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Your Position: Home - Furniture - 13 Table Service Styles to Consider for Your Next Event - Cvent

13 Table Service Styles to Consider for Your Next Event - Cvent

Choosing what style of table service would best suit your next event can be overwhelming. Venues and caterers offer a smorgasbord of options. So how do you know what type of table service will fit both the food you intend to serve to guests and your overall event design?

You’ll no doubt be choosing menus based on foods most appropriate for the time of day your event is taking place, the experience you want your attendees to have, or the types of guests you’re hoping to attract. You’ll then need to decide how that food is going to be served.

Read on to discover the different types of table services, and how and when to use them in your events.

What is table service?

Table service refers to the many ways your guests can receive their food during your event. The options don’t all have to refer to seated guests around a table, either.

You may, for example, opt for a standing reception to allow guests to network and mingle as food and drink is tray served around to them by waiting staff.

Or, if you have larger numbers of attendees, you may decide to offer a broader variety of food by setting up different catering stations and allowing guests to queue up to receive their meal of choice.

You could, of course, combine table service styles. For instance, a dessert station is a popular option following a plated hand service as it allows your guests to leave their pre-assigned tables, move around the room and socialise after a more formal way of enjoying their first two courses.

Dessert stations also create a visual spectacle, which will encourage your guests to share this part of their dining experience on social media.

13 table service styles to consider for your events

1. Reception Service

Light food is served buffet-style on a table. Your guests will usually stand and serve themselves. They would normally not sit down to eat, choosing instead to stand at poser tables or circulate the room. It’s for this reason that the food you serve should be ‘finger food’ and/or ‘fork food’. It would be inappropriate to serve anything that requires a knife or is too difficult or messy to eat while standing.

2. Butlered Hors d’Oeuvres Service

Finger food and appetisers are carried around on trays by the waiting staff. Your reception guests will serve themselves, using cocktail napkins provided by the server. This is a typical style of service used for upscale receptions where the focus is on allowing your guests to mingle and network.

3. Buffet Service

Foods are arranged on tables. Your guests move along the buffet line and serve themselves. They then take their filled plates to a dining table to sit and eat. In this table service, drinks are usually brought and poured by servers at the tableside. A very elegant buffet would have servers carrying guests’ plates to their tables for them.

4. Action Stations

Instead of cooking food in the kitchen, chefs stand in designated areas to prepare and serve dishes to your waiting guests.

Foods that lend themselves well to action station service include mashed potato bars, fajitas, pasta, grilled meats, omelettes, crepes, sushi, flaming desserts and spinning salad bowls.

These stations are sometimes called ‘performance stations’ or ‘exhibition cooking’ as your guests can see their meals being cooked to their requested specifications.

5. Cafeteria Service

Here, your guests stand in line but don’t help themselves. Instead, they’re served by chefs or servers from behind the buffet table. 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

This style of table service includes a selection of pre-plated foods, such as entrées, sandwich plates, pasta and salad plates, either set on a buffet table or a rolling cart and then moved into your meeting or function room at the designated time.

The individual plates can be then served on trays. 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. Your guests would help themselves from a ‘Lazy Susan’ (a turntable placed under the bowl) or pass the food to each other. Occasionally, you may have a host carving the meat tableside.

8. Plated (American) Service

In this table service, your guests are seated and pre-plated foods are served by servers from the left. Beverages are served from the right, while used dishes and glasses are removed from the right. It’s a very functional, controllable and efficient format. Just make sure the food items are not plated too far in advance of serving, as they may lose culinary quality.

9. Pre-set Service

Some foods are already on the dining tables when your guests take their seats. Examples may include bread and butter, an appetiser, salad bowls or after-dinner chocolates.

Since pre-set food will be on the tables for a few minutes before they are consumed, you must pre-set only those items that will retain their culinary qualities such as flavour and texture at room temperature.

10. A La Carte Service

Normally associated with private dining-style events held in restaurants, your guests are handed a menu at the table and asked to notify a waiter of their selection.

Using this style of table service at events held in other types of venues can be expensive since your chefs will need to prepare enough dishes for each of the available options. You’ll also need a plan for what to do with any leftover food, such as donating it to a local charity or foodbank.

11. Set Menu Service

This is where one option is served per course to each of your guests. It’s a plated meal and allows for a much quicker service than A La Carte. You will, however, need to ensure you’ve asked all attendees for their dietary requirements and communicated specific allergies and preferences to the kitchen team.

12. Hand Service

Here, your guests are seated, the food is pre-plated, and the plates are fitted with dome covers. There is one server for every two of your guests, and all guests at a table are served at precisely the same time.

Servers wear white gloves. Each server carries two servings from the kitchen and stands behind the two guests assigned to them. At the direction of the captain or maître d’ hotel, 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 often used for smaller gourmet functions. This style of table service is sometimes called ‘service in concert’ or ‘synchronised service’.

13. The Wave

This is a rapid 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, using less labour. However, you won’t receive individualised service for your attendees.

