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Serving Guests: Do You Do This Too?

Poll Results: When serving dinner guests at home, do you lay food out on serving dishes or assemble each plate yourself?

 
  • 66% (6)
    Food goes on the table in serving platters, guests dish themselves up.
  • 33% (3)
    I assemble each plate and place it in front of the guest complete.
9 Total Votes  
post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
I learned to cook by working the dinner shift in a restaurant, and since then I have always served my home dinners in a very particular way. I wonder if you do it too. (I'm partly wondering what other people do because I want to know if my way is rude or not). 

Basically, I don't put out serving dishes. Each guest gets a plate with food on it, assembled by me, and it is placed right in front of them at the table, nice and hot and beautiful. I like being able to wow my guests with presentation as well as the quality of the food, and I hate putting things out in serving bowls because it gives them a longer path to your plate and more opportunity to go cold. 

I guess this comes from my restaurant days, where each plate was assembled with love and care before it went out the serving window to the guests. But I'm starting to wonder if this is a rude way to serve guests at home. Perhaps they want more control over which items they select (though I generally don't make too many things, just one main dish). And I guess maybe they also want portion control (though they can always stop eating or go for seconds if they desire). 

I guess I consider the presentation on the plate and the portion control to be part of the cooking process. Am I being rude to my guests? Do you do it the same way? Would love to hear from other folks who've cooked professionally to see if this habit goes with the profession or if it's just me.
post #2 of 15
I really think it depends on the context. If you're serving quite formal food, and you can do attractive presentations (as you presumably can), many folks will look with pleasure on a plated meal. If you're serving something more informal, family-style is more attractive.

For example, I'd never serve Thanksgiving dinner plated. Big heaping bowls and plates of potatoes, carrots, salad, turkey ready to carve, basket of fresh hot rolls, and the whole bit. But when I make a fancy meal for my mother's birthday each year, she likes to get restaurant-style presentations and elaborate constructed dishes.

What's not good, if you ask me, is to serve fancy plated food badly: if you can't do a clean presentation, you shouldn't serve that way. Presumably that's the last of your difficulties, as a former pro, but have you ever had someone who can't cook serve you plated food? Somehow bad food is worse if it's also part of an (over-)elaborate presentation, don't you think?
post #3 of 15
Hi, Andy. Welcome to Cheftalk.

I don't reckon it has anything to do with being rude or not. It's strictly a matter of personal orientation. There are those who prefer family style and those who prefer plating.

Put me down on the plating side. We do eat with our eyes, first, and I believe a lot of the wow factor comes from presentation. Plus there are quality concerns, as you expressed.

As to portion control, I think that's part of the presentation. Most servings are too large, to begin with. But people, being people, eat what's there. I've never heard a complaint about the size of my servings. And there is always additional for those who want seconds.

But, by the same token, I have no issue with those who favor family style.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #4 of 15
For a little while I tried plating everything up and delivering it to guests that way.  They'd smile and nod but it made for a bit of artificial tension; my family and friends are pretty laid back.

So now I sate my need for presentation by prettying up the serving platters.  They get to help themselves to as much or little as they like and I get to be as fussy as I like.  Win-win.  I guess that's why platter service in catering is called 'family style'.


Quote Chris:
For example, I'd never serve Thanksgiving dinner plated. Big heaping bowls and plates of potatoes, carrots, salad, turkey ready to carve, basket of fresh hot rolls, and the whole bit. But when I make a fancy meal for my mother's birthday each year, she likes to get restaurant-style presentations and elaborate constructed dishes.
 
Ah, this explains perfectly.  Small dinners that are supposed to be schmansy get plated.  With my rambling family small dinners don't happen very often...
post #5 of 15
Somehow bad food is worse if it's also part of an (over-)elaborate presentation, don't you think?

There you go, Chris, talking about Emeril's desserts again.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #6 of 15
I think your approach has a lot of class, Andy. I love being served a plate of perfectly-portioned, color-considered, balanced and steaming food. It provides a sense of being cared for. I am an omnivore, however, so I rarely suffer the anxiety that many with with voluntary or involuntary diet restrictions do over what may be on the plate. As I know your are a conscientious host, you probably know who the veggies are, and who can't eat dairy, doesn't like kale, etc... but even so you just never know when you might be putting one of your guests in an awkward situation by presuming to put food in front of them. A certain rabbi that I know, for example, is a mostly-vegetarian who dislikes rich food--anything with cream or oil or fat--but who likes many things that would surprise you. The rabbi is very concerned with control over what she eats, but is also very self-conscious about being seen as a fussy eater. This often results in her covertly shunting unwanted items onto the plates of her conspirators, which she prefers over having to micro-manage what is put on her plate.

