All about the Service Styles in Hospitality

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Every hospitality establishment has a specific service style. This is based on a number of characteristics each business has and it’s important for every customer to know in advance what to expect when choosing to visit the specific establishment.

It is also important for every business owner to specify the service style their business will follow as this will indicate the number of employees, their skill levels, training required, different staff positions and labour intensity.

It is also critical for deciding the right layout of the internal sitting area, equipment required at all stations and sections, and all the Health & Safety considerations that have to be implemented.

The service styles are divided in four main categories: Formal Dining, Casual Dining, Carvery – Buffet Dining and Quick Service Dining.  


Formal Dining

Formal Dining has a number of characteristics which distinguish it from the rest of the service styles, which can be considered as informal.

Firstly, the dress-code is quite formal and there are usually restrictions to the customers regarding what clothing is accepted in such a place (trainers, jeans, t-shirts, etc. are not allowed).

Secondly, the customers don’t handle the serving plates, don’t pass any dishes and all the food is served from the kitchen, only by the waiting on staff.

There are multiple courses of food and drinks and no serving dishes or utensils are supposed to be placed on the customers table. The main characteristic of this service style is that it follows specific protocols and etiquette at all times.

It is divided in two main categories:

Silver Service

In the Silver Service the food is served at the table and is transferred from a serving dish to the customer’s plate from their left side, by a waiter/waitress using service forks and spoons.  It is also known as service à l’anglaise (“English Service”).

Main characteristics of this service style is that all the food is always served from the left, but the drinks and any plated meals from the right side. No food is plated in the kitchen as it is served from platters into the customer’s plate.

The first person to be served is the one to the host’s right side and then the service continues clockwise. When the table requires clearing, the plates must be cleared from the right and the glasses from the right, always starting with the guest to the host’s right, like when the service started.

A La Carte

In this formal dining type of service, every food and drink item is ordered individually and they are not a part of a larger meal or a course of dishes.

Everything is served separately and it is completely opposite from fixed menus like the Table d’Hote menu and the Prix Fixe. All the menu items are priced individually, tending to be slightly more expensive compared to any fixed menu offers.

The customers also have the freedom to coordinate with their waiter/waitress when they want each a la carte dish to reach their table.


Casual Dining

This service style is based on fun, comfortable, laid-back dining atmosphere and affordably priced menu. It is one of the most popular service styles in the hospitality industry.

It is divided in the following categories:

Table service

This has characteristics similar to the A La Carte service but in the informal version. The atmosphere is casual, laid back, there is no specific protocol and no strict dress code restrictions.

The customers order their food at the table after seated and are served by the waiting on staff when their order is ready, usually on different stages.

The payment takes place after they have finished with whole experience and this usually takes place at their table. It is the most common service style used in restaurants and cafes.

Bar Service

The customer orders food and drinks at the bar. They also pay at the same time of their order. The order in then served to their table by the waiting on staff. A basic example is the service that takes place in Pubs.

Room Service

This is usually part of a hotel service, where the customer orders food from their room to the reception by calling them. Then, the order is served to the customer’s hotel room.


Carvery / Buffet Dining

Buffet dining is basically a self-service style; the food is arranged in big platters on a large table and the customers are served from there.

Carvery dining is a buffet style service which includes different types of cooked meat which is sliced to order for each customer, then served with vegetables and side dishes. Carveries are a popular way of serving Sunday lunch and is am frequent feature of pubs.

It is divided in the following categories:

Silver service

The food is served to the customers by using fork, spoons or any other utensil. The difference from the formal dining silver service is that the server stands behind the buffet table serving the food to the customer, rather than serving it to their table.

Self Service

The customers are serving themselves by choosing from the food items arranged on the carvery / buffet table. There is usually a server behind the buffet table, whose role is to assist the customers only when needed and answer any questions they might have regarding the food products


Quick Service Dining

A quick service style store offers food and drinks usually using fast service. The customers order at the till or take the food items that they want from a fridge or shelf to the till, pay for them food and then sit down to enjoy their items or take it away to have it later. This service styles is used by brands like Starbucks, Subway, McDonalds, etc.

It is divided in the following categories:

Counter service

In counter service, the customers are ordering their food and drinks at the counter, pay for their order and then wait until their order is ready to talk it themselves and either sit in the dining area to enjoy their order or leave the store to have it at their place.

Self Service

In this service style, the customers are choosing their food from a hot or cold counter and drinks from a fridge and then take them to the till to pay for them. After this, they can either sit in the dining area to enjoy their order or leave the store to have it at their place.