Planning Your Event: Food Service Style

One aspect of planning an event that you may not think about is the style of food service you want your caterer to use. The food service style is an important part of how your event will flow, so it’s essential that you pick the right service style for what you envision. Here at Thornager’s, we have four main options: a traditional buffet, a station buffet, a plated meal, and family style service.

Traditional Buffet Food Service Style
Traditional Buffet

What is a traditional buffet?

A traditional buffet is made up of one long table with plates at one end, followed by all the food items. At dinnertime, your guests will go through the buffet line together.

What are the benefits of choosing it?

Your guests will have the option to choose the portion size they would like, and will be able to sample all of the food offered. We always carefully garnish and choose serving pieces appropriate to the decor style of the event or the season. A traditional buffet is the most cost-effective choice of food service. If you want the biggest variety of food for a reasonable price, this may be the style for you.


What is a station buffet?

Station Buffet Food Service Style
Asian Stir-Fry Station

A station buffet is made up of three to four different, smaller buffet tables that are situated in various locations. They can open either in sequence or all at once. Usually, the different tables will have different food options with decor to match. One might have a Mac’n’Cheese bar, and guests can top their mac with anything from bacon and bleu cheese to sautéed mushrooms and onions. Another might be a Salad-tini station, where the “salad-tender” mixes up custom salads for each guest.

What are the benefits of choosing it?

Station buffets are a great choice if you want to emphasize the social aspect of your event. Having the various, smaller buffets facilitates movement, thus helping guests to interact with each other more. It is a more relaxed dinnertime atmosphere than a traditional buffet. If you like to offer lots of food options and want to encourage your guests to socialize during dinner, this may be the choice for you.


Plated Meal Food Service Style
Plated Dessert

What is a plated meal?

A plated meal is the most formal food service style, and the most similar to restaurant-style food service. Each guest will receive an individual plate of salad, followed by an individual plate for their dinner, delivered straight to their seat. Each table usually receives a communal bread basket. A plated meal does involve some extra work for the host, as each seat must have an indicator of what that guest will be having–i.e., you will need place cards if you choose this service style.

What are the benefits of choosing it?

A plated meal is, as we said above, the most formal service style. It allows guests to stay in their seats and socialize at the table, without having to get up to fetch their food. It also lets you give your guests the choice of their entree beforehand. If you prefer to have a more formal event, this may be the choice for you.

What is family style service?

Family Style Food Service Style
Roasted Potatoes, Family Style

When you choose family style, each table will get platters of all the food items. Guests will have plates at their seat, so they can serve themselves off of the platters. At Thornager’s, we usually do the salad as a separate first course.

What are the benefits of choosing it?

Family style service, like a plated meal, allows your guests to stay at their table and socialize as a group, rather than going to a buffet for their food. The extra benefit of family style service is that guests can freely help themselves to seconds; with a plated meal, they only get the one plate of food. If you prefer the formality of a plated meal but want your guests to help themselves to seconds, this may be the choice for you.



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