So, in summary, if everyone were like me, I would heartily endorse your approach to serving meals. As many people have restrictions and dislikes, this is something you should take into consideration. If you feel totally confident that you know each of your guests' desires, such as is possible with an intimate gathering, then there really is nothing better than the method you use.
post #7 of 15
My mother in law tended to served dishes from the kitchen, her putting in how much she thought you would eat and putting it where she liked it.  I hated it.  I like to see the food and choose it.  (In fact, I actually like buffets better than served meals since i like to choose by appearance). 

I also don't like someone else putting the stuff in the quantities and way they like it.  I particularly don't like food piled on top of other food (mashed potatoes underneath a piece of steak, which, for me, if not for others, ruins both the steak (the pieces of which end up going to your mouth the way you would scrape the scraps into the garbage, covered with potato) and the potatoes (which i enjoy the flavor of and don't want it tasting of the steak).  I don't like the mixture of flavors.  I like crisp potatoes separate from sauces and stuff that makes them soggy, and i like the taste of them unadorned.  I like to choose sauce or not sauce, depending on how much I like the taste of the food it's supposed to go on.  (Crispy juicy roast chicken gravy might be nice, but i prefer to really savor the chicken and save the gravy for the leftovers).  So while i like attractive plating i don't like some of the consequences.   

My husband on the other hand would be perfectly happy if you stirred every ingredient on his plate before you gave it to him.  He does that himself!  No accounting for taste. 

But because there's no accounting for taste, maybe guests would enjoy beautiful table presentations in the serving dishes. 

Oh, and since plating has even arrived in italy, at least for deserts, i really particularly hate a perfectly good desert ruined by someone attractively squirting some pre-made bottled sauce all around it.  They used to do a chocolate soft-centered cake near where i work, and it was wonderful.  But besides the whipped cream decorating the plate, which was a perfect accompaniment, they decorated it with bottled chocolate sauce, which tasted bottled and crappy.   But if they had used a nice sauce they had made themselves, i would have liked it. 
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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post #8 of 15
I don't think you're being particularly rude by plating and serving people in your home, but consider this:  A home cooked meal is different than a restaurant meal.  Obviously in a restaurant I want to be served a beautiful presentation of food.  HoweverI have ordered the food and have made sure that I like everything that accompanies the meal which I have selected myself.  I don't consider myself a picky eater but I do prefer to serve myself much like Siduri pointed out.  I don't like gravy, and little details like that.  I won't make a fuss about it but I would enjoy myself more if I got to choose what I ate.  At your house I'm not ordering from a menu, I'm just eating what you think is best and this doesn't allow for me to participate in any way.

This may be cultural, but my Mother and Grandmother always taught me that when we serve food we are opening our homes and our hearts and inviting people in.  We do this by putting all the food out in platters for everyone to enjoy.  By keeping the food in the kitchen and plating everything it is considered quite rude.  I've been taught to think that you don't want me peeking in your pots.  Maybe you want to keep the best piece for yourself.  Maybe you want to hide the secret ingredient.  Maybe you want to ensure that you have left overs for yourself.  None of these concepts are warm and inviting. 

And don't get me started on assigned seating.  Might as well just tell me "sit there and eat this, like it or not."

All in all I invest in beautiful platters and serving utensils and make sure that there are a variety of dishes for people to eat.  Most importantly of all I never allow myself to get upset if someone doesn't try a particular dish.  There are several times where I don't want to eat a something- I'm not at work, I'm not a child, and I don't have to eat kale if I don't want to.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #9 of 15
I try to treat my guests as family (and of course, my family as guests).  Having said that, I try to present the meal in a visually appealing manner family style.  The one exception might be desert when passing the dish might present a problem.

