There’s a lot to be said for plated menus … no queuing at buffet counters, and the food is beautifully presented just the way the chef envisaged. Between courses is a good time to have your speeches, ensuring the evening flows according to your timetable. It’s also a more formal dining option, harking back to an age of grace and elegance. However, it should be said that this is by no means the only option.
FINGER FOOD vs CANAPE
Finger food is designed to be just that – eaten with your fingers. Your guests won’t need a knife, fork, spoon or chopsticks. Finger foods often include miniature pies and burgers, spring rolls, petit, sandwiches, little pizzas or skewers, arancini, tarts etc. They’re generally fairly filling items, often around two to three bites, ensuring your guests feel like they’ve eaten rather than just nibbled.
If dinner and dessert aren’t being served, you could include ice cream cones, small pastries, cookies or other sweet items to be served in the last 45 minutes of your event. This also helps to signal the winding down of your event – as does turning the lights up, music off and opening the front door.
Canapés are usually more refined than finger foods, smaller and more formal. Traditionally served on a toasted bread base, there are a huge range of bases that can be substituted – rice cracker, rosti, cucumber rounds or wonton crisp. However, it is a single delicate bite where you can let your imagination run free. Use a small shot glass for soup sips, a Chinese spoon for a petit duck salad or a rosemary sprig to skewer prawns.
Because canapés are generally created as one-bite morsels, it’s very easy for guests to indulge while still holding their glass of bubbly and a napkin. Your canapé dishes could include little tartlets, delicate cigars, savoury cones, blinis, or a host of bite sized delicacies!
BOWL – CARTON – FORK FOOD
Bowl food is not just soup. Commonly described in the industry as walk‘n-talk food, these dishes can be served in bowls, baskets or boxes. The dishes themselves are obviously more filling – they’re mini meals – and guests will usually need some sort of utensil to eat them with, although something like fish and chips can be nibbled using the fingers.
Your bowl food dishes could include a salad, pasta or noodle options, soup or gazpacho, risotto or a variety of seafood dishes. You can either individually portion these dishes as we would or, for ease of service, salads can be served on a large platter for guests to help themselves or a hot wet dish like curry or tagine can be placed on low setting in a slow cooker for self service.
A simple way to fill up later in the evening is a carvery station. This can consist of a glazed ham, a roast sirloin or leg of lamb kept warm in a very low oven, then carved and served with warm rolls, salad fillings, accompaniments and chutneys. To compliment the carvery, we often serve small salad cartons for the vegetarians, gluten free guests or those wanting a lighter option.
For a more formal level of guest service, plated dinners are a natural choice. You endeavour to create a pop-up restaurant where a full meal is served in courses to seated guests. The meal may consist of a set menu where the guests are served any number of courses pre-chosen by the host, or the host could offer their guests a limited choice of dishes per course. Offering variety to guests can slow down the service slightly as the waiters will need to take the orders and the chefs will need time for plating the dishes. However, this does allow for speeches or other formalities of the evening to take place between courses, if desired.
An alternative is to have an Entrée Trio to start. This is a tasting plate of three small choices of entrée, offering your guests a visual sensation and a variety of tastes while removing the need to take orders.
Plated events generally increase costs over the cost of a buffet event due to additional staffing requirements for on-site meal plating and for service to all of your guests at the same time.
When catering for larger numbers, the old adage of ‘less is more’ is worth bearing in mind. A well-planned buffet is more appetising than lots and lots of different contrasting flavours and foods. Think about flavour combinations and avoid clashes, as people often pile a little bit of everything onto their plates.
The standard buffet generally includes a compound salad, a hot vegetable dish, a starch and up to three main dishes, with condiments and dressings. A bread selection can either be served at the buffet table or on each individual table. A selection of desserts may either be served at a separate station or served once the mains have been cleared.
At a wedding the top table would be served at their table followed by each table being invited to the buffet in a pre determined order (generally family first followed by the remaining tables).
One alternative is to have themed buffet stations, which is a full meal where menu items are served in various areas of your venue at several tables in a buffet style. Often, each station has a specific theme. This can be so much fun, as the station themes are endless! Stations can also be combined, with a Chef to prepare items to order.
This type of menu style often allows guests to enjoy a wider sampling of menu items compared to a standard buffet. Your guests are also likely to circulate more, often leading to a talk / mingle atmosphere.
INDIVIDUAL TABLE BUFFETS
Individual table buffets are fast becoming a favourite. Guests are served central platters that generally consist of two mains, a salad and a vegetable dish, placed in the centre of each table.
This is a more formal style than a buffet, as guests are not required to stand and move to a get their meal. It is a very interactive form of dining and helps break the ice, promote conversation amongst guests who may be unfamiliar with each other as the platters are passed around the table.
Desserts can either be served in the same central platter style or on a dessert station if you would like your guests to stand and mingle at this stage of the evening.
This is a more cost effective option as fewer staff members are required than a would be for a plated meal, and the meal is easier to portion per table.