French service, or service à la française, is a style of service in which food is prepared and/or served by waiters tableside.
Because of the amount of time it requires, French service is generally appropriate for smaller weddings or those with a budget large enough to afford the additional servers.
If you have a small number of guests and can afford it, French service provides guests with an unparalleled level of service. It is known as the most skilled style of service.
There are two types of French service: French cart service and French banquet service.
French Cart Service
French cart service is a method in which food is partially prepared in the kitchen and brought out on a cart to be fully prepared tableside. It is an uncommon, technically-demanding, highly professional serving method reserved for upscale restaurants, high-end resorts and on cruise ships.
The cart typically includes a burner and a large cutting board. Two servers -- a chef/main server (chef de rang) and an assistant (commis de rang) -- work together to serve guests. The chef de rang prepares and plates dishes, which may include deboning, slicing, garnishing, etc., and the commis de rang serves guests and clears the table.
The table is already set with silverware and glassware.
This serving method can be used simply for serving appetizers or desserts, or for a complete eight-course meal.
French Banquet Service
French banquet service in a technique in which platters of food are assembled in the kitchen brought tableside and served to guests à la carte.
Two servers work together to serve guests. The lead server is responsible for individually serving guests, and the assistant sets plates and clears dishes. Everything is individually served: bread, salad, soup, entrees, etc.
Although the servers are not preparing food tableside, it's still a technique that requires a great amount of skill.
Pros of French Service
- The elaborate serving method adds an air of elegance and offers an artistic, entertaining way of showcasing food.
- Guests receive the utmost level of service and personalized attention.
- You truly get what you pay for.
Cons of French Service
- It is a slow, time-consuming serving process.
- It requires additional servers.
- It might require a larger dining venue. The room has to be large enough so servers can move about freely and prepare food effectively.
Other Types of Catering Service
- Butlered service: Food is prepared and plated in the kitchen, presented on a tray and served to guests. Utensils are already on the table.
- English service: The server serves guests individually from a large dish. It's like a formal version of family-style dining.
- Russian (silver) service: Food is cooked tableside, like French cart service, but the server assembles a platter of food and the guests help themselves.