Choosing a service format is one of the most important decisions to be made in preparing for your event. Decide on the one that would complement your vision best. Here is a quick guide to help you envision each:
Food is set-up in long tables for guests to either serve themselves or by an attendant. A typical selection would include a salad, two entrees and one or two sides. You can, of course, choose to offer more. If set up correctly and in a good guest-to-buffet-table ratio, service can be completed in 30 minutes or less. To keep organized, the Catering Captain, Event Coordinator or DJ may help call each table when it’s their turn.
2. Sit-Down (Plated)
In a sit-down format, food is brought out by servers to each guest course by course. A simple setting would include a first course, the main entree, and then dessert. For more formal events, multiple courses may be served. If offering more than one type of dish, you will have to collect responses from guests to submit to the caterer. Others also choose to serve a “duo,” hitting two birds with one stone by offering two main dishes on one plate (ex. a Surf and Turf or a Chicken and Veggie dish). This would eliminate having to collect responses. Common pitfalls for sit-down meals would be 1) not having enough waitstaff which would cause slow service, and 2) the inevitable fickle guest who will want to switch choices on the spot. Make sure to check with your caterer on how many extra plates they will be preparing to cover this, and what their guest-to-server ratio is. At your tasting, mind the serving size as well.
3. Family Style
In this format, salads, entrees and sides are brought out in platters for the table to share. Lending a very “Tuscan” or “Rustic” charm, this setting gives off a very casual and laid-back vibe. A typical selection would be to offer a salad, two or three entrees, and one to three sides. There is absolutely no way of calculating how many portions guests would be consuming, so having a good plan for extras is crucial in making sure everyone is happily fed.
Stations are a fun way to liven up your event. From Chef-manned action stations to international themed corners, the flexibility of stations work very well for groups who enjoy mingling and the experience of possibly having plenty of small portions throughout the night (think Tapas-style).
5. Appetizer/Cocktail Party
A growing trend is throwing cocktail parties with heavy appetizers. These heavy appetizers may either be passed by servers or displayed in buffet stations. A typical selection that would replace a meal would be to have anywhere from 6-12 selections which depend on the time of day and length of your party. Pair with offering a full bar or a signature drink to personalize and encourage mingling.