Family-Style Wedding Meal Service: What you need to know

What is family-style wedding meal service?

If you’ve ever seen Clark Griswold and family sit down for dinner in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, you have a pretty good idea of what is considered a “family-style” serving. Simply put, all of the meal offerings are served on large serving platters in the middle of each table, allowing guests to fill their own plate as they choose. So if you are expecting guests that may want an extra helping of mashed potatoes, but prefer to pass on the grilled asparagus, this may the serving style for you.

Why choose family-style?

There are pros and cons to all wedding serving styles. Here are the top reasons why we love the family-style of serving, and why it has continued to grow in popularity over the past few years.

Warm, Intimate Atmosphere

Sharing food from a common platter helps create a shared experience among your wedding guests. At a minimum, it is a great conversation starter. By passing the food around the table, guests are able to interact with each other in a way that creates a memorable dining experience—even for complete strangers. It recreates the feeling of holidays spent with family listening to conversations around the table. Whether your guests have known each other for years or are seated together by chance, passing the food creates a comfortable atmosphere to strike up a conversation.

Casual Elegance

Family-style serving strikes a perfect balance between the casual buffet and the elegant formal plated dinner. Guests remain seated while being served in a more casual way. Each guest can help themselves to as much food as they’d like without waiting through the long lines of the buffet.

Serving Time

Family-style service will typically take the least amount of time compared to buffets and plated meal service. All tables will be served at the same time, so there won’t be long lines of guests waiting to dive into the buffet. This allows you to allot less time to the meal, leaving more time for things like toasts, cake-cutting, and rug-cutting.

Additional Things to Consider

On paper, a family-style serving may be just right for you. However, as with all of your other wedding decisions, there are a few things to consider

Space Required

Family-style dining requires a reasonable amount of space on the dinner table for the platters and dishes. Check with your reception venue to make sure the tables can accommodate the food platters. You’ll also have to consider the size of the platters and space needed when choosing your table settings and centerpieces. A huge centerpiece will not work well with family-style dining.

Serving Cost

Some venues and caterers may charge more for family-style than for plated dinners because they cannot control portion sizes like they can when they plate themselves. When you have family that takes two, three, or four times more food than was originally planned, the caterers need to have contingencies to make sure everyone gets fed. However, the size of the wait staff will usually be smaller for a family-style serving which could help offset some of the food costs.

Messy Guests

When you leave the serving up to your guests, well, things can get a little messy. This is similar to a buffet line. A buffet line that isn’t well-attended by a server can lose its aesthetically pleasing appearance in a hurry. The difference in this instance is that any messes are on your guests’ tables. Fortunately, this is easy to remedy. You can include items that are easy to self-serve on your menu and ensure that a server is standing close by to help tidy up if things get out of control.

Final Thoughts

If the idea of family meals appeal to you, we are positive that you will love the family-style serving option for your wedding. This serving style has become hugely popular over the past several years as couples try to maintain the intimacy of the wedding experience, even with hundreds of guests. Be sure to ask your caterer about this option as you discuss your menu options. And remember, all caterers price their options differently, so if you have your heart set on family-style dining, be sure to discuss it with multiple caterers to be sure you get exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re still undecided on your meal style, stay tuned for our posts about plated and buffet-style dinners.