It might have started in the 50s and 60s with tableside service.
Towards the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 21st century, people looked back on tableside service and laughed. But from the 2000s on, caterers wanted to bring it back to add to the experience and make food offerings more immersive than the standard buffet.
But what exactly does this look like when incorporated with more standard catering offerings?
An action station is a food station that requires some action or input by the guest. A carving station, for example, allows guests to guide the chef as to how to cut their pieces of meat.
Technically, you can set up an action station for virtually any meal you want. The goal is to create an interactive experience with guests — while keeping the line moving.
Is it a Buffet?
An action station aims for the “show.”
While a buffet generally involves food put out for the masses to self-serve, an action station allows for a more specific order, paired with a bit of a show, demonstrating the food preparation.
For example, in a ramen action station, you get to see how the broth comes together to make your dish.
The result is a great food experience that appeals to all your senses — not just your eyes and taste buds.
What Makes for an Effective and Engaging Action Station?
For a fully interactive experience, a station has to be well put together conceptually in terms of quality, appearance, and practicality. You want to fully utilize the staff and ensure guests don’t spend their time waiting in line.
We do a lot of training to match the chefs with the stations for which they are best suited. For instance, some are more extraverted and will comfortably discuss what they are doing with the crowd while others are more comfortable working behind the scenes.
When it comes to picking an action station for your event, it has to be interesting enough to draw people in, so creativity plays a significant role. Truly, what you’re serving is almost secondary to the engagement. But at Catering by Michaels, we’re obsessed with creating an experience that’s as exciting as it is tasty!
How Many People at an Event is Ideal for an Action Station?
We like to plan one station for every 100 people we’re serving, with two or three people staffing it. Ensuring a good process for serving people is a more significant factor than the actual number of guests.
The primary consideration during planning is practicality. We have to be practical in terms of staffing, the number of steps it takes to complete an order, and the number of people coming through the line.
We spend a lot of time testing how long various action stations take to move people in line. You don’t want guests to feel rushed or lagged.
Final Thoughts: Bring Your Events to Life with Action Stations
Action stations add something special to the event, making it less run-of-the-mill. The experience of watching your food come together creates a memorable experience that guests will talk about for years to come.
Furthermore, action stations are a conversation starter. Guests find it easier to talk to each other, and as the event organizer, you become the hero. It’s a great alternative to more standard catering.
If you want to learn more about action stations for your next event, reach out, and we’ll start planning!
Awesome article Justin! Action station catering is increasingly being opted by young millennials, who want a more bohemian experience for themselves. Wedding parties are getting smaller and close-knitted events, which is where such strategies are often useful. The experience of seeing fresh ingredients come together to create a food item is enriching and satisfying for guests, as you have mentioned. But, the challenge lies in creating a menu that suits this strategy.