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The hors d’oeuvres are but a happy memory at this point — because it’s time for the main course, the star of your special event cuisine. One of the best parts about the main course, or dinner, is the many options for service: plated, buffet, stations or family-style.

Dinner follows the first course, unless you’ve also selected an intermezzo. That means “interval” in Italian, and is generally something cool and icy, like sorbet, that cleanses the palate and preps it for the rest of the meal. It’s pretty yummy, too!

Photo by Laura Caporizzo Photography

Like any good meal, dinner consists of a protein (chicken, beef, fish, vegetarian or vegan) paired with a tasty sauce, a seasonal starch and a vegetable. Never fear: If your favorite isn’t necessarily seasonal, then know that your caterer can accommodate many year-round must-haves.

Photo by Pat Robinson Photography

No matter what style you choose, remember to inquire about your friends’ and family’s dietary restrictions. Always ask your guests so they may note this on your RSVP cards. Then, update your event manager so they can advise you on which guests can eat what, and which guests will get their own plate based on their allergy or restriction. There’s nothing better for a guest with dietary restrictions than to see they’ve been accommodated — making you the gracious host, too!

Let’s dig into the different ways to enjoy dinner:

Photo by Serena Star Photography

Plated Dinner

Simply stated, dinner is plated by the kitchen team and served to your guests by the wait staff. This type of service can be offered in different ways, but most choose the split entree option: you choose two proteins and a vegetarian entree, and list them on the RSVP card so your guests may choose their meal in advance. The other way to serve a plated dinner is a combination entree. With this option, you select two proteins to be served on one plate and everyone gets the same meal. You may also select a vegetarian entree so guests can RSVP for the combo or the veggie.Benefits: You know exactly who is getting what, making service efficient and a little quicker than the other options.

Photo by Isabel Espinoza Lip


Simply can’t choose among all the delicious dinners? Then choose a buffet! This is a selection of entrees, a starch and a vegetable set out in a display for guests to serve themselves. The number of entrees and sides will vary, depending on the type of event and your budget.Benefits: Variety is appealing and enables guests to compose their plates with their favorites.

Photo by Campli Photography

Food Stations

This is a fun way to display multiple, smaller-scale food options on several buffets. This is the ideal service style for anyone looking to incorporate a mix of cultural cuisines, or just looking to have a bit of fun with their food. You can keep it simple with a slider bar, a short plate station, and a mini-entree station, or go completely custom. What’s a short plate? It’s a small, pre-plated dish that the chef assembles at the station. It’s a little more food than an hors d’oeuvre plate, but leaves room to try more from other stations. Imagine grilled shrimp over Peruvian purple potato salad, drizzled with chili-lime vinaigrette. What’s a mini-entree? It’s just like a buffet, but the proteins are a little smaller to allow room for sampling other stations’ tasty goods.  Benefits: This is next-level variety to keep everyone happy. Plus, it’s fun to interact with the chef and staff who are preparing or serving at the stations.


Family-style is a personal buffet for the table. You select two proteins, a starch and a vegetable. As you would at home, your picks are displayed in vessels on the tables, including serving utensils. Your guests serve themselves at the table. Pro tip: The food vessels can be your centerpieces! Hoping for your own centerpieces? Just make them small so there’s room to pass the food around.Benefits: This serve-yourself option means your guests can enjoy what they prefer — including seconds! It’s got a homey feel to it, too.

Photo by Sweetwater Portraits

Our Team’s Top Picks:

Sampling what the menu has to offer is a real perk in event planning! Right now, our team’s top three main-course picks are sea bass with Moroccan compound butter, short ribs, and crab cakes. Risotto tops our team’s list as the starch of choice because it’s amazing and it’s easy to switch up for the seasons. For veggies, we always recommend staying in season to ensure the best flavors. 

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Robert Ryan Catering & Design plans and executes over 400 events each year, boasts a 5-star rating on WeddingWire and has received WeddingWire’s Couples’ Choice/Bride’s Choice Award seven years in a row. Learn more about Robert Ryan Catering & Design and tour our venues. Subscribe to our e-newsletter for exclusive offers, up-to-date news, and recipes from our executive chef.

Nina Malone

Featured photo by Lauren Fair Photography