June 12, 2019
By Felicia Asiedu

When planning an event, there are numerous bases to be covered. You will need to think about ways to maximise ROI, decide on what event technology to use, and, of course, choose what refreshments to offer your attendees. Food and beverage is usually the largest cost component of your overall budget and a critical factor in determining the success of your event. If the food is great, this will certainly be at the back of the mind of the attendees the next time they receive an invite from you. Which brings us to another vital aspect of the event – the service style.

Often the style of service will influence the types and varieties of foods the caterer can offer. For instance, food passed on trays by servers during an afternoon reception must be easy to handle. They must also be able to hold up well. Sauced items, which could drip, should not be served, but easy-to-eat finger foods would be appropriate. Remembering all the rules of food service whilst simultaneously figuring out which catering style best suits your event might seem like a daunting task – this list is here to help you out with these concerns.

Keep reading to discover the 10 most effective service styles to increase attendee satisfaction and make your event as drool-worthy as possible.


1. Reception Service

Light food is served buffet-style on a table. Guests usually stand and serve themselves. They normally do not sit down to eat. These events are sometimes referred to as ‘walk and talk’. The food served should be ‘finger food’ and/or ‘fork food’. It is inappropriate to serve anything that requires a knife or is difficult to eat while standing.

2. Butlered Hors d’ Oeuvres Service

Food is carried around on trays by servers. Guests serve themselves, using cocktail napkins provided by the server. This is a typical style of service used for upscale receptions. This style of service is only appropriate for ‘finger food’.

3. 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. A very elegant buffet would have servers carry guests’ plates to their tables for them.

4. 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 mashed potato bars, fajitas, pastas, grilled meats, omelettes, crepes, sushi, flaming desserts and spinning salad bowls. These stations are sometimes called ‘performance stations’ or ‘exhibition cooking’.

5. Cafeteria Service

This is also similar to a buffet, but the guests do not help themselves; instead, they are served by chefs and/or servers from behind the buffet line. This is an efficient way to control portion sizes. Sometimes the inexpensive items, such as salads, will be self-service, and the expensive meat items will be served by an attendant.


6. Plated Buffet Service

Selection of pre-plated foods, such as entrees, sandwich plates and salad plates, are set on a buffet table. They may also be placed on a roll-in (i.e., rolling cart or table) and then moved into the function room at the designated time. Because of individual plates, trays are usually used. This is a particularly good idea for groups who want to continue working while they eat.

7. Family-style (English) Service

Guests are seated. Large serving platters and bowls are filled with food from the kitchen and set on the dining tables by servers. Guests help themselves from a Lazy Susan or they pass the food to each other. Occasionally, a host might carve the meat.

8. Pre-set Service

Food that is already on the dining tables when guests are seated. Since pre-set food will be on the tables for a few minutes before they are consumed, you must pre-set only those that will retain sanitary and culinary qualities at room temperatures. Common examples of this include bread and butter, but often the appetiser will be pre-set as well. For lunches with a limited time frame, occasionally salad and dessert will be pre-set.

9. Hand Service

Guests are seated. There is one server for every two guests and all guests at a table are served at precisely the same time. Servers wear white gloves. Foods are pre-plated and the plates are fitted with dome covers. Each server carries two servings from the kitchen and stands behind the two guests assigned to them. At the direction of the captain or maitre d’ hotel, all servings are set in front of all guests, and their dome covers are removed, at precisely the same time. This procedure may be followed for all courses. This is a very elegant style of service that is sometimes used for small gourmet meal functions. This style is sometimes called ‘service in concert’ or ‘synchronised service’.


10. The Wave

This is a ‘quick and dirty’ method of serving where all servers start at one end of the function room and work straight across to the other end. Servers are not assigned workstations. In effect, all servers are on one team and the entire function room is the team’s workstation. The wave is typically used in conjunction with plated and pre-set service styles. Large numbers of guests can be served very quickly, usually using less labour. It does not provide individualised service for attendees.

Service styles play an important role in the success of a catered event. Clients can opt for more budget-friendly options or go all-out with French or Russian service. Furthermore, some service styles such as action stations are very entertaining and can contribute significantly to guest satisfaction. For variety, consider mixing different service styles during a single meal function. For instance, you might begin with a reception service for appetisers, move into the banquet room where the tables are pre-set with salads, rolls, and butter, use French service for the soup course, use Russian service for the entrée, and end the meal with a dessert buffet.

Find Restaurants and Venues for your next group dining event, private party or business lunch in Europe and worldwide on the Cvent Supplier Network.


Felicia Asiedu

An experienced CIM qualified marketing professional, Felicia is the European Marketing Manager at Cvent and has nearly 15 years’ sales and marketing experience in fast-moving technology businesses. She's responsible for the strategic direction of the marketing team in Europe, including expansion planning, campaign execution, demand generation and event management. Before joining Cvent, Felicia held multiple marketing and business development positions with technology providers including Rackspace, Telecity Group (now Equinix), Infinity Data Centres and Merrill Corporation (now Datasite). Having had a healthy appetite for events for many years, she also has experience in planning and hosting both corporate and private events as well as speaking at both live and virtual events.
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