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Matthew Krimmel

What Is Family-Style Dining?

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You’ve heard the expression “family-style dining” before, but what does it look like? Read on to learn about the style of food (often fitting the a la carte meaning) and service offered, family-style catering, and other important elements of the family-style dining experience.

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What Is Family-Style Dining?

Family-style dining includes an affordable menu, seated table service, and a warm and relaxed atmosphere.

“Family-style” is a method of dining where servers place all components of a meal on the table and allow everyone to serve themselves. They place large serving dishes in the middle of the table. In this way, everyone can reach the offerings and choose what they want.

Families and other groups can afford a reasonably priced meal in a restaurant setting. They dine together and it eliminates concerns about dress codes or spending too much money.

A Growing Trend for Special Events

This style of dining is also known as “large format dining" and has increased in popularity in the last few years. It's more formal than a buffet or fast-food restaurant but less expensive than fine dining.

In recent years, many families have celebrated weddings in this fashion. It provides extra time for people to get to know each other and participate in activities at the reception. Some corporations like to hold events with this arrangement because it allows for additional team-building activities and other productive networking opportunities.


Elements of Family-Style Dining

In a family-style restaurant, servers bring food to the table in large serving dishes. Diners pass around the food and choose portions they wish to eat.

If they'd like extra food, the restaurant server refills the serving dishes when they are empty, often with additional charges. Guests have the opportunity to try various dishes without spending money to order large portions.

Reduced Staff

Instead of employing numerous waiters and waitresses, family-style service uses fewer staff. It typically results in the more efficient delivery of everything from appetizers to the main course and dessert.

Lower Expenses

The reduced restaurant expenses often translate to a lower bill for the dining party to pay. Financial teams are happy when they hear about a company event that will save money from their budgets.

A Friendly and Relaxed Atmosphere

Family-style encourages people to meet for a casual dining experience. The dining area tends to be less crowded with a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

The staff usually only approaches the tables to deliver the dishes or platters and refill them when they’re empty. This environment is perfect for encouraging conversation. It's ideal for a family getting together to catch up or a corporate event for professional networking.

Benefits for Children

It also provides many significant benefits for children, including the opportunity to make independent decisions about food. Younger children have a chance to practice motor skills and improve communication. It encourages older children to practice good table manners and enjoy conversation with adults at the dinner table.

Many parents serve family-style meals at home to provide children with a low-pressure environment for trying new dishes. It increases their confidence when dining outside of their home.


Family-Style Dining Service and Food

The kitchen in a family-style restaurant usually has the food prepared for when the guests arrive. It's set up for quick dining so families with small children don't worry about spending too much time at the restaurant.

Quick and Accurate Service

There isn’t the need to take each guest’s order, eliminating potential errors and speeding up the overall process of the meal. Guests don't have to wait for a corrected order, which reduces potential stress for diners at the event. This can also help prevent the disrespectful act of a dine and dash.

A Variety of Choices

Family-style venues can offer moderately priced dishes that feature a mix of classic cuisines and a variety of options for guests. Some family-style restaurants may also have a bar separate from the main dining area. It will offer a limited selection of alcohol that focuses on beer and wine. Make sure you learn about the best wine to pair with salmon, the best wine to pair with turkey, and other pairing ideas, as family-style establishments don’t typically have such menus.

Where to Sample It

There are plenty of opportunities to try it in the United States and abroad. Many Italian and Mexican restaurants across America offer a family-style experience with different types of pasta, tacos, and seafood.

In Spain, numerous places serve tapas- small plates of food purposely meant for sharing.

Dim sum is a traditional Chinese meal that is similar to family-style dining. Servers bring dumplings to the table and serve them with tea- an experience where diners share food in a group setting.


What Is Family-Style Catering?

Family-style catering has become increasingly popular at modern weddings and corporate events (see: types of catering events). Like family-style restaurants, servers place dishes or platters of food in the center of the tables. The serving dish or platter usually contains several entrées and sides. People pass them around, choose the food they want, and serve themselves.

It’s a format that blends aspects of a traditional sit-down dinner and a buffet-style meal. Family-style catering allows the caterer to prepare numerous dishes at a more affordable cost. It's an ideal option for events where food cost numbers can quickly add up.

Food Costs and Portions

It also allows the caterer to manage food cost percentage and portions more precisely, limiting the amount of wasted food. The caterer prepares an appropriate amount of food for the number of guests at the event. They determine portions by the total amount of food they must serve to the diners.

An Ideal Scenario for Conversations

This dining arrangement ensures that all guests dine simultaneously- an ideal scenario for a wedding or corporate event. It frees up extra time for guests to have conversations and get to know other attendees at the wedding reception.

Company executives enjoy the reduction in food cost numbers for their professional events. Employees can network and participate in team-building activities without spending too much time at the table.

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Are You Interested In a Family-Style Dining Experience?

Locate a restaurant in your area that offers it, organize a group of friends, and make a reservation. If you're planning a wedding or a corporate event, you could consider it as an option for your group of attendees. Just make sure you arrive with an empty stomach and are ready for conversation.

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