Table service refers to the varied ways in which food is presented and served at the table and the objects utilised at the table such as dishes, glasses, plates, silverware and table linens.
The style chosen can directly influence the ambience and tone of the event therefore it is key to get it right. Yes, if you are trying to impress business contacts silver service will do that however, if you are meeting the potential in-laws for the first time it could appear a little stuffy and over the top.
Plus, as every service style has its own distinctive style and is quite unique it’s never a bad idea to be clear of the nuances of each.
American table service
Today this is a commonly used table service and is characterised by the food being prepared and plated in the kitchen and brought to you at the table by serving staff. This is the most common type of service in restaurants the world over as it allows a lot of people to be served quickly.
If it is a more formal style, it can be presented to you under a plate cover or cloche however, you will always have your portion size decided for you and should be served from your right side.
Silver table service
Probably the most well-known and considered the most luxurious service, silver service is most certainly the one service where etiquette plays the greatest part.
It commands images of the finest dining linens and silverware, served by elegantly uniformed waiting staff with each course served in the proper bowls and plates and eaten with separate cutlery in a strict order.
With silver service, your food is served for you at the table individually from a large platter or dish using a fork and a spoon, which requires a lot of practice by the server.
There are many different rules, which need to be strictly followed, including:
Guests are served in a clockwise direction, starting with either the guest of honour or the host
Food is served from the left however, drinks and meals that have already been plated are served from the right
There is a specific set of crockery and cutlery for each course and you start from the outside and work inwards as you move through the courses
At the end of each course, crockery is cleared by the server from your right-hand side
French table service
French table service has two types of presenting food to guests. Originally, French service involved all the food being placed on the table at once with guests helping themselves and passing the dishes around the guests, very much as we often do when eating at home with family. This style is often referred to as ‘family style’ service.
In the more formal style of French service, a server presents a dish of food individually to each guest and the guest helps themselves onto their plate. Sometimes the food will be pre-cooked in the kitchen and finished off at the table in front of the guests. There are however some rules that need to be followed, including:
Guests are served from the left
Plates are cleared from the right
Female guests are always served first
Russian table service
Russian table service involves different styles depending on the Chef and Host. Often the food is prepared in the kitchen and then each course is brought to the table sequentially and carved and portioned by the waiter which the guest then helps themselves to.
However, sometimes the food is prepared and pre-cut in the kitchen and arranged on platters and is individually served to each guest at the table.
It is important and good practice to know the various styles of service, in case they arise. If you are working long term with a private employer, you will get used to the style of service they like and can adapt to their needs if they have dinner parties for example and would like a slightly more formal service style than usual.
If you are working for short/temp bookings, each principal will have a distinct way of how they like things to be done and will often tell you this before service in order for you to lay the table. You may have to adapt your style slightly depending on the space available on the table/layout of the room or what crockery/serving platters they have available.