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May 27, 2009 07:29 AM

How many servers for fast service?

I am planning a seated plated dinner for 160 people. I talked to three reputable catering companies in my city, and I got quoted for 9 servers, 13 servers, and 16 servers for the same 160 people (16 tables of 10). They all say their number is the appropriate number.

Obviously, 16 servers would serve dinner faster and refill wine and water glasses quicker than having 9 servers, but what would be the level of servers required to get service speed and attentiveness for say, Morton's Steak (using this as an example since it's a recognizable name)? Or for guests to NOT feel that the service was slow at the event, what would be the minimum number? Thanks.

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  1. Although you state this is a seated dinner with wine, you do not mention the type of facility these quotes originate from, or whether the function will be on-site in their facility or off premise at a hall of sorts or outdoors in a yard.

    It goes without saying the more servers, the faster and presumably better service you will receive.....but since your question is really about how many servers are necessary to handle your event, my answer to you would be 8 for plated service and beverage pouring. One server can easily handle two tables, but teams of two servers is more efficient and should be able to handle four on assignment. This is based on the assumption there is no bar service available, only wine. Rolling bars would require a minimum of another two servers/bartenders.

    If your event is more formal, e.g., like a wedding, then I would suggest you increase the number....and 16 would not be unreasonable.

    When I worked for one of the premiere caterers in New York/New Jersey, service was never neglected and there were a minimum two servers for every two table station(four servers for four tables), a bartender for every four tables and a Captain overseeing the same four tables. There were times two extra servers and an additional bartender were added for the same four tables, depending on how much money was spent per person for the event, or the extensiveness of the menu and its requirements, as well.

    The number of servers deemed appropriate depends on the level of service you expect and require in accordance with the menu you have planned in my opinion. While the notion the more servers, the faster the service seems correct, the simple truth is the servers have little to do with the speed of service when it comes to food, only with beverages. It really depends on how well cordinated the kitchen staff is is putting the meals out in an orderly fashion. If the kitchen cannot produce the finished plates.....all the servers in the world cannot get the plates to the table any faster.

    9 Replies
    1. re: fourunder

      bingo about the kitchen. even if the servers are on roller skates, if the food isn't plated quickly, they can't do anything. will the food be plated a la minute, or kept ready in a hot box?

      will the servers be bringing out stacked and covered plates on banquet trays or each server handling only 2 plates, with a team of 5 servers dropping plates to each party? the latter is a far more elegant and quieter style.

      1.5 servers per table will give a front server for each table, plus a back server (bread, water, clearing, etc.) for every 2 tables. will you need bartenders, and are your catering companies including a captain or two? you'll need someone managing the flow and the space.

      btw, fine dining restaurants like morton's, generally have 3, 4 or 5 table stations for a team of 2 servers. it's not the same as banquet service.

      1. re: hotoynoodle


        While I was at the before mentioned caterer, we put out some pretty good food to go along with the service, but we used to say we were in the business of running parties.....restaurants, while they may be able to cook some pretty good food as well, are not in the business of parties(although they may claim they are) and do not always have the necessary tools and equipment to run a party can be as simple as lacking proper dishes, glassware or tableware... or enough staff on hand.

        Restaurants serve tables at a time......caterers serve hundreds or thousands.

        Edit: Anyone considering a catered party for a large group should take this into account before selecting a venue.

        1. re: fourunder

          Thank you two so much!!!!! I am again impressed with Chowhound users. So many things I had not considered, very insightful. Great point about the servers not being able to serve before the food is cooked and plated! I am planning a wedding off premise indoors, at a nonhotel venue where the caterers say they will cook most of the food in the makeshift kitchen at the venue (bringing ovens and other equipment). They all have allocated 2 platers and 1 or 2 managers/supervisors. We're serving an appetizer, an entree, and wedding cake for dessert, choice of either white wine or red wine with the meal.

          1. re: crinlondon

            We're serving an appetizer, an entree, and wedding cake for dessert, choice of either white wine or red wine with the meal

            What, no salad?

