Depends on the culture. In this answer I will focus on modern French, modern European, and one of a number of American "passes". How and when food is served in which order is as much a function of the season as it is the chef's idea of what to serve when and the diner's decision how to have it presented.
When I went to college, everyone told me the food was going to suck. This was news to me. I remember walking into the dining hall and practically falling over at the choice and plenitude. But I didn't find the dining hall democratizing at all. It's a different experience when you're the one serving the food instead of the one eating.