How to Choose a Serving Style for Your Next Gathering

As you are preparing to host a gathering, whether it’s a lavish holiday soirée or a casual cocktail party, one of the first steps of planning is to determine how you want to serve your guests. Ways of serving vary so we always recommend determining your preferred serving style in the beginning stages of planning as this will allow the rest of the process to unfold seamlessly.  


We’re going to dive into three different serving styles – Family Style, Plated, and Buffet. The serving style you choose will largely be determined by the type of gathering you are hosting. Choosing a serving style and planning the flow of your gathering will ensure a memorable evening for your guests. As you begin to envision your gathering, first ask yourself a few questions to decide which type of event you are hosting.  

  1. Is this going to be a more casual setting or formal?

  2. Large gathering or intimate?

  3. Inside or outside?

After you’ve answered these and determined your type of gathering, the serving style will be simple to choose as it will be the one that best suits your preferred gathering.   


3 Types of Serving Styles 

  • Family Style  

  • Plated  

  • Buffet

Family Style

One of the most common types of serving is family style as it invites an inclusive atmosphere at the dinner table where guests can gather and enjoy a shared meal. The perk of this style of serving is that it typically involves less preparation. A Family Style gathering includes arranging a few serving platters of food and allowing guests to pass each dish and build their plate all while remaining at the dinner table. This is one of our personal favorite ways to gather as it invites everyone to linger a bit longer around the table and simply enjoy the company over a shared meal. 

Gatherings to Serve Family Style: 

  • Birthday Dinners 

  • Thanksgiving  

  • Family Dinner 


For a more elevated approach to serving, we recommend serving a Plated gathering for your next formal celebration. This serving style is perfect for hosting a sit-down dinner where guests will be taken care of. This can also be a good serving style if you plan to hire caterers for your event. Often the caterers will include additional help for plating and serving each guest. This takes the pressure off you as the host and allows for a more relaxed atmosphere where you can be attentive to your guests rather than serving the meal.  

If you are planning to serve guests yourself, make sure they are occupied while waiting for their plates to arrive. Arrange appetizers on the table for small bites and have bottles of wine readily available as well. Tip - one of our personal favorite shops for selecting unique wines is Spiro Wines. A family friend owns this boutique shop, and we love getting their recommendations for our gatherings and dinner parties.

Gatherings to Serve Plated Style: 

  • Rehearsal Dinners  

  • Intimate Gatherings  

  • Christmas Gathering


The perfect serving style for casual gatherings and larger events is Buffet Style. This type of serving allows for guests to serve themselves from an assembly line of dishes and creates a more casual dining experience. Buffets are a great way to serve a larger gathering as you can invite guests to bring a dish if that suits your type of gathering.

Gatherings to Serve Buffet Style: 

  • Office Potlucks  

  • Holiday Parties 

  • Parties with a Large Guest List 



Whether you prefer a more formal plated gathering or you are simply looking to host a casual family-style event, each serving style can be altered to fit your gathering. Determining your serving style is just one of the decisions to make when entertaining – check out our ultimate guide to entertaining for more entertaining tips and tricks. 

Take our cue and find your preferred serving style and spend more time celebrating and less time worrying. 


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