum as well. You also want to be careful with the foods you pick to serve. Typically Italian food is a great family style. Greek food and cornish hens also work out great. You want to avoid foods that require carving.
In both buffet and sit down dinners food during the dinner should not be crazy. You want something that most people will eat. Even if you and your fiance are big foodies Grandma Ann may not want to try foie gras at your wedding. Also, try to be somewhat respectful of dietary restraints and if possible offer vegaterian options.