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"Family style"

Lately I've heard the phrase "family style" used for restaurants - particularly Italian restaurants and Amish style restaurants in the Lancaster Pa area. What exactly is "family style"?

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  1. The food is not individually plated, but is put in large serving dishes in the middle of the table and each person, who has been given their own plate, serves themself.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ArikaDawn

      I don't know what they do these days (this decade) but at least some of the Lancaster places used to be all-you-can-eat for a set price. That's different from the Italian or other family-style restaurants where you order large dishes to be shared, but far from being set-price, it can add up really fast if you're not watching, if it's an issue.

    2. Chinese restaurants have been doing this for years.

      6 Replies
        1. re: ricepad

          So have all families! :)

          I don't think anything creates bonds like eating family style on a regular basis, especially regarding preferences in food. Family style food is an instant conversation starter, and I tend to really enjoy discussing the food with my parents and siblings.

          1. re: MeAndroo

            I only serve family style for my family and friends when doing a sit-down meal. It is how my family has done it forever, and individual plating was just not part of the concept. It seems strange to me to plate for each person. It is also why I have one of the largest serving piece collections of anyone I know.

            1. re: RGC1982

              This made me laugh. I actually think I have the largest serving piece collection of anyone I know. I host many family sit down meals where everything is served "family style." I have even spoiled myself by buying multiples of everything so that no serving platters need to be washed and I can still serve food in courses.

          2. re: ricepad

            Well yeah, since I'm Chinese, I kinda knew that, but I was just saying so b/c the OP was so not knowing what it meant. I guess it is just the norm for you and me...
            :)

            Funny...as I read this, I guess not so many people have really eaten at a Chinese restaurant, since most all are served 'family style'. I guess I am perplexed at the thought that this is a new style of eating to many.

            1. re: justagthing

              I know exactly what you mean! The first time I ate in a Chinese restaurant with friends (all caucasians) was while I was in HS, and everybody was excited about ordering 'family style'. I'm thinking, "What the heck is 'family style'??? I have no idea what it is, I'll just go along!" Imagine my surprise when I learned that this exotic 'family style' to them was a basic 'Chinese meal' to me! After we were done, I asked them..."You mean you guys order individual items sometimes??"

        2. sounds like it might be a nice concept, but it'd be great to come up with another name rather than "family" style.........brings up the same ideas as family restaurants for me....and if i want to avoid kids running around .....i might also avoid this place.

          2 Replies
          1. re: im_nomad

            I doubt the term "family style" is going away any time soon. Hard to believe some have never heard of it.

            1. re: irishnyc

              Yeah, I'm surprised, too. Maybe it's a regional or urban vs suburban thing?

              Chinese restaurants I consider different since Chinese meals simply aren't organized in a way that matches American/European norms for individual servings (leaving aside the infamous "combo plates" and whatnot.) In my early adulthood I discovered the bizarre concept of people ordering "their own" dish in Chinese restaurants but it was never anything I'd seen eating in Chinese restaurants in NYC growing up. While "family style" in Western restaurants is hardly "new", they were never common or the norm in my experience, even in Italian-owned Italian restaurants here...

          2. this style of service has been around for hundreds of years. I like it because you don't have to commit to one menu item. I usually make a deal with my dinner companions that I'll order one thing if they get the other. Makes great conversation.

            1 Reply
            1. re: nathanac

              Family style is big in catering business now also. Weddings mostly. I LOVE family style..people take what they want - how much they want. Of course, if a dish were to run out early, we would refill it.
              It's part of that Euro - kind of Tuscan - trend that folks get into.
              1-2 protein, 2 starches to choose, 1 or 2 veg, and bread! No menus to pick from - no entree counts - no fuss. AND no Buffet line!!! With all the benefits of a buffet.

            2. That always weirds me out when people who don't know better all order individual dishes at an Indo-Pak