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Walking dinner: I beg your pardon?

You will no doubt have come across the expression “walking dinner”, which is very widely used in Belgium and the Netherlands. It’s found on corporate invitation cards, on caterers’ websites, etc.

It is used to denote the catering option whereby guests are not seated at tables but can move around as they wish, whilst the dishes are offered to them on trays.

The French term is cocktail dînatoire.

But whilst this expression is perfectly understood by a French-speaking and Dutch-speaking public, it is perplexing for English-speaking readers, who, on hearing or seeing the term “walking dinner”, conjure up ideas of their evening meal having two legs and imagine the soirée they have been invited to involving them having to race around trying to catch a nimble piece of salmon or a particularly fleet-footed zakuski.

The point is that the expression “walking dinner” may sound like a chic bit of borrowed English, but in actual fact it’s not English at all.

It’s no doubt a bad translation from Dutch of the word wandelbuffet.

So use an authentic English equivalent, i.e. “standing buffet”, if you want to make sure your English-speaking guests really understand what you mean.


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