Wedding Catering- Stations vs. Full Table service

Stations vs Full Table Service

Everybody loves food. In this podcast, Maureen Woodman of the Essex Room talks not only about the different forms of wedding catering her venue offers, but also teaches you how to decipher which option is best for you.

John: Hi I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Maureen Woodman, wedding planner and coordinator for on and off-site catered events at The Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. Today we’re talking about wedding catering station versus full table service. Welcome, Maureen.

Maureen: Hi John, thanks for having me.

The difference between stations and full table service?

John: Sure. So Maureen, explain what a full table service means at a wedding.

Maureen: Full table service for us at the Essex Room would truly be everything is dropped in front of you. You would come in, you would have your soup or your salad, you would have that cleared. Your bread and your bottle would be on the table. You would have your main course, the girls would drop that to your table, your dessert, your coffee. Everything would come to you.

John: Like courses, one thing after the next thing?

Maureen: Correct, even your hors d’oeuvres. The girls would be passing the hors d’oeuvres as opposed to going up to a cheese and crackers station.

John: Okay, explain then what stations are and how that differs.

Maureen: With the station, everything is placed out on one or two eight-foot buffet tables, usually decorated very pretty, all different heights and all different things. More food to choose from, things that give you more variety. For example, you may have a slider bar with five or six different- pork and fish and beef. You might have a pasta station that has three or four different sauces on it or two or three different kinds of pasta. If you were sitting down you would get just fettuccine. If you were going to a station you might have a fettuccine, you may have a ziti with a marinara, you may have a pesto sauce on a tortellini.

Do people still use buffets?

John: Okay, do some weddings still use the old traditional buffet style where you’d have all of the food at one long table or is that just gone now?

Maureen: I would say that buffet is completely gone. I think at the Essex Room we may use buffet something either at a celebration of life or a breakfast but really never see it at a wedding. I think it’s notorious for having lines and I think a lot of people at weddings cannot tolerate lines. I think the least amount of tolerance is at weddings when there’s a line. Whether it’s at the bar, whether it’s at the restroom, whether to the food table, whether it’s meeting the bride, people just don’t like lines at weddings. Where it’s way more tolerated at breakfast events or seminars or celebrations of life.

John: Right, I guess maybe because people really want to spend their time with each other and enjoying themselves and talking to each other and things like that- and they just don’t want to waste the little time that they have by spending it standing in line.

Maureen: Exactly, at bad networking you can hang out in line in a good social event you don’t want to miss the people.

Which option is best?

John: Do you prefer stations or full table service and why?

Maureen: Myself, again both my daughters are married now I did full service for both of them. I love to be waited on, I love to be waited on my whole life. I don’t want to get up and down even if we went to something with stations I would make my husband get his and mine and bring it to me. I’m all dressed up, my nails are done I don’t want to drop the food on me. I don’t know it’s not my thing. I also don’t like mixing food. I like food that goes together, and I think a lot of time on stations it’s too much and I have a tendency to put it all my plate even though I’m not going to eat it, and I really don’t like when my food touches. I think a lot of people are like that.

John: Right, you always picture kids they don’t want their peas to touch their carrots or their mashed potatoes or something like that.

Maureen: Exactly, I don’t want to see brown gravy running into marinara sauce.

John: Like you said, maybe you have a slider and then you have pasta too, maybe that’s an odd combination that if you had had a plate that was served to you over your dinner you wouldn’t put a slider and pasta together but somehow that’s acceptable with the stations.

Maureen: I think in this day and age of food crazy. People are such foodies now I think it’s all because of the Food Network and everything. The tendency of the 30-year-old is the more the better. They like it, they like it when their food touches and it’s all there then they leave it anyway. They waste everything. They’re not quite as portion controlled, I don’t think as we are. I always think if you eat too much at dinner you won’t dance as much because you’ll be too full. It’s different, it’s probably just really a matter of opinion for myself, but I still think most mother of the brides like to be starved because they’re exhausted by the time it comes to that point.

John: Right. If you did want stations what are maybe some of the appealing things about stations. The pros- the reasons why you’d do that?

Maureen: The biggest thing is variety. You can put out, for example, you could have a raw bar and on the raw bar, you could put multiple kinds of shellfish. You can have oysters and little necks and crab claws and lobster tails and shrimp cocktail. You can also put many kinds of sauces as opposed to just a cocktail sauce. You can do a minuet sauce, you can have a horse radish cream, you can have a remoulade with your shrimp.

It gives you way more space to do way more variety. Also, with the main course, the main protein you can put out a fish, you can put out a beef, you can put out a turkey. You could do some pork chops if you wanted to or lamb chops. You have a carving station- still carving station I think a lot of people that’s appealing to them. I think if you have chicken you can offer two or three different kinds of sauces. You can have a piccata and a masala, as opposed to maybe a chicken parmesan or something-which all those are very friendly when you have a lot of people, people like that.

I think that’s really the thing is- when you can’t make your mind up, what you’re going to give a hundred and fifty people, you have a tendency to go to stations because you can offer a variety and you feel like everyone will be happy or pleased.

John: Everyone will get something that they like.

Maureen: Yes.

John: Do you think that also with stations- it maybe encourages people to get up and walk around the room and intermingle a little bit with each other and be more social?

Maureen: One thing I like is station on edges. I like stations for the appetizers, sit down for the salad and the dinner, and then station for dessert.

That way you get up, you sit down, you get up. You’re not getting up, sitting down, getting up, sitting down. You get to sit in the middle, but you get to walk around in the beginning and the end in case you’ve got a bad seating arrangement and you want to get off that table.

 John: Kind of best of both worlds.

Maureen: I think so, and you can control your stations. You don’t have to offer so much stuff. You can do a nice station with two proteins, two vegetable, and two starch or just one starch. You don’t have to offer as many sauces. I think another myth that people don’t realize, full service is really less expensive for the venue because on a station you have to do more food because you don’t know which thing they’re going to pick.

If I have a hundred and fifty on a sit down, I’m only going to do a hundred fifty dinners where if I have a hundred and fifty on a station I’m probably going do a hundred and seventy-five of the entree choice because I don’t know which ones are going to pick and I don’t want to run out. Also, you could take two which some people do.

John: Right, some people go back for seconds.

Maureen: Yes.

John: Right, and so you have to account for that.

Maureen: Yes.

John: All right, that’s really great information and advice, Maureen. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Maureen: Thanks John. Thanks for having me.

John: For more information, you can visit the Essex Room website at or call 978-768-7335.