Choose your table service style wisely

Table service styles play an important role in the success of a catered event. Some of the examples above can be very budget-friendly or designed to be more exclusive. Others, such as Action Stations, are incredibly entertaining and can contribute significantly to guest satisfaction and social media sharing.

When sourcing your next event venue via the Cvent Supplier Network, ask about the available table service options and how in-house catering teams can help you incorporate different service styles into your event design for maximum impact.

When planning a special event, one of the most crucial aspects to consider is the style of food service. The right choice can enhance the overall experience for your guests, while also making it easier to manage the event. In this article, we will explore the differences between plated service and buffet service, two popular options for catering events. We will delve into the advantages and disadvantages of each style, the factors to consider when choosing between them, and provide examples of when each is most suitable. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of both plated and buffet service, enabling you to make an informed decision for your next event.

Plated Service

What is Plated Service?

Plated service, also known as American Service, is a type of table service where guests remain at their seats while they dine. Each course is carefully prepared in the kitchen, and served directly to of the guests’ individual plates by the waiter. Sometimes people call it “sit down service,” However, “plated” is the proper term. 

Similar to Russian, French, English or Silver service; Plated Service is also a formal dining serviceIf. If you’re planning a formal event, such as a wedding reception, plated banquet service might be the way to go. The elegant presentation and personalized service style can add a touch of sophistication to your event. However, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons before deciding if plated service is right for your event. 

How is Plated Service executed?

  1. Guests take their seats at their assigned table. 
  2. The caterer serves a fixed number of courses, typically including a salad, 1 soup, 1 main course (chicken, fish, pork, etc), and dessert.
  3. Each course is prepared on individual plates and served to guests in a predefined sequence.
  4. Servers remove used plates and utensils before serving the next course.
  5. Guests remain seated throughout the meal, allowing them to focus on conversation and enjoy the dining experience.

Advantages of Plated Service

  • Personalized experience for guests: With plated service, every guest receives a well-presented meal at their seat, creating a more formal and intimate atmosphere. Aside from that, because plated service is served sequentially, the guests can take time in enjoying the food.
  • Portion control: Food is served fairly in fixed amount, you can make sure all guests are delighted, no need to worry about unbalanced portion
  • Elegant presentation: The preparation of food and garnish on individual plates enhances the visual appeal of the meal.
  • Less wait time for guests: Since everyone is served at their table, guests can mingle instead of lining up to get food.

Disadvantages of Plated Service

  • Limited food options: Unlike a la carte menu or buffet service, plated service limits the food choices available to guests.
  • More expensive than buffet service: this type of service costs more since it requires more staff and servers. 
  • Additional staff required: More staff are needed to serve and clear plates, which may not be feasible for some event budgets.
  • Longer wait time for food preparation: Each course must be individually plated and garnished, which can increase the time between courses.

Buffet Service

What is Buffet Service?

Buffet service is a type of service where guests walk up to a buffet table and serve themselves from a variety of dishes. This style of service is popular for events that leans toward a more casual and less formal celebration, such as informal wedding receptions or large gatherings. The freedom to choose from a variety of dishes and the opportunity to mingle with other guests can make buffet service a popular choice. However, it’s essential to consider the pros and cons of buffet service compared to plated service before making a decision.

How is Buffet Service executed?

  1. The caterer sets up a buffet table with a variety of dishes and garnishes.
  2. Guests walk up to the buffet table and serve themselves from the available dishes.
  3. Guests can return to the buffet table as many times as they like, allowing for greater flexibility in their meal choices.
  4. Catering staff may be present to assist with serving or replenish dishes as needed.

Advantages of Buffet Service

  • More food options: Unlike plated service, buffet service offers a wider variety of dishes for guests to choose from, making it more flexible to any guest especially to those who have dietary and health issues, thus making them happier.
  • Self-service allows guests to choose their own portions: Guests have the freedom to decide the amount of food they want on their tray.
  • Less expensive than plated service: Since fewer staff are required to serve guests, restaurant will spend less on buffet service compared with plated service.
  • Requires fewer staff: Buffet service typically requires fewer staff members for both food presentation and guest assistance.

Disadvantages of Buffet Service

  • Less personalized experience: Buffet service can feel less formal and intimate compared to plated service.
  • Possibility of food running out: One type of food may run out faster than the others, guests might not being able to get a taste of the food.
  • Longer wait time for guests: Guests may have to wait in line to access the buffet table, especially during peak serving times.
  • Potential for guests to overindulge: The unlimited access to food can tempt guests to eat more than they should.
  • Can be chaotic: Even disorders might happen sometimes. There will also be lots of noise when guests get off from their seats and form a long queue

Differences between Plated and Buffet Service

1. Service Style

  • Plated service: Guests remain seated at their table while each meal course is served by the catering staff.
  • Buffet service: Guests serve themselves from a buffet table, allowing for more freedom to choose their preferred dishes.

