Six Common Buffet Styles

The origin of the modern buffet go back to 18th century France. Back then it was a fashionable affair, but over the centuries it has become more commonplace. Originally ‘buffet’ referred to the sideboard on which the food was served, but later it was used to refer to the method of serving food. Back in the day, using knives in a buffet was forbidden.

Usually it is great way to feed large crowds. For smaller crowds, some restaurants offer mini buffet catering. Essentially a buffet is where the diners get to choose from a variety of food presented to them. They can be categorized according to the type of food that is served or the way the diners consume their food.

Sit-down buffet

In this type of self-service the diners usually sit at a table and eat. The food is served in a separate area where the diners can go serve themselves and then come back to eat. Usually the servers bring the wines, tea and coffee to the table and they also collect all the used plates and cutlery. This is suitable to serve large crowds. It’s cost effective and it also gives the diners a choice of food. Sit-down buffets are suitable for formal occasions.

Stand-up/fork buffet

As the name implies the diners will have their food standing up. Since it is not possible to use a fork and a knife to cut food in this position only a fork is used to eat. Hence the name ‘fork buffet’. The food is prepared in a way that the guests could comfortably eat their food. These buffets are better suited for casual events.

Display buffet/food stations

Here the food is displayed in food stations. They usually serve only one type of food per station. The diners can go to each station after every course to serve and they will sit down and eat just like the sit-down buffet. The servers will clear the used plates.

There can be dessert stations, carving and flambé stations, Japanese food stations, salad stations etc. The types of food stations provided will depend on the caterer and also the host’s choices.

Finger buffet

In this type of self-service, only finger foods are served. No cutlery is needed.

Hot/cold buffet

A hot buffet will contain food items that are consumed while warm such as pasta, rice, lasagna and curries whereas a cold one will have items which are typically arranged on an ice bed such as salads, sandwiches and meat slices.


This is a festive table which typically displays a variety of Scandinavian food items. It is of Swedish origin. The layout of the self-service table is similar to that of a family dining table rather than a hotel buffet.

Mini buffet catering can be done for any of these self-service styles.

Mentioned above are some of the most common types of buffets that are used in functions and restaurants today. Over the years, self-service etiquette has changed significantly, but the essence of it has remained unchanged.