What’s the difference between a finger buffet and a fork buffet?

After the venue, food is probably the biggest consideration for couples planning their wedding. When you’re perusing the brochure pages of wedding venues and catering companies, it can quickly get overwhelming! There are so many options, from a sit down meal to a finger buffet or a fork buffet… What do these actually mean?

Well, luckily for you, we have read hundreds of menus, and we’re going to explain some of the differences for you.

The difference between the two lies mainly in the level of service and type of food offered at your reception, and the manner in which guests are expected to receive and consume it.

Finger Buffets

Firstly, let us look at the more well-known of the two, finger buffets. It’s highly likely that you have come across one of these at some point in your life! This type of catering is one that most couples leave for the evening celebrations, after the earlier formal sit-down meal. They usually serve a finger buffet to feed the late-arriving evening guests, and some of the peckish all-day guests too. Largely depending on what time the main reception meal finishes, finger buffets are usually set up between 7 and 10pm.

Finger buffets are informal meals, especially in comparison to a three course meal. They are set up either on a heated table, hotplate or sometimes an unheated surface for guests to help themselves. They most often consist of bite-size, often quick-to-make snack-type foods, for example spring rolls, sandwiches, bacon baps, chips and salads.

Finger buffets are especially common if there are no tables to eat at, for example if there is a dancefloor. Instead, guests will come and help themselves and then mingle with their plates of food.

Fork Buffets

Somewhere between the formality of a three-course spread and a casual finger buffet sits the fork buffet. Although it may sound like the latter but with cutlery, in fact it’s more of a mix of the two. (And, yes, you certainly can use cutlery for a finger buffet.)

Generally, fork buffets include more experienced cooking and one particular style of cuisine. They can be used in place of a three course meal, but could also suit a more formal evening reception. Often, they are served as the main feature of the wedding reception, enjoyed in a formal, sit-down manner.

A variety of main courses and side dishes presented attractively, often in chafing pans, on hotplates or a table. Fork buffets usually feature fewer individual items than finger buffets, but guests can nevertheless mix and match their dishes.

One table at a time, guests are invited up to fill a plate which they collect at the buffet itself. Fork buffets are most often manned with serving staff to assist in serving or to carve meat.

Which one should you choose?

Now that you understand the difference, you can decide which one you want. A buffet of any description gives your guests more choice over what they eat, which can solve many dietary issues. Of course, be careful with cross contamination if someone has an allergy (therefore a served fork buffet might be better). Also, our advice is to always overestimate the vegetarians attending; a meat-eater can pile their plate with all kinds of food, and want to make sure there’s enough veggie food to go around.

People cost money to hire, so the fewer servers you need, the cheaper your meal is likely to be. A sit-down meal will be the most expensive option, with a fork buffet cheaper and a finger buffet the cheapest. Although, do remember that finger buffets are often served after something more substantial.

Take a look at the rest of your wedding. If you have splashed out on the venue, decorations and bridal party outfits, a small buffet is going to look tacky. Remember that your guests have likely paid a lot to attend, including clothes, transport and accommodation. However, if everything is low-key then a buffet may fit your situation perfectly.

A buffet allows for a lot of flexibility, both in terms of variety of food and quantity. But, in terms of service offered, the ease of pre-ordered dishes being delivered to your guests’ tables may win out. Take all of this into consideration when you book your caterers.

If you want to look at even more examples of food to serve at your wedding, we’ve got your back. Check out our article about the wedding breakfast, with four different styles of dining.

Types of food to expect

Of course, a lot of caterers will have an idea of what they can serve – hot, cold, or sweet – at a buffet. However, while we’re on the subject we thought we would get your taste buds tingling! If you fancy any of these ideas, try to find a caterer who will work with you to create a bespoke meal.

Hey Pesto Catering

Finger Buffet

  • Cheese and Chive Scones with Red Onion Confit and Cream Cheese
  • Homemade Chicken and Chorizo Rolls
  • Lemon and Thyme Chicken
  • Mixed Crudité Platter with Red Pepper Hummus and Blue Cheese Dips
  • Selection of Baby Jacket Potatoes (Cheese and Chive; Mascarpone and Chorizo; Pulled Pork; Goats Cheese and Red Pepper)

Fork Buffet

  • Dressed Whole Salmon with Fresh Herbs, Lemon & Cucumber
  • Black Peppercorn and Smoked Garlic Roasted Topside of Beef
  • Derbyshire Turkey Crown with Fresh Cranberry Relish
  • Paprika, Thyme and Lemon Roasted Pork Loin
  • Cajun Chicken Thighs and Breasts
Joshua’s Catering

Finger Buffet

  • A selection of traditional sandwiches
  • Breaded Cajun Chicken Fillets
  • Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wraps
  • Sunblush tomato Roulade
  • Mushroom, Garlic and Cheese Puff Pastry Rolls

Fork Buffet

  • Dressed Salmon with Prawns and Citrus Mayonnaise
  • Roasted Vegetable Tart
  • Tuscan Tomato and Fennel Salad
  • Red Cabbage and Wholegrain Mustard Coleslaw
  • Spicy Puy Lentils with Beetroot, Broad Beans and Watercress
Strawberry Field Catering

Finger Buffet

  • Salmon Fishcake with Lime Tartar Dip
  • Field Mushrooms stuffed with stilton and Garlic Butter
  • Tiny Pizzas
  • Tandoori Chicken with Tzatziki
  • Spiced Prawn Blinis
  • Tiny Chocolate Éclairs
  • Banana & Pecan Loaf

Fork Buffet

  • Thai Chicken with Coriander and Lemon
  • Pink Topside of Beef Roasted with Horseradish Cream
  • Lightly Curried Smoked Haddock and Mushroom Tarte
  • Artichoke Heart and slow Roast Tomatoes with Parmesan and Thyme
  • Mango, Red Chilli and Butternut Squash Salad
  • Tomato, Red Onion and Balsamic Homemade Crunchy Coleslaw
  • Hot New Potatoes with Herb Butter
  • Swordfish Steak with Jerk Dressing
  • Marinated Sirloin Steak
  • Greek Skewered Aubergine with Feta

So there we have it! The differences between finger and fork buffets lie in their respective formality, and more subtle distinctions in the manner in which they are served. Dig in!

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