            Eight servers is plenty in my opinion for the front. Any support staff I presume will be handled by the caterer, i.e., clean-up personnel for dishes, glasses and silverware.

            1. re: crinlondon

              hey btw make sure you figure out the logistics of the wedding cake beforehand, it's totally the thing people tend to overlook--some caterers don't include cake cutting in their bids, and most folks having a wedding say-- oh we can just have aunt margie do it-- and they have no real idea about how long it takes to cut & serve 160 slices of cake-- they tend to run out of cake or have a 2 hour wait for cake and it's just a mess. you need 3, preferably 4 people free (i.e. not clearing dishes) in order to properly serve a wedding cake to groups of 100 or more, believe it or not!

              1. re: soupkitten


                I can definitely see how there could be a mis-calculation on cutting a cake into a desired number of slices for the number of guests in attendance....but if the cutter sticks to a general size of one inch width by say three or four inches in length, then it's up to the host to simply order a cake large enough to serve the number of guests.

                Cutting a cake is not that difficult after the first cut ceremony. As I stated previously in another post......not all are qualified (and may I add experienced enough) to run a party....but two hour waits for cake????? I not saying it's never happened and I most certainly will defer to your past experiences, but I find that hard to believe myself.....:-).

                Assuming the cake, plates and any other decorations are in place for plating.....I have just simulated the cutting and plating, like I have done many times before, and I comfortably sliced 25 slices in a minute. Assuming again if there is not a great distance from the preparation/kitchen area to the table, I find it hard to believe it would would take more than 30 minutes with even an untrained staff.....even if decorating the plates with ice cream, fresh berries and topped a creme anglaise.....assembly line fashioned of course.

                1. re: fourunder

                  i know, i know, i couldn't believe it either! this isn't a professional serving staff for the situation that took 2 hours, this was when the family decided to do it themselves. it turned out to be a big ordeal. i recall that it was a tiered cake (& the tiers were different flavors, & people were wanting to choose between the flavors, & yet they only brought the one cake cutter that was the traditional cake cutter from the bride's great grandma, yada yada) and the disassembly, cutting, and the rest was an undertaking that a couple of older relatives took on. they had a bunch of children helping pass the slices out, but the kids were mostly standing around waiting for the older ladies to slice, & there was a lot of discussion at every step of the way. iirc the group was around 180. the cake cutting took place in the same room as the rest of the dinner, and people were taking pictures, so maybe this was part of the problem, but there was a table at the end that was complaining quite a bit that they weren't served cake for 2 hours (and they didn't get a choice of flavors, they had to take what was left) because they were the new inlaws. . . crimeny. it did take *forever,* which delayed the flow of the event, dance, etc.

                  i *totally* agree that a good assembly line and good staff coulda knocked that sucker out in 20-25 mins or so.

            2. re: fourunder

              i have worked in both a la carte dining and for a private events company, so am quite aware of the difference between feeding a few hundred people over the course of 5 hours, or feeding 800 at one time. that's why i made the contextual distinction for the op about stations in a restaurant vs. banquet service.

              1. re: hotoynoodle


                I was relaying my past experiences and agreeing with you.....not dissenting with your comments. My bad if that was not clear....:-)

                I will edit the post to reflect it as useful information for anyone considering a catered party.

        2. If it's a set menu, 16 servers is overkill. With a set menu, I agree with fourunder, 8 servers is plenty. The only thing they have to do is take drink orders. Just to be safe you could add a server assistant for every 4 tables and that would certainly be enough.

          Hotoynoodle, make some excellent points about the style of service. Banquet trays loaded up w/ plates or a more elegant presentation of servers carrying two plates at a time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: lynnlato

            and with only 8 servers, that means you've only got one team running plates which slows down service considerably.

            what could work is having a split shift -- an early crew and a late crew. after the wedding cake is served send the early crew home, because there won't be much left to do, presumably peepe will be dancing and all that.