Reto Leder explains different catering styles and how they affect attendee experiences

Your choice of service style for catering at a business event can significantly influence the attendee experience, networking opportunities, and overall ambience. With each dining setting offering its own distinct atmosphere and interaction dynamics, Assistants involved in event planning need to ensure that the chosen catering style aligns with the event objectives and guest expectations.

In this article, we look at the complexity of each dining setting and provide practical insights and strategies to smooth event execution and create memorable experiences for attendees.

1. Seated Dinner

Seated dinners represent refined elegance, providing guests with a structured and luxurious dining experience. Attendees are assigned to designated seats, allowing for intimate conversations and networking opportunities in a defined (and smaller) setting.


  • Formal Networking: Ideal for cultivating meaningful connections among guests, particularly during formal business events.
  • Controlled Atmosphere: Organizers maintain control over the event pacing and flow, ensuring seamless transitions between agenda items.
  • Culinary Excellence: Allows for amazing presentations on the plate.
  • Elevated Ambiance: Sets a high standard for event sophistication, leaving a lasting impression on attendees, and, depending on the decoration and location when entering the room, creates a wow effect.
  • Customization Options: Offers flexibility in tailoring menu options to dietary restrictions or thematic preferences.
  • No Food Waste: A fixed menu allows for exact portion calculation. Food waste can be (almost) totally avoided.


  • Limited Mobility: Guests are confined to their seats, potentially hindering spontaneous interactions.
  • Costs: Often requires additional staffing and resources, which could lead to increased overheads.
  • Complex Logistics: Coordinating seating arrangements and dietary preferences can be challenging, especially if the dinner is combined with (e.g.) entertainment or a show; some people might sit with their backs to the stage. Additionally, last-minute no-shows can be more visible and might have a bigger impact.
  • Less Variety: A fixed menu offers fewer opportunities for culinary variety compared to other styles.

When to choose a seated dinner

Ideal for formal dinners, award ceremonies, executive meetings, end-of-year employee events, or gala receptions. The ambience of a seated dinner sets the stage for memorable interactions and meaningful conversations.

Seated dinners are ideally tailored for high-level executives, VIP guests, industry leaders, attendees of formal events, and (employee) award ceremony recipients. This style of service caters to individuals in search of a refined dining experience, characterized by very close attention to detail and personalized service.

2. Flying Service

“Flying” dinners offer a lively dining experience characterized by culinary diversity and interactive engagement. Guests move freely around the venue, sampling food in small portions, while the catering staff roam around the room with food trays. This type of service can be combined with, for example, starter and/or dessert buffets.


  • Flexible Networking: Encourages spontaneous interactions and “free” networking opportunities among guests.
  • Diverse Culinary Choices: Provides a wide array of bite-sized dishes from different cuisines, enhancing guest satisfaction. It also gives you the opportunity to very easily consider all sorts of special diets and religious beliefs.
  • Efficient Format: Allows guests to enjoy food and networking simultaneously, maximizing engagement.
  • Adaptability: Can accommodate varying group sizes and venue layouts.


  • Logistical Complexity: Requires precise planning for food distribution and restocking on the caterer’s part.
  • Space Requirements: Needs adequate venue space to accommodate food stations and guest movement. Ideally, the event space can be equipped with different seating options, such as lounges, bistro tables, or high tables.
  • Blind Spots: Once your guests realize where the food servers come from, they tend to gather in larger groups, making it difficult for the service staff to reach every corner of the room. This may leave some guests waiting longer. Make sure your caterer plans for this scenario and delivers the food trays from different stations.

When to choose flying service

Flying dinners are a great idea for various occasions throughout multi-day events. This service style adds an element of excitement and engagement to the event, where attendees have the opportunity to mingle freely while enjoying a diverse array of culinary choices.

Flying service works well for younger professionals, tech-savvy individuals, creative industry members, networking event participants, and product launch attendees.

3. Food Festival: A Culinary Journey

Food festival-style events with live cooking stations immerse guests in a vibrant culinary experience, celebrating local and/or international flavours and promoting community connections.


  • Casual Networking: Encourages genuine interactions and connections in a relaxed setting.
  • International Cuisine: Provides opportunities to sample diverse food styles, flavours, and preparation methods.
  • Caters to Everyone: Easy to include any dietary or religious requirements by integrating, for example, vegan or gluten-free food stations or avoiding specific food items.
  • Vibrant Atmosphere: Creates excitement and enthusiasm among attendees, enhancing overall enjoyment.
  • Insta Moments: Food stations with live cooking shows are perfect for Insta posts. People love to post photos of and about food. Make sure you encourage attendees to take pictures and post them using your #eventhashtag.


  • Queue Management: Requires effective crowd control strategies to manage lines and waiting times.
  • Remote Vendor Sourcing: Depending on the event location, organizers may need to source food vendors remotely, which can pose logistical challenges and increase the risk of miscommunication, potentially affecting the quality and variety of food options available to attendees.
  • Food Waste: Buffets and live cooking stations may generate more food waste if not carefully executed by the caterer. Make sure you choose food items and quantities based on registrations per guest group.

When to choose a food festival

For business-integrated food festivals, attendees range from high-level executives and VIP clients to industry influencers, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and team members engaged in team-building activities. These diverse guests come together to network, sample culinary delights, bond over shared experiences, stimulate collaboration, drive business growth, and strengthen team communications in a relaxed and enjoyable environment.

The positive and vibrant atmosphere of a food festival-style event adds an extra layer of excitement and energy to each day, enriching the overall experience and leaving participants eagerly anticipating the next culinary adventure.


Selecting the perfect service style is crucial in shaping the success of your business gathering. Each option presents its own array of benefits and considerations, but the key to a great event lies in aligning your choice with your objectives, guest demographics, and desired atmosphere.

By carefully assessing the pros and cons of each approach and tailoring your selection to suit the specific needs and preferences of your audience, you can craft an event that leaves a lasting impression. The right service style has the power to elevate your gathering, foster meaningful connections among attendees, and contribute to its overall success.

Armed with these insights, you’ll be able to pull off seamless gatherings that leave a lasting impact on everyone involved.

Reto Leder is CEO of the Convention Centre Trafo Baden, just outside Zurich in Switzerland. With 40 years of working experience in the international hospitality industry, Reto is the consummate service professional. Together with his team at Trafo Baden, ... (Read More)

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