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Table and Buffet Serving Styles

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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.

Family Table 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 service style 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. 

By Jen Morgan, Entertaining  Consultant

Other related articles:  Entertaining Style   Cooking for a Crowd

There are 6 comments
February 16, 2009 - 04:41
Subject: i love it

hi guys i read your topic .i really lyke the buffet serving style...

January 16, 2009 - 08:41


December 01, 2008 - 15:19


November 03, 2008 - 23:44

wat a nice buffet...

September 10, 2008 - 02:00
Subject: hi

hello 2 all I really like your style in serving the food...it makes me have an idea how to manage the style in the table....

mary angela clouds
June 25, 2008 - 05:53

i've read your topics about Table and Buffet Serving Styles..,, i like it..,,

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