2. Presentation

  • Plated service: Each dish is carefully prepared and presented on individual plates, creating an elegant dining experience.
  • Buffet service: Dishes are arranged on a buffet table, typically in large serving platters, which may not have the same level of visual appeal as plated service.

3. Portion Control

  • Plated service: Caterers serve a fixed portion for each guest, ensuring consistent portion sizes and preventing food waste.
  • Buffet service: Guests decide their own portion sizes, which can lead to overindulgence or food waste.

4. Speed of Service

  • Plated service: With more staff and servers, guests don’t have to worry about waiting in line for food. However, the time between courses may be longer due to the need for individual plating.
  • Buffet service: Guests may experience long lines during peak serving times, but once they access the buffet table, they can quickly fill their plates and return to their seats.

5. Interaction with Guests

  • Plated service: The more formal atmosphere of plated service may encourage guests to engage in conversation while seated at their table.
  • Buffet service: The more casual setting of buffet service allows guests to mingle and interact with others as they move between the buffet table and their seats.

6. Customization

  • Plated service: Guests usually receive a complete set of meal courses with limited customization options, which may not suit those with specific dietary needs or preferences.
  • Buffet service: With a variety of dishes available, guests can create a customized meal that caters to their tastes and dietary requirements.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Plated Service or Buffet Service

1. Type of event

Consider the formality and atmosphere you want for your event. Plated service is more suitable for formal events, while buffet service caters well to casual, informal gatherings.

2. Number of guests

The number of attendees can influence your decision. Plated service may be more manageable for smaller events, while buffet service can efficiently accommodate larger guest counts.

3. Budget

Plated service typically requires more staff, including waiters and food attendants, which can increase costs. On the other hand, buffet service generally requires fewer staff members, making it a more budget-friendly option.

4. Style of the event

The overall theme and style of your event can help you identify the right service style. If you want a sophisticated, elegant atmosphere, plated service is an excellent choice. If you prefer a more relaxed and interactive setting, buffet service is ideal.

5. Venue space

Lastly, consider the available space at your event venue. Plated service requires less space, as guests don’t have to worry about long lines or moving between tables. Buffet service, however, needs adequate room for the buffet table and guests to move around comfortably.

By carefully evaluating these aspects, you can determine the best option for your event, ensuring a satisfying dining experience for all attendees. If you’re still unsure which service style is right for you, consult with your caterer or event planner to discuss the pros and cons of each option and make an informed decision.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the difference between plated service and buffet service?

Plated service is a type of food service wherein guests remain seated at their table and the food is served to them in individual plates. On the other hand, buffet service is a style of food service that involves guests lining up at a buffet table to get food.

2. When should I choose plated service over buffet service?

Choosing between plated service or buffet depends on your preference and the type of event you will have. Both styles have pros and cons. Plated service is perfect for formal events, such as a wedding reception, where guests can have a more elegant dining experience. Meanwhile, buffet service is ideal for a more casual setting where guests can mingle and choose the food they want to eat.

3. Which is right for my wedding – plated service or buffet service?

Deciding on the types of service to use for your wedding depends on several factors, including your budget, the size of your guest list, and the venue you have. If you have a large number of guests and a spacious venue, you may opt for a buffet-style service to save on costs. However, if you want to have a more formal and elegant wedding reception, a plated service may be more suitable.

4. Can I have both plated service and buffet service for my wedding?

A combination of plated service and buffet can also work for your wedding catering. You can opt for plated service for your main meal course and have a buffet for desserts. This way, guests can take a break from their seats and mingle while getting their desserts.

5. What does plated service require?

A plated service requires more staff and food preparation as each dish needs to be plated and garnished before it is served to the guests. 

Using An Online Ordering System For Your Restaurant

Menubly is a comprehensive online ordering system designed specifically for food service businesses. It offers an interactive menu that customers can use to place orders for dine-in, pickup, or delivery. It also comes with a QR code menu which allows your customers to scan to access your menu. This system allows customers to get their food quickly and conveniently, reducing waiting time and improving the overall customer experience. The ability to easily serve dishes to customers, whether they’re enjoying their meal on-site or on-the-go, opens up new ways to make your restaurant more profitable and customer-friendly.

Unlike third-party delivery services like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and GrubHub; Menubly doesn’t take a commission from your sales. This allows you to retain more of your profits, which is crucial for small businesses.

Moreover, an online ordering system like Menubly can simplify operations. It can reduce the chances of order errors, speed up service, and free up your staff to focus on preparing those famous dishes that make your restaurant stand out.


With all the comparison we’ve mentioned above for both service styles, it’s up to you to decide how you want the dining experience to be. Consider factors such as the type of event, guest count, budget, event style, and available venue space, which can affect which type of service you should choose for your event. By carefully evaluating these factors and consulting with your caterer or event planner, you can select the right service style to ensure a memorable and enjoyable dining experience for all attendees.

13 Table Service Styles to Consider for Your Next Event - Cvent

Difference between Plated Service and Buffet Service





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