Often the style of service will influence the types and varieties of foods the caterer can offer. For instance, foods that will be passed on trays by servers during an afternoon reception must be easy to handle. They also must be able to hold up well. Sauced items, which could drip, should not be served, but easy-to-eat finger foods would be appropriate.

Some additional service styles that can be used for a catered meal function are:

Reception Service

Light foods are served displayed buffet-style on a table. Guests usually stand and serve themselves. They normally do not sit down to eat. These type of events are sometimes referred to as a “walk and talk.” It is inappropriate to serve food that requires a knife or is difficult to eat while standing.

Butlered Hors d’ Oeuvres Service

Food is put on trays in the kitchen and passed by servers. Guests serve themselves, using cocktail napkins provided by the server. This is a typical style of service used for upscale receptions.

Buffet Service

Foods are arranged on tables. Guests usually move along the buffet line and serve themselves. When their plates are filled, guests take them to a dining table to eat. Servers usually provide beverage service at tableside.

Action Stations

Similar to a buffet. Chefs prepare and serve foods at the buffet (rather than in the kitchen). Foods that lend themselves well to action station service include wok stations, mashed potato bars, fajitas, pastas, grilled meats, omelets, crepes, sushi, flaming desserts and spinning salad bowls.

Cafeteria Service

Similar to a buffet, guests stand in line, but do not help themselves. They are served by chefs and/or servers from behind the buffet line.

Plated Service

Guests are seated. Foods are pre-portioned in the kitchen, arranged on plates and served by servers from the left. Beverages are served from the right.

Family-style Service

Guests are seated. Large serving platters and bowls are filled with foods in the kitchen and set on the dining tables by servers. Guests help themselves from a lazy Susan or they pass the foods to each other.

Service styles play an important role in the success of a catered event. Clients can choose those that may be less expensive, or can splurge with French or Russian service. Furthermore, some service styles (such as action stations) are very entertaining and can contribute significantly to guest satisfaction!

Which service is your favourite?

Happy planning!