What type of food service is best for your next event?

Wondering what style of food service is best for your next event? Here is an overview of the options that are offered by most venues, caterers and restaurants hosting events.


Alternate service is when guests are served alternate meals around the table, usually with two different options per course. This can be either for a full two or three course meal or sometimes just for the main course.
It’s best suited for weddings, staff Christmas parties and large gala dinners (including awards nights or fundraising events), as it provides choice while still being more formal than a buffet.

*Interested to learn more? Check out our entertaining review of alternate service trends here.


A traditional buffet is set up in a way that guests file past large bowls or bain-maries of hot and cold food and guests either help themselves or someone behind the station will serve up the food. Some venues and caterers are doing a great job at styling buffets so they don’t look so ‘mess-hall’, but there is definitely a time and place for this style of service, including working lunches, conferences, corporate hospitality and casual BBQs.


While the traditional buffet is not exactly trendy, the table buffet is fast becoming the most popular way of serving a meal at weddings, intimate corporate events or staff parties. 
Essentially this is a menu which is served on large platters in the middle of the table and guests help themselves. Also known as ‘family service’, it provides an intimate environment where guests can enjoy the pleasure of sharing a meal together – like a family. 
Picture a Mediterranean terrace, covered in bougainvilleas, sipping carafes of wines and sharing gorgeous platters of meat, salads and bread with your closest friends, family or colleagues… no wonder it’s trending!


A set menu is where one option is served per course to each guest. This is a plated meal, which is placed in front of each guest. Unless you have notified someone of your dietary requirements before arriving at the event this will be what you will be eating. 
Set menus allow service to be quick and are perfect for corporate lunches or business events where guests are not expected to linger over their meal.


A la carte is when you are handed a menu at the table and you are asked to notify a waiter of your selection.  Your meal is then whisked out to you in a timely manner. While traditional in restaurants, this style of service is rare at events. However, if you are willing to pay some extra cash, or your event is a small gathering or held at a restaurant, this is a lovely service to offer your guests. We all love choice.
Note: The reason it costs more for events is because the Kitchen has to prepare almost enough dishes of each of the options available. Unlike a restaurant, caterers and venues will often have difficulty using the leftover food for this style of service, hence the cost is increased to accommodate the food wastage. 


This is where guests mingle while food and drinks are tray served around to them by wait staff. 
Perfect for events where you want people to circulate among themselves such as networking events, staff Christmas parties and, now more and more often, at weddings. Unlike the earlier options which all involved sitting at a table, stand up service allows guests to be more social and work the room.


Food stations are best served in conjunction with a cocktail service and are ideal for long cocktail events such as weddings and staff Christmas parties. Food stations are like a buffet in the sense that guests make their way to where the food is laid out, but the food is usually bite sized, which guests pick up with their fingers and walk away with.
For events that are purely standing, ensure you have a few canapés circulating the room as well as the station/s. This will assist with the flow of service. 
A dessert station is always a big hit following a plated meal, as it allows guests to move around the room and socialise following the formalities. It also creates a visual attraction and will often get your guests talking.

Header image: Milton Gan (featuring ARIA Catering).