Service Styles

Choosing the perfect service style for your event catering

There are several different ways in which food can be presented to guests at your event. Flexible catering means that there is simply no need anymore to choose between the two traditional options of a formal dinner served to seated guests or a buffet. We’ve put together this handy blog to help you weigh up the choices.

Seated Dinner

A meal served to guests sitting down at tables. This is the most formal option and usually consists of at least three courses followed-up with a round of hot drinks.

A seated dinner is great for large gatherings, as it allows you to manage a seating plan to stimulate conversations and keep everyone happy. This option is also perfect for events that involve a presentation, such as an awards ceremony; as everyone is sitting comfortably in time for the show - usually at the end of the meal.

Your menu is likely to be quite conventional, to appeal to the majority of guests, and your caterer will be keen to recommend food that won’t go soggy or cold before it reaches tables. You will be required to provide guest numbers and dietary requirements in advance of the event, enabling your caterer to order ingredients and estimate costs fairly accurately. This means you can choose food to match your budget, often making this a very budget-friendly choice.

Food Stations / Buffet

Guests collect food from a long table laid out with your menu options, or from strategically located ‘stations’. Sometimes these are combined, with food stations recharged throughout the event, to keep hunger at bay until the main meal is available from the buffet. (Food stations can be a good way to prevent a long queue at your buffet table).

These options can be presented in a very stylish and sophisticated way, with catering staff on hand to serve food to your guests; whilst a more informal feel is achieved through letting guests help themselves. Ideal for those who want their guests to mingle, this serving style is good for business networking meetings, more relaxed (or predominantly outdoor) weddings or events hosted in more intimate venues that cannot cater for a seated dinner.

Food stations and buffets also allow for the introduction of some very bespoke elements or the presentation of a theme. Costs depend almost entirely on the food you choose, and bear in mind that guests are likely to return for seconds. It’s also necessary to consider some strategically placed seats and providing food that is easy to eat whilst standing.

Seated Self-Serve

Guests are seated at tables and served large platters or bowls from which they help themselves. This is a fun way to get your guests chatting as they serve food for each-other; it usually feels less formal and more homely than a traditional seated dinner.

Keep table decor and centrepieces very simple to create space for guests to chat and pass food around. Keep to a basic menu, delivering 2 different main dishes to cater for dietary requirements, a large salad or vegetable bowl and a carbohydrate side dish (such as potatoes or rice).

This is a nice half-way option that affords some control over costs, because you are regulating portion sizes; you might ask your caterer to refill platters once, but no more than that. There is less time and effort spent serving food, whilst this choice also lets guests choose what they want to eat.

Standing Reception

Guests stand to receive food and drink served on platters by catering staff who circulate around the room. Ideal for business networking or smaller, briefer gatherings in more intimate settings; this style often looks incredibly sophisticated and can carry off a theme beautifully.

Often this catering element forms part of a larger event - offered whilst guests arrive at a venue and before they are seated to eat a formal, seated dinner or to watch a show or presentation, for example.

We recommend serving at least six appetisers for a two-hour reception, or nine for a more relaxed soiree. You may augment your served platters with a food station but anything you serve must be small, bite-sized and easy to eat with fingers or skewers. Ditch anything too large and messy.

If cost and time are major concerns in your event planning then this is the style for you; it is typically the most budget-friendly and the least stressful choice. Because of its short duration, costs on venue hire, food, drinks and staffing are all reduced - which may even give you some spare budget to offer your guests a free bar.

Primary Influences 

The time that your event takes place: Do you need to feed your guests a substantial meal or just fuel them for a few hours?

Your venue: Are you indoors or outside, do you have space to seat all of your guests for dinner? Any of the above options can be dressed-up and made incredibly formal, but ensure your venue can deliver.

Your guest list: Older guests will need a place to sit, whilst younger ones will need entertainment and distraction to get through a lengthy, seated dinner in a well-behaved manner. A large guest list may make a buffet challenging - you will need to prevent a long queue of hungry people.

Personal preference: It’s your event! Your venue and caterer should be able to work with your preferred service style to create a memorable, special and unique event.

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