I remember being invited to a dinner party where the hostess had the plates prepared in the kitchen and served.  It was lovely, but if you weren't fond of lamb chops and steamed baby artichokes, you were in serious trouble - - and what a waste of food when the table was cleared for desert.
post #10 of 15
My family prefers, and I think also expects, buffet style, with only condiments and sauces or gravy on the table.  For one thing,  the table isn't large enough for all those serving bowls,  and for another,  getting up for seconds makes some of them think about if they really want to do that.  The only time I plate individually is if I suspect there may not be enough to go around otherwise...as in the case of knowing that cousin Frank always puts himself first in line, and takes the lion's share to boot (he doesn't get invited often).  Buffet also allows guests to pick and choose without the critical scrutiny of others, especially if the meal has some pot luck elements.  Not everyone wants brussels sprouts casserole, even if it is Aunt Mame's specialty. 
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
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"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
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post #11 of 15
Context is everything.

When entertaining we may do family-style, buffet, tableside, kitchen plating, and very occasionally "silver spoon" (with a hired helper doing the serving)  Sometimes I mix and match.  It depends on who is there, what is served, how many people, the nature (and tradition) of the occasion, and my iron whim.

BDL 
post #12 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

Context is everything.

 and very occasionally "silver spoon" (with a hired helper doing the serving) 
BDL 

 
This reminded me of my first summer job.  When I was 15,  a wealthy family who had a summer "cottage"  (actually 4 of the home I lived in would have fit inside it, not counting the servants' quarters),  hired me to be the live-in upstairs maid as well as the server at mealtime.  ALL their meals were placed on serving platters, which I then offered from person to person around the table.  What an incredible experience!  I learned table settings, elegant composure, and proper manners.  In addition,  I discovered many new and interesting foods that had never been on my family's menu, either because they were too expensive,  or too "gourmet".  The confidence I gained laid the foundation for many of my future jobs, and served me well my entire life,  both in work and in social settings.  I hadn't thought of this in quite a long time.  Thanks, BDL. 
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
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"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
 
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post #13 of 15
Thread Starter 
Good perspectives, everyone. I guess it depends a lot on what's on the menu. If we're eating lasagna, period, there's not much harm in serving plates to everyone ready made. Of course if it's Thanksgiving dinner with 7 different dishes, plating is of course not appropriate. Visual presentation is nice but not the key issue for me. I think more important is getting it in front of people HOT and having fewer dishes to clean up at the end of the night. Also - depending on the number of guests I don't always have the option of serving dishes because we may or may not all fit at the table with room left over. I'll have to keep it all in mind more in future. Generally I just serve one dish, and I'm probably not going to start putting out serving trays just so my guests have the option of not serving themselves at all. Not much point in that 
Edited by FB User (Private) - 2/23/10 at 9:48am
post #14 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Hilal View Post

Generally I just serve one dish, and I'm probably not going to start putting out serving trays just so my guests have the option of not serving themselves at all. Not much point in that 

What do you mean by one dish?  A typical meal consists of a protein, a starch, and a vegetable more or less.  I consider each of those a dish (although I generally serve 2 vegetable dishes and a salad to boot).  The point is to do it how you like it but acknowledge the fact that there are many ways to do things.  Just because a chef plates the food at his restaurant doesn't mean he has to plate for a dinner party at his house.  It's nice to be able to do it either way depending on the occassion.

Many dishes are nice to be plated, especially if the flavors of the meal are meant to compliment each other in certain ways that are only attainable by being plated by the chef.  You have to cook like that in order to serve like that "this lobster is nothing without the sauce!" for example.  I put lots of thought in how the different dishes I compose will fit together or not so this isn't a problem for me.

I mentioned in another thread that we recently went to Tom colicchio's Craft in NY - read my review in the restaurant threads.  The most surprising aspect of the meal was that the dishes were not plated.  They were served in warm skillets and placed on the side of our place settings along with serving utensils.  Surprising for an upscale restaurant but lovely and easy to share our dishes without worrying about destroying the simple presentation.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #15 of 15
It depends on what I am preparing.
"J'aime cuisiner avec du vin, j'ai parfois même mettre dans les aliments je suis cuisson. ""Mi piace cucinare con il vino, talvolta ho persino messa nel cibo sto cottura. ""I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food I'm cooking." - Julia Child 
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"J'aime cuisiner avec du vin, j'ai parfois même mettre dans les aliments je suis cuisson. ""Mi piace cucinare con il vino, talvolta ho persino messa nel cibo sto cottura. ""I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food I'm cooking." - Julia Child 
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