Checklist: Selecting food and serving style


Picking the right food service for your event

When your event includes food, how you serve guests is just as important as what you serve them. Service style can impact your guests’ satisfaction with their meal and can also help you achieve your event objectives. Here are 3 common service styles you will encounter, and our recommendation on when to use them:

1. Cocktail style

Light or finger food is served buffet-style and guests help themselves while they mingle. This works when you only have standing room, or your budget doesn’t allow for a full meal. Trays of canapés and the more substantial small bowls are served by roving waiters while guests circulate.

Hot tips:

  • Have snacks available from the get-go to relieve your guests from having to drink on an empty stomach.
  • Ensure that there are sufficient napkins available for your guests to wipe their hands.
  • Provide ample cocktail tables so that guests hands are not occupied for long with plates and glasses; this can make networking rather awkward.

2.Buffet style

This works when you have a sit-down function and you can break up the formalities of the programme with the meal times.

Guests help themselves to food and drinks from a buffet table.  As an alternative to a self-service buffet, servers assist in helping guests to their food or, kicking it up a notch, food stations artfully display interactive build-your-own dishes or feature chefs preparing food. The latter is far more interesting and engaging for guests.

Hot tips:

  • Consider setting your buffet up in a way that provides easy access from more than one direction. If this is not possible, consider having more than one buffet table to avoid a bottleneck.
  • Label all dishes so that guests know what they are eating without having to find a waiter or chef to explain

3. Plated luncheon or dinner

This is more suited to an upmarket or black-tie affair, and where your budget is not restrictive. Typically, a the menu consists of three or more plated courses served by waiters.  Guests may be given a choice of two to three options per course which they select at the time they RSVP for your event, along with indicating any dietary restrictions.

Gala dinners can vary from moderately formal to very formal, serving up to six courses and following silver service or fine dining etiquette.   Here are examples of the relevant table setting for an informal and formal plated dinner:

Informal table setting                                                     Formal table setting


Hot tips:

  • Ensure that the waiting staff are both experienced and fully briefed in the appropriate serving etiquette at your informal or formal dinner. A blanket example – the clearing of plates should be done after everyone at the table has finished eating, to ensure that guests do not feel rushed.
  • Waiters should know the details of what is on every plate. Being able to answer all your guests questions makes them feel at ease.


Once you have selected your service style, and before you select a catering supplier and set the menu for your next event, take into consideration that some of your guests may have certain food restrictions and allergies. The last thing you want on the day of your event is for your any of your guest’s most basic needs not to be met because they cannot eat the food – especially if a plated meal is served.

Here are 9 common restrictions that you may encounter:

Vegetarian: Vegetarians do not eat meat, poultry or fish. (A pescatarian will eat fish.)

Vegan: Vegans do not eat any animal products, so dairy and eggs dishes are off limits as well as any dish set with animal-derived gelatin.

Nut allergy: Nut allergy is one of the most common and dangerous allergies and must be noted and catered for very carefully.

Lactose intolerance: For lactose intolerant guests dairy products are off-limits.

Diabetic: Diabetics have to limit their sugar intact.  Fruit juice and fizzy drinks are off-limits, and so are high sugar content desserts.

Celiac: Celiacs are gluten intolerant.  Wheat, barley, rye and oats are off-limits.

Kosher: Observant Jews will abstain from eating pork and shellfish, and kosher meat is butchered and prepared in a certain manner.  Some kosher guests will refrain from eating dairy and meat at the same meal.  A specialist caterer is advised for kosher meals.

Halal: Observant Muslims will abstain from eating pork or meat that has not been prepared and blessed in a certain manner, and alcohol is off-limits. A specialist caterer is advised for halal meals.

Hindu: Hindu diets vary regionally from strict vegetarians to those that avoid beef, and some who do not eat vegetables such as onions, garlic and mushrooms.  A vegetarian menu should typically cater well for your Hindu guests. During certain religious periods, eggs are also off the list for Hindu guests.