Catering Tips & Serving Styles - Woodmans Restaurant Essex MA

Catering an event or having an event catered can be complex with so many different styles of catering to choose from. Check out these easy and fun catering tips that will help you with your next event.

John Maher:  Hi. I am John Maher. Today I am here with Curt Fougere, a fourth generation Woodman and Kristi Swett, a fifth generation Woodman. Today we are talking about catering serving styles. Curt and Kristi, welcome.

Kristi Swett:  Hi, John.

Curt Fougere:  How are you doing?

Catering Serving Styles

John:  Good. Curt, what are the different catering serving styles?

Curt:  There are a few different styles mainly you are going to have — either a full service style, or you could have a buffet style serving, or you could have a stations type of serving.

Full Service Catering

John:  Let us just define each one of those. I think of a full service as being a sit‑down meal. Is that what you mean by that?

Curt:  Exactly, yes. A full service would be you are sitting down at the table. You have a waiter or waitress who is going to be bringing you the food and clearing your plates for you, taking care of you, similar to being at a restaurant with a waitress.

John:  You might have different courses. They might bring out at salad and then clear that, bring you dinner and then clear that and then they bring desert and clear that.

Curt:  Exactly. Normally that’s the way it will go. You start off with an appetizer, then maybe move on to a salad, then the main meal and then desert, possibly coffee or water being served at the tables also.

Buffet Style Catering

John:  Then buffet, what is that style?

Curt:  Buffet style is basically where your caterers are going to be set up at a table. They will be presenting the food to you and you will be walking up and gathering the food from the caterers at their stations.

John:  It is usually a long table where they have some hot things which might have heating plates or that sort of thing.

Curt:  Exactly.

John:  There could be some bowls of cold food as well. Is it normally somebody standing behind the table and serving food to the people or do they serve it themselves?

Curt:  It goes both ways, depending on what type of food you have. Like the lobsters for example, somebody would normally be cutting those lobsters so that they are easy to get into for you, and then placing them on a plate.

Depending on how the line service goes and the number of people that are there, the food may be on a plate for you to just pick up or they may be actually presenting the food. You may be carrying a plate and they would be putting the food on the plate for you.

Buffet Vs. Stations

John:  What is the difference between that and stations?

Curt:  Stations would be separated. In a buffet line you would walk down and make it to your chowder, or your steamers and your mussels or whatever is being presented.

While in stations you are going to go to different sections that have one table which may be presenting an appetizer or there may be a salad bar. You could have a different pasta bar or it could be a meat station with vegetable. Then there could be a dessert station at the end. Each course would be set up individually at a table.

Full Service Pros and Cons

John:  Right. Kristi, let’s talk about the pros and cons of each one of those serving styles. What are some pros and cons of a full‑service or sit‑down meal?

Kristi:  A full‑service or sit‑down meal really keeps the parties, I want to say, kind of stagnant. People are sitting. There is not a lot of intermingling other than the people you are at your table with. You don’t really get the chance to get up and socialize with the rest of the party.

John:  I was just at a wedding this past weekend and we had a full‑service meal. You’re right. I don’t think I sat up from my table the entire time dinner was being served.

Kristi:  Yes, depending on the size of the group and how many servers you have, sometimes it could take a little bit longer. Instead of having to spread the room out, you are working in teams, so it could take longer to get through the courses, where at different meals you are going at your own pace.

John:  What would be the advantage of having a full service meal? Sometimes people just like that. It’s a little bit more elegant.

Kristi:  It is definitely more formal. Depending on the kind of crowd you have, sometimes that is what they know and what they expect. If you throw something different at them they might not know what to do. They will follow the leaders. So it would end up being less formal for them and just different.

Buffet Pros and Cons

John:  What about a buffet? What are the advantages or the disadvantages of that?

Kristi:  A buffet is great if you are trying to serve a lot of people in a short amount of time. It’s one place for them to go and they get everything they want at once. They get what they need.

Sometimes there is buffet in courses but that is kind of like a station but not really. It just gives them a little bit more options.

John:  That is because it would be one course at a time. Like, “Everybody come up and pick up your appetizers and then go sit down and eat those. Then come on up and pick your main course in a dish and then go sit down and eat those.” Is it that kind of thing?

Kristi:  Right. It is still the caterer dictating what food is being served and at what time. This is what you have to eat and these are your options.

John:  When people are going to a buffet table, I sometimes think of there being a long line. Is that a disadvantage of having a buffet that you could potentially end up with? If everybody in the whole room gets up and goes to the buffet table at the same time, then you end up standing there, waiting for your turn.

Kristi:  Yes, what we do is, depending on the size of the group, we might set up two buffets, so that they would mirror each other. So that everyone does not have to go through the same line. We would break it up so that it is half and half.

Say you have 80 people going to one table and 80 people going to another, rather than everyone trying to access the same table at the same time.

John:  Probably it would be a good idea to make that as an announcement — “Everybody, the buffet tables are open. You can go to either one. They are the same food at each.”

Kristi:  Absolutely.

Stations Pros and Cons

John:  What about the stations that Curt was taking about. What is an advantage of having stations?

Kristi:  Stations is like a buffet, like Curt said. But it is more broken up. It’s something that…the food can be offered for a longer portion at a time. People have the flexibility to go and enjoy the food that they would like to have at that time.

They could start off with their chowder if they wanted or they could start off with a hamburger or hotdog. It really lets the guests choose the food they are eating when it’s out and available.

John:  Some people like to have their salad before their meal, while other people like to have it at the end. With stations they can do that as they choose. They can go get their salad first if they want or wait till last.

Kristi:  Right, absolutely. It helps to break down that line that you think of on a buffet. Because there are so many options for the guest to go to, they are separating naturally.

John:  What are some typical examples of stations that people might have?

Kristi:  You could definitely do a raw bar station. We have a build‑your‑own macaroni and cheese station, chicken wing bar and a carving station. It is really endless, even when you think of desserts.

You can have a candy station so that you can make your own candy bags up. Then you could have cookies and brownies someplace else. It helps spread the party out.

John:  What about menu planning? Is that dictated by the service type? Do you have to stick to a certain menu if you are having a full service meal and stick to a different type of menu if you’re having a buffet?

Kristi:  It is definitely something you want to keep in mind. Not all menu items are conducive to either/or service. If you are doing more of a station menu you think of people standing up and socializing, so you want to have foods that are a little bit easier to eat. You can always have tables and chairs there for your guests as well.

When you are planning a full sit‑down meal you need to think of a crowd friendly in each course. You would never want your guest not having an option to eat in the first course and feel like they are waiting, waiting and waiting for some type of food that they enjoy to come out.

John:  So make sure that each course either is something that everybody can eat or at least most people have an option for?

Kristi:  Right, absolutely.

John:  All right. Great. That is excellent information. Kristi and Curt, thanks very much for speaking with me.

Kristi:  Thank you, John.

Curt:  Thank you.

John:  For more information about catering visit the Woodman’s website at or call 978‑768‑2559.

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