At your wedding, the only line you want your guests in is a second line. This rules out a buffet style dinner, but the idea of having guests choose their entree on their R.S.V.P. card doesn’t sit right with you. Consider family-style service at your reception instead. Not just for Thanksgiving feasts or bountiful trips to Italy, this type of pass-the-plate experience — with larger portions and a variety of food brought straight to each of your guests’ tables — can benefit your reception experience in more ways than one.
You’ve created a visual theme that extends from the first step down the aisle to the getaway car. Family-style service can help add an element for you to further personalize that theme.
Sarah Hall, president of Joel Catering and Special Events, finds that of the couples who are looking to provide a seated dinner for their guests, about half of them are opting for family-style to set the tone of the event and keep with the spirit of aesthetic individuality.
“For clients looking to have a beautiful but not a formal event, family-style offers that balance,” says Hall. “The table presentation really stands out and it can be a little more relaxing than a full formal presentation. It also works well with long, communal-style tables, which is a design choice popular with many of our brides.”
With the attention to detail in themes that is so prevalent in the bridal realm, another benefit of family-style serving is the opportunity to further the personal aesthetic in ways that you can’t with a buffet table and conventional chafing dishes.
“We’re always excited for individuality and using vintage place settings is a wonderful way to achieve that,” says Hall. “It can be a little more work, but it provides a high impact for the photos and really impresses the guests. One option for easier planning and sourcing is to add just one vintage element — like a special water glass or charger plate.”
Managing a budget
Depending on the dazzling dress you’ve selected, catering can often be the highest cost of a wedding. If you’re a couple who is budget conscious, family-style service may be a winning solution.
Stacey Messina, co-founder of Messina’s Catering & Events, suggests that larger plated portions brought to each table can reduce your need for a large waitstaff.
“(Family style) is definitely more cost effective than a sit down dinner, as less servers are needed,” says Messina.
Concurrently, less foot traffic also keeps the pace of the event moving along at a steady pace.
“The service is faster than sit-down and definitely less intimidating,” says Messina. “Guests can eat as much or as little as they like — if you don’t care for an item, just pass it along!”
Rushing finds the same to be true at Brennan’s.
“Serving family style food can reduce costs significantly,” he says. “A much smaller serving team is required overall which can help keep costs down. Also, the guests will most likely consume their food at a faster pace than if the meal was served plated by course, allowing for a reduced rental time at the venue.”
As a bride, you’ve painstakingly planned every detail, including the seating arrangements. You’ve grouped guests at particular tables hoping they’ll hit it off and strike up meaningful conversation. Family-style service is a complement to all of your efforts, creating a relaxed environment from the very beginning. Slade Rushing, executive chef at Brennan’s, says family style service helps encourage a more intimate group experience.
“Offering family-style servings often puts guests at ease,” says Rushing. “All at once every table has platters of food to enjoy. There can be an anxious or nervous atmosphere when guests are forced to wait or stand in line for food, he said, but with family style, a new taste experience is just one ‘pass it over’ away.”
In a world where technology can take over at every turn, creating a mini-bonding experience at each table that may help ward off the hard-to-resist call of WiFi.
“I have a theory that family style servings are becoming a popular trend because it encourages conversation between guests who might otherwise fall victim to smartphones, Facebook or other distractions at large and significant gatherings, like weddings,” says Rushing. “Family-style servings encourage guests to engage with each other and truly bond over a shared meal because it feels communal and familial.”