When you plan an event, there are many things to consider.
One that you may not have even thought about is the style of service you would like your caterer to use. This isn’t as simple as plated dinner versus buffet, it can affect the way your party flows.
Let’s start by talking about all the different styles of service that are popular today.
Cocktail or Butler Service
Butler service is when the wait staff circulates through the event with trays of hors d’oeuvres. This is perfect for a cocktail party or a shorter event. You can also have a few unattended stations such as fruit and cheese or charcuterie where your guests may gather.
This type of service allows your catering staff to control how much of what is served. For example, you may include a very high-end hors d’oeuvre like caviar on toast points but also something more cost effective like Spanakopita. Since your caterer will control the flow of trays coming out of the kitchen, they can send them out at a ratio of say, 2-1 or 3-1. This allows you to impress without breaking the bank.
This style of service encourages your guests to mix and mingle.
Food as entertainment! This style lends itself to a wide range of events from brunch to after parties. Stations can be a mix of both chef-attended and unattended stations.
Unattended stations can be anything from the aforementioned fruit and cheese to a raw bar overflowing with shrimp and oysters. Guests help themselves to the delicacies of their choice.
A chef attended station is food as entertainment. A stir-fry bar where guests select the ingredients as a uniformed chef cooks it to perfection is a good example. These are very popular with brunch events because of omelet bars or waffle bars.
If you want to encourage your guests to be up and active throughout your event this is a great choice.
This is what most people think of when they think of catered parties. Your guests are called by table to go through the buffet. They either help themselves or are served by staff.
It is widely believed that this is the most cost effective style of event. That may or may not be true. Yes, you will save on the labor cost because you will require less floor staff but you may spend more on food. Since portion control is left in the hands of the guests, caterers will prepare more food than they would if it was a plated meal. This can also result in a lot of waste, which must still be accounted for.
It differs from an event served station-style in that guests are expected to all be served more or less at once rather that at their leisure on and off through the course of the event.
Family style service is the new darling of the wedding crowd. More formal than a buffet in that your guests do not have to get up and go get their own food, but still less formal than a plated dinner.
Tables are served communal portions and guests then help themselves at the table. If you want your guests to interact and get to know each other on a casual level, this is a great way to go. By nature, your guests will have to interact as they pass serving dishes. With this style of service, you are going to need more room on your tables for the serving dishes. Something to consider (and tell your florist) when you start thinking about your centerpieces. Why not make them edible? You know, fabulous little nibbles while they wait for the main event.
Plated, Seated Service
The most formal of all styles of service, it is just what is sounds like. Waitstaff serve your guests beautifully plated courses. The timing and portions are controlled and your guests never have to leave their seats.
This style of service allows you as the host to most closely control your guest’s experience. For the most formal of occasions, a different wine is paired with each course and served just before that course is served.
On another note, if you have oohed and ahhed over some of the more beautifully appointed tables on Pinterest, this is the style of service that goes with it. Beautiful charger plates, an array of silverware and a dazzling display of wine and water glasses will grace each place setting.
Hosts and event planners today combine any and all of the above styles of service to craft the flow of an event, as well as the guest’s experience. Discuss with your caterer what you hope to achieve with your event and listen to their suggestions.