wedding & special event trend: family style meals

wedding & special event trend: family style meals

One of the biggest decisions to make while planning a wedding reception (or any large event) is whether the main meal should be plated or buffet. Each has its own pros and cons and certain circumstances make one more or less expensive than the other (the cost of food versus the cost of service depends on your market), but there is another service style that is making a big comeback this year in weddings and other formal events: the family style service.

Family style service is when all of the dishes are served on large platters in the middle of the table, enough for the whole table to share, and guests serve themselves.

Why would this be appropriate for a wedding? Does it sound a bit too casual? The reason it’s becoming more popular is because weddings are becoming smaller and more intimate. Even if couples aren’t trimming their guest counts, they are looking for ways to make the experience more intimate. Sharing food from a common plate creates a shared experience among guests – by physically passing the platter around, guests forge a bond with one another (or at a minimum have a great conversation starter).

For some couples, family style is a great compromise between plated service and a buffet. Guests don’t have to get up to get their food; if multiple entrees are offered guests can try a little of everything.

Here are some things to consider:

Cost: Family style may not be more affordable than plated. Some venues and caterers charge more for buffets and family style menus because they can’t control portions like they can when they plate the meal themselves. Caterers have to assume that some individuals may take more than a portion (or two… or three… or is that just my family?) and need to make sure they have enough food for all guests. The cost of service for family style may end up being similar to plated because each table should still have a dedicated server, so you might not save much. But if you are trying to keep costs down, ask your caterer to price out menus with different kinds of services to see how they structure their prices.

Mess: If guests are serving themselves, well… things can get a little messy, just like on a buffet line. A buffet line that isn’t well-attended by a server can look like a bomb went off! The difference between a buffet and family style service in this instance is it’s on your guests’ table, quite literally in their face. But this isn’t too difficult to remedy: make sure your menu includes items that are easier to self serve and make sure a server stays close by the tidy up if things get a little out of control.

Time: Plated service and buffet service can take a lot of time out of your wedding schedule – depending on how many guests you have, it can take a lot to feed all of them. Family style might be the fastest way to serve everyone, and an easier way to have everyone eating at once (a common complaint at buffets is ‘why is table 10 already at the buffet when my table hasn’t been called yet?’).

Compromise Options: If you like the idea of the shared experience that family style service offers but your caterer doesn’t want to go that route or it will be cost prohibitive, consider serving one or two of the early courses family style. This works well especially if you are forgoing a traditional cocktail hour, you can have several appetizers served family style at the tables. Then guests can still choose their individual plated entrees. Alternatively, you can have side dishes served family style, and each guest can choose their protein entree. Much of the time all the guests have the same or similar side dishes anyway.

Those are just a few suggestions on how to take advantage of this trend. While family style service is particularly popular with weddings right now, expect this to also jump into other markets as well. Your next gala or awards dinner might have family style side dishes! What do you think of this trend?

Editors Note: This post was originally featured at Jewbilation, an online marketplace for Jewish celebrations and events. Visit Jewbilation for product and service vendors in your area.

Photo Credit: { Wedding Savor }


  1. Christie O {Mountainside Bride} says:

    I LOVE this idea and considered it for my wedding. I come from a big Italian-American family and we approach food with equally parts pride, love, and casualness. This would have been a perfect expression of my heritage and been a lot of fun for a smaller, more intimate wedding. As our guest list grew, we opted for a buffet, so those non-Italian-American guests (yes that’s how my family sees the world) would be more comfortable :-)

    • Amanda says:

      I love it too! I married into a big Italian-American family and many family parties follow this tradition – we keep things a little more formal for weddings though, so I never considered it personally. I’m excited to see this trend!

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