There are three main types of meal services: pre-plated, cafeteria style and family style. In addition, there is a combination style, which can include elements of two or all three meal services.
A pre-plated style of meal service is similar to that found in a sit-down restaurant. The portions are set by the chef or expediter and given to the diner, usually via wait staff.
The cafeteria style of meal service occurs when customers wait in a line where food is being served or in some cases, self-served. Food is plated and placed on a carrying tray, and then the customer pays for it at a register that is at the end of the line. Food portions are generally the same but can vary.
A family-style meal service involves large serving trays of food or food held in buffets or chafing dishes, and patrons serve themselves. Customers usually pay a flat-rate fee and can serve themselves as much as they want and as often as they desire.