How to Choose Your Charlottesville Wedding Catering Style

Weighing the pros and cons of plated, family-style, stationed and buffet service.

Let’s be honest, your guests will remember the food at your wedding long after they’ve shed happy tears over your vows and danced their hearts out. The violet hour hors d'oeuvres and signature cocktails, the dinner table laughs and farm-sourced meal, the rich buttercream cake and champagne — it’s your first dinner party as a married couple and it’s truly special.

Thankfully, Charlottesville wedding caterers are skilled at customizing menus, creating a desired atmosphere and delivering an experience that guests will savor. Local catering pros have access to Charlottesville farms, gardens, seafood purveyors and the region’s top wine producers, meaning your wedding weekend will shine with the freshest, most delightful farm-to-table flavors.

The biggest decision you need to make? How you’d like your cuisine presented. Typically, there are four Charlottesville wedding catering styles to choose from: plated, family-style, stationed and buffet service.

"I’ve been to weddings where the crab cakes were the size of a dime. The sushi station was wiped out by the time we stood in line and got a drink during cocktail hour. Those are the weddings where you find yourself going back to your hotel and ordering pizza. And that’s not okay."
Exchange Events + Catering director of catering Jaclyn Grieger

Before you decide on your wedding catering style, there are several factors to weigh.

Ask yourself:

  1. How high on your priority list is food and drink?
  2. How formal do you want your reception to be?
  3. What’s your wedding catering budget cap?
  4. What type of vibe do you want to create?
  5. Do any guests have special dietary restrictions or allergies?
  6. How do you want your food to tell your story?
  7. How much variety do you want?
  8. Do you want to pair your food with certain wines?

The goal is for guests to be fueled and satisfied, maybe a little surprised and wowed, by your wedding cuisine. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of family-style, buffet, stationed and plated reception dinners.

Pro Tip
Request a tasting with your catering team at least six months out and finalize your menu one month before your wedding.

Example of a family-style dinner from Harvest Moon Catering

Family-Style Dinner


  • Engagement: Family style encourages guests to interact and engage with one another as they pass dishes around the table, fostering a sense of community and conversation.
  • Variety: With a variety of dishes placed on each table, guests have the opportunity to try different options and choose what they prefer.

  • Less waiting time: Once the food is on the table, guests can serve themselves immediately, reducing waiting time compared to plated dinners delivered by servers.


  • Space and table layout: Family style requires sufficient table space to accommodate the serving dishes, which may limit the number of guests per table. It also requires careful planning for table florals and design to ensure easy access to all dishes.
  • Potential for food waste: If guests are not familiar with the dishes or if they are unsure of how much to take, there is a risk of food being wasted.
  • Dietary restrictions: It can be challenging to accommodate specific dietary restrictions or preferences with a limited number of dishes on each table.

Example of a buffet-style setup from Pippin Hill Catering

Buffet-Style Dinner


  • Customization: Buffets offer a wide range of food options, allowing guests to customize their plates based on personal preferences.
  • Reduced costs: Buffets can be more cost-effective compared to plated dinners, as they require fewer staff members for serving.
  • Flexibility: Buffets provide guests with the freedom to choose when and what they want to eat.


  • Potential queues: Depending on the number of guests, long queues may form at buffet stations, leading to waiting times and reception congestion.
  • Limited portion control: Some guests may take more than they can eat, leading to food waste.
  • Less formal ambiance: Buffet-style catering tends to create a more casual atmosphere, which may not be suitable for black-tie weddings.

Stationed Dinner Service


  • Decorative appeal: Dinner stations can be creatively designed to match your wedding theme, becoming focal points and enhancing reception ambiance.
  • Customization: Guests have the freedom to mix and match various dishes, creating their own personalized culinary experience.
  • Reduced waiting time: Multiple stations mean guests can spread out and move around the space, rather than waiting for plated service or in a long buffet line.


  • Space: Dinner stations require sufficient space for food displays, cooking equipment and serving areas, which may impact your reception layout.
  • Logistics: Stations require careful planning and coordination to ensure guest flow, food refills and adequate staffing.
  • Cost considerations: This style of catering can call for more staff and equipment, along with extensive ingredient lists, which can lead to higher food costs.
Beautiful example of a plated dinner from Harvest Moon Catering

Plated Dinner Service


  • Elegant and formal: Plated dinners create a sophisticated atmosphere, ideal for traditional or upscale weddings.
  • Controlled portions: With plated dinners, portions are pre-determined, ensuring better control over food costs and reducing food waste.
  • Dietary accommodations: It is easier to accommodate specific dietary restrictions and preferences by offering pre-selected meal options.


  • Limited variety: Guests have a fixed choice from the pre-selected menu, which may not cater to everyone's preferences or dietary restrictions.
  • Longer service time: Plated dinners typically take longer to serve and clear, which can prolong the overall duration of the meal and delay toasts, cake cutting and dancing.
  • Less interaction: Plated dinners can reduce guest interaction since everyone is focused on their own meal.

In the end, your Charlottesville wedding catering style depends on your personal preferences, wedding theme, budget and the atmosphere you want to create. Another option to consider: Combining different styles, such as having a plated dinner for the main course and an appetizer and dessert buffet for more variety.

A Friend in the Industry

Working with Novela is like having a trusted friend — one with copious insider knowledge and industry connections — by your side every step of the way. We’ll match you with an expert wedding concierge to customize your wedding day plan, including venue and vendor recommendations, detailed pricing options, a high-level budget framework, and a customized checklist just for you.

Find your perfect Charlottesville venue, book all your vendors, and finance your wedding at 0% interest — all in one place. Novela is the first transactional one-and-done wedding planning company.

So, are you ready to start planning your dream wedding?

Our concierge team is here to help you every step of the way.