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Tips for serving a five-star menu

A full-course meal involves three or more courses. And it’s the hallmark of special occasions like weddings, banquets and galas. A good multi-course menu needs to be well considered from the timing, to the flavour profiles, and different dietary needs of your guests. Here are our tips for serving a fantastic full-course meal at your next event:

Decide on the number of courses

A standard full course meal includes an appetiser (or starter), main, and dessert. This can be extended up to twelve courses or more including:

  • Hors d’oeuvres – finger foods typically served during cocktail hour
  • Amuse-Bouche – ‘amuse the mouth’ in French, used to tease the palate and hint at flavours to come
  • Soup – best matched to the season
  • Appetiser – also known as the entrée, served on a small dish
  • Salad
  • Fish
  • First main – usually white meat like chicken or duck)
  • Palate cleanser – a reset button for your taste buds
  • Second main – usually red meat such as beef or venison
  • Cheese course – a platter of different cheeses and accompaniments
  • Dessert – usually accompanied with a dessert wine, tea and coffee
  • Mignardise – tiny bite-sized dessert or pastry.

Get creative

Of course when you know the basic rules, you can also break them. Decide on a theme or flavour profile to base your menu on and scale it up or down as needed. It’s best to start by thinking of what you want to serve as a main, and then build the menu from there.

For the standard luxury event, we recommend using a five-course menu: appetisers, starters, salad, a main course, and a dessert. Follow our menu planning guide for tips on catering quantities.

Make sure you have enough cutlery

A full-course meal requires full sets of cutlery arranged on the table before the meal begins (or brought out by waiters between courses). The order of cutlery is very important. The rule of thumb is to work your way from outwards to inwards, starting with your starter on the very outside of the plate through to the final serving of dessert (with dessert cutlery placed above the place setting). Check out our guide to perfect place settings for more tips.

Clearing the table

Serving and clearing the table is like a waltz. Each movement of the waiter to place and clear the food should be synchronised and subtle. One full plate swoops in from the left hand side and is gently placed on the table, whilst the dirty plate glides away from the right hand side of the guest.

Regarding crockery, you have two options, hire the exact amount of pieces to serve each course. Or, hire a team of dishwashers to create a well-oiled machine turning dirty dishes into clean, dry and sparkling plates for the next course. We’d highly recommend the first option for ease and convenience.

Don’t forget different diets

Vegan, banting, gluten-free, vegetarian, dairy-free. The list of different dietary requirements has grown considerably in recent years. Failing to give your guests’ different lifestyle and health choices due consideration can instantly leave a bad taste in their mouths (or rumbling tummies…)

If you’re committed to doing a multi-course menu, make sure you think through the different courses for different diets too. All too often, the ‘normal’ options are well-thought out and complement each other, while the alternate options feel (and taste) like an afterthought.

Also avoid the worst catering faux pas of not having an alternate option for certain courses. No one likes to be the guest sitting and watching everyone else enjoy their food while they twiddle their thumbs and field questions about why they’re not eating that course.

Timing is everything

You want to leave enough time between courses for your guests to fully enjoy their food, and look forward to the next course without feeling rushed. You also don’t want to spread out the courses too much, leaving guests fidgety and hungry.

Consider the different length of time each course needs. A salad, appetiser or dessert can take 15 minutes to eat, whereas the main course can take up to 30 minutes. Ensure you factor in the time to serve and clear away as well. A rule of thumb is 10-20 minutes between courses, depending on if it’s a light or heavy meal.

Let’s get fancy

Pairing wine tasting with your full course meal is an extravagant combination. Consult with a wine Sommelier to select the perfect wine choice for each of your planned meals. As a form of entertainment to keep guests occupied in between courses and engaged in the food, hire a Sommelier for the event to explain the history, background and pairings of the chosen wines. Instantly elevating your event to a VIP, memorable experience.


Planning a big event? MPR Hiring offers a wide range of catering equipment, cutlery and crockery for every type of multi-course meal. Get in touch for a custom quote and expert advice tailored to your needs.