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Bringing Back Buffets

Almost two years after the first lockdown, buffets are finally making a return to weddings both big and small.

As concerns about the coronavirus increased in early 2020, group gatherings and group dining were nixed to keep people safe. Then, even as weddings began taking place once more, buffets remained a no-go. We simply weren’t sure how safe they truly were.

But informal diners rejoice: the buffet is back and, with it, a few important changes. Here’s what you need to know about hosting a buffet service at your wedding.

Buffets are Flexible, But Can Be Inefficient

Buffets are much-loved in the wedding industry for their flexibility.

Couples that don’t want, or can’t afford, full-service catering have for years opted for a buffet style service to give their guests the freedom to make up their own plates on their own schedules.

This flexibility makes dining feel more informal, which can contribute to a relaxed, joyous atmosphere not always present at sit-down receptions.

However, this flexibility can come at the expense of efficiency.

Typically, tables or groups are called up in regular intervals to allow each guest the opportunity to serve themselves at the buffet and return to their seat. But this can easily create hiccups. Namely, guests are slower to amble up to the buffet and serve themselves than professional caterers are bringing prepared plates to guests.

This can lead to long wait times for those guests served last. And, despite the best efforts of the most noble chafing dishes, this can mean guests may find themselves picking through chilly leftovers by the time everyone else has been served.

Buffets Can Rival Catering Costs

It’s a common misconception that buffets are always cheaper than plated, sit-down catering costs.

Because plated catering involves more staff to circulate and collect plates, drinks, and appies, people assume that the cost of the overall service will be higher than a buffet.

But that’s not always the case—especially after COVID-19.

Buffets require caterers to prepare more food than plated dinners. When you host a plated dinner, guests RSVP and indicate which entree they’d like. This means caterers can prepare exactly the right amount of food, leading to little or no waste.

At buffets, guests are able to eat as much as they’d like. Some guests may opt to eat more than they would have if a plate were simply brought out to them. To make sure all guests get fed, caterers have to overcompensate. This increases the cost of the food production and creates waste.

And now, after COVID-19, new safety measures have been implemented to prevent the spread of any virus through the buffet. From extra supervisory staff to plexi barriers, all of these measures can have an associated cost.

When considering a buffet option for budgetary reasons, be sure to compare with quotes from plated caterers. You might be surprised how comparable the cost can be.

New Buffet Safety Guidelines

The new safety guidelines that come standard with buffet dining probably should have been standard all along and we’re glad to see these changes become widespread. Better late than never!

The first biggest change is the presence of supervisory staff. A senior member of your catering staff, typically a chef, will be assigned to supervise the buffet as guests serve themselves. This chef is present to monitor the behaviour of guests to ensure the food remains safe to eat (we don’t want any accidental sneezes contaminating the salad!).

This chef is also present to advise about any allergens in the dishes, and to monitor the amount of time each dish spends out at the buffet. If a dish spends too much time in the chafing dish, it may not be safe to eat anymore; the chef will ensure all food served to your guests is safe and delicious.

You’ll also notice the presence of protective equipment, like masks, gloves, and plexiglass barriers at your buffet service. These are all intended to prevent contamination of the food and to decrease the likelihood that someone could transmit a sickness through the food.

These pieces of protective equipment can be unsightly, but they’re important. If you don’t like the appearance of the plexi screens, consider hiring a full service plated caterer instead.

Managing Buffet Logistics

Also bear in mind that a buffet will require you to arrange your space in a specific way. You’ll need stations to set out plates, cutlery, and extra napkins; these stations will need to be manned and regularly refreshed.

You’ll also need to prioritize the flow of guests from their tables to the buffet and back so as to avoid any traffic jams or confusion about the direction of travel.

These are very manageable challenges but, if you have a specific layout in mind for your reception, be sure to think carefully about the amount of space you’ll need to successfully execute a buffet style dinner.

While there is a good deal of planning required, buffets can be an excellent way to feed your guests on your big day.

This informal, flexible, totally personalized style of dining encourages guests to chat with one another as they queue for food, to eat only what they’d like, and to feel included by the familiar atmosphere such dining conjures. That’s a recipe for a joyous reception if we’ve ever heard one!

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