Dinner Party Serving Styles

January, 2012 · By Coryanne Ettiene

My first dinner party was a feast of pasta, garlic bread and wine in a tiny London flat that hardly had space for a kitchen table, let alone 4 adults trying to enjoy a dignified evening. My husband cooked (because frankly, that was not really my thing when we were first married) and I served the wine (because that has always been my thing).   I remember telling everyone in my office I was having people around for dinner, in many ways it was my coming of age, my ceremonial right of passage into being a wife and I was beaming with pride as I skipped home to play hostess.  Looking back at the simplicity of the night, I cringe at how underprepared I was:  not a flower in sight, the cutlery was mismatched, the kitchen was cramped, and little to no planning was involved.  Despite my shortcomings, the night was a success, and gave me the confidence to enter the crazy world of playing host.  Since that first evening, I have hosted casual, formal and somewhat outrageous parties….all tailored to the guests, the event and the occasion.  The trick with planning a dinner party is knowing what your serving style will be and planning the night around it.

Your dinner party décor sets the stage for your evening, but your serving style sets the tone from for a formal or relaxed dining experience.  Defining your serving style when planning your décor and menu will bring all the elements of your dinner party together to create the perfect meal. From the relaxed buffet style dinner where dishes and decor are simple, to the formal restaurant style meal where every last detail is carefully planned out, there are serving styles to fit every dining experience and location.  Before planning your next dinner party, consider the following serving styles before you send out your invitations.

Photo Courtesy of Valley & Co.

Formal Serving Styles:  Best suited for the multiple course dinner party where opulence, attention to detail and elaborate cuisine is involved.  When hosting a formal dinner party, bring out your best china, and make friends with your butcher – this is not the time for experimenting with new culinary masterpieces or taking shortcuts with inexpensive cocktails.  A formal service should be well rehearsed and is often paired with formal place settings, centrepieces and carefully planned seating in the dining room, the restaurant style where each plate is served individually at each course makes your guest feel valued and pampered.  The formal serving style ensures that food and hosting skills are the focal point of the evening, and allows the host to play a large part in how the evening unfolds, if your hosting and culinary skills are still young, be sure to have plenty of signature cocktails on hand to make up for any mishaps that may arise.

Relaxed Serving Styles:  When inviting family and friends over for an evening of relaxed entertaining, where conversation is the focal point and food a close second, the family style service is ideal.  A family style service is a time for testing out new culinary dishes, creating a fun eclectic table setting and offering a dinner service where serving platters are on the table that allow guests to pass dishes and dish up their own dinner keeps the focus on the conversation. To keep the mood relaxing, the family style service is best located in the dining room or kitchen table, with simple table décor combined with unassigned seating.  Unlike the more formal restaurant serving style, this serving style allows you to experiment, and is always more forgiving to the reluctant host.

Casual Serving Styles:  For any affair where socializing is the priority and food only an aspect of the evening, the casual nature of the buffet service ensures that your guests can linger over conversations as long as they wish without interfering with the dinner service.  The buffet service allows you to let your hair down, offer a free standing bar service where everyone can play bartender and where your guests can eat at their leisure, sit where they please and enjoy the evening at their pace makes this the most relaxed of the serving styles.  Perfect for the new host or someone who is still defining their culinary talent, shortcuts and mishaps always go unnoticed with a buffet service so there is little room for stress and plenty of room for fun.


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