Food Serving Styles
Food serving styles can be classified as Table Service and Buffet Service styles. There are variations within each of these depending upon your entertaining style. The Table Service is typically more formal and is for fewer people. The Buffet Service is a casual setting and great for larger gatherings. The number of guests is normally the leading factor in determining the serving style. However a small tea or cocktail party with just a few appetizers is a good opportunity for a friends and family buffet where the guests can serve themselves as the party progresses.
Table Service Style
A Table Service dinner can be individually served or can be family style. Individually served meals are full service where the host will serve each individual at a table a plate of food that is prepared (plated) in the kitchen prior to serving. The glass, silver and napkins are at the table prior to the guests being seated. This is the most formal type of serving and each person will be provided with the same meal and portions unless being catered when other options can be made available. The number of dinner guests is usually limited to 8 or less if entertaining in your home. This can also be called a restaurant style serving except the menu is more limited. At the end of each course, the host will also remove the plates prior to serving the next course.
FamilyTable Service style is where the hostess will serve the food with large serving bowls and platters of the entrées. The appetizers, salads, main course dishes and deserts are placed on the table where each individual can serve themselves. This Family style serving is great with children and some adults that may require a special menu.
Another variation is the French servicestyle where platters are brought to the table for show and then carved and portioned at table-side. The food is prepared at the table-side before being served to your guests. This method of serving is usually chosen when a catering service is used, for small crowds when plenty of time is available for the meal. This is an elegant and interesting way of preparing food. This can be limited to only the salads and desserts as a compromise. (see more on French Style Table Service)
Buffet Service Style
A Buffet Service is a self service serving style where the guests serve themselves. This style is a great method for feeding large numbers of people with minimal help. The dinner buffet is the most practical and congenial way in which to care for your guests. There can be many variations of the Buffet Service. It can be either country casual or semi formal. It provides a more relaxed method of dining and a more varied menu than a full service meal.
The entertaining buffet presentation of food can be placed on one or more tables close but away from the tables where the guests will be seated during dinner. The guests will go to the buffet tables and serve themselves from a variety of menu items. There are hot buffets and cold buffets. Cold buffets are typically salads and sandwiches. Also the backyard barbeque can be a Buffet Service. An entertaining dessert bar can be used for a afternoon gathering of friends.
The Buffet Service can have a staff where the guests bring their own plate along the buffet line and are given a portion from a server at one or more stations. An advantage of buffets is that guests have the ability to inspect food before selecting it and taking only the quantity needed. Since a buffet involves people serving themselves, it is less elegant than Table Service. Buffet Service is used anytime there are large gatherings, even at many formal wedding receptions.
So what serving style best accommodates your group? The primary reason for selecting one or the other is the number of guests but also the type of servings and the menu will also impact the decision. If the type of serving is a simple cocktail or tea party where the menu is very limited, a simple buffet is best, even for a small group. A formal dinner party table service can be great for entertaining a few friends.