The Alternatives to a Sit-Down, Plated Dinner

Social networking may change the way we eat at an event

In our ever-increasing social world, the traditional sit-down dinner may not offer enough opportunity for networking or chatting. Such opportunities existed perhaps during the cocktail hour. Guests either had to kow-tow to assigned seating or had to figure out where they wanted to spend a couple of hours seated at the table. We’re happy to report that there are more alternatives than ever to the staid sit-down, plated dinner—and guest satisfaction.

  • Staffed and unstaffed stations—A staffed station, such as a carving station, encourages interaction between guest and chef/server. A staffed station could also offer food cooked to order, which increases guest satisfaction. An unstaffed station tends to have shorter lines and invites second helpings.
  • Buffets—Buffets translate into multiple choices for a variety of palates. But for large events, buffets may also signal long queues. If social interaction is your goal, guests can meet and chat while waiting on a buffet line. If individual tables must wait before joining the line, that also provides an opportunity for more conversation at the table. And, for larger appetites, guests can return to the buffet for additional servings, not possible with a sit-down dinner.
  • Butler-passed appetizers and small plates—Sometimes a great conversation is already in progress when someone announces it’s time to move to the tables for a sit-down dinner. By including butler-passed choices, guests can move at their own pace and not worry about who’s at their table. In addition, small plates in hand allow guests to move more easily about the event floor to engage in more conversations with more people. This is now trending as a “standing dinner reception” as an alternative to a sit-down, plated meal.
  • Family style—While serving family style requires guests to sit down, passing food around the table invites sharing of conversation as well as serving dishes. If you prefer a more formal ambience, that can be easily accommodated by elegant menu choices and tableware.

None of these choices needs to be exclusive. Feel free to mix and match.

Considerations to bear in mind

Before choosing between these options, you should consider the following:

  • Duration of the event—A standing reception works best up to a maximum of two hours. After that, guests want to sit down.
  • Size of the event—Really large events may be best accommodated with a buffet where lines can form on both sides of serving dishes.
  • Need for a captive audience—Toasts, awards, and other speeches require the crowd’s attention. It’s best if guests are seated.
  • Your budget—Choices with less staff involvement or choices with fewer options may be better for your wallet. Work with your caterer to understand your options and costs.