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Buffet vs. Family Style: Seasoned Caters Weigh In On Your Best Option

Picture Credits: Unica Party Rentals

When planning an event with food as the main touchpoint, choosing the right catering style is a pivotal decision that directly shapes your guests’ experience. 

After helping with hundreds of events (and as former caterers ourselves) we realized that someone needs to settle this debate: What’s better? Family-style food service or a buffet? 

To demystify the choice between buffet versus family-style catering, we turned to three top Bay Area caterers. 

If you need help making an informed decision that aligns with the vibe you are going for, the size of your event, and the budget, read on.

Nicole Kollock, Chef & Owner of Savory Pear

This boutique caterer is known for her simple, yet delicious creations using locally sourced, organic, and sustainable ingredients from family-owned farms. Her

Mediterranean-inspired cuisine blends California flair with global touches.

Chef Nicole typically recommends buffet-style catering, as it encourages guest interaction and mingling. 

However, she acknowledges that family style works well for smaller events (less than 30 guests), because it offers more intimate tableside interaction. The decision often depends on the size of the event, budget, and venue layout.

Chef Ryan and Cleodia Martinez, Midsummer Kitchen

Inspired by Cleodia’s nutrition studies, Midsummer Kitchen focuses on health, wellness, and plant-based eating.

For Midsummer Kitchen, the buffet style is the most popular. 

It is an economical option that clients like because it is a simple and fast way to serve guests and offers an array of choices. They often cater multicultural weddings and prefer buffet style to showcase the clients’ cultural dishes, allowing guests to explore and enjoy a variety of flavors.

For those who prioritize mingling and dancing, they suggest a buffet or circulating appetizers. For events focused on speeches or entertainment, a plated dinner fits best. 

Chef Aaron Plascencia, Taste Catering

This luxury catering company is a nationally certified women-owned business specializing in private, corporate, and wedding events. They’re best known for their meticulous, custom-crafted approach, and source only the freshest and highest quality ingredients from local growers with sustainable agricultural practices.

Chef Aaron prefers using buffet style for corporate events, because it offers an array of options that cater to dietary needs and encourage movement for team building. 

For more intimate events, like weddings, Che Aaron says family style creates a cozier atmosphere.

The Upshot? Here’s When You Want Buffet Style Catering

For larger events, these caterers recommend buffet style as they’re simpler, more cost-effective, and can provide lots of dietary options. 

Pros of Going Buffet: 

  • Encourages more guest mingling; requires less staff.

  • Economical and provides a variety of choices that can accommodate a wide range of dietary needs. Additionally, it simplifies the process by eliminating the need for guests to select meals in advance.

  • Provides guests with various options, catering to diverse tastes and dietary needs. It also encourages socializing and interaction among guests.

Cons of Going Buffet: 

  • It can be less accessible for guests with mobility issues.

  • It can be challenging for elderly guests to navigate. It is also a more informal setting than plated service, which might not align with every couple’s vision for their reception. 

  • It can lead to food waste and hygiene concerns due to shared utensils and serving dishes. Additionally, managing queues and maintaining food presentation pose challenges.

And Here’s When You Want Family Style Catering

If you’re looking for a more communal, intimate experience (and have elderly or mobility-challenged guests), family style is the recommended way to go.


  • Suitable for guests with mobility issues; provides a communal atmosphere.

  • Combines the pros of a buffet and plated formats. Guests can have a variety of food without having to stand in line. It also lends a friendly, family atmosphere. 

  • Cultivates a communal atmosphere and promotes interaction among guests. It also allows for controlled portions and reduces food waste compared to buffets.


  • Serving can be cumbersome due to heavy platters. Limits table décor space and may incur additional costs.

  • It might be uncomfortable for some guests, especially those seated with strangers. 

  • Guests may have fewer options than with buffets, and accommodating specific dietary needs can be challenging. Additionally, the service may be slower, and sufficient table space is needed to accommodate the serving dishes. Some guests don’t like passing dishes around.

Choosing Your Catering Style

Ultimately, what matters most when deciding between buffet and family-style catering comes down to the desired atmosphere and guest experience you want to create. 

Buffets are better suited for larger, more informal events. And family style is perfect for smaller events or when you care about building connections.

With a good understanding of your event details such as guest count, venue size, budget, and desired ambiance, you can choose a catering style that elevates your event and leaves a lasting impression on your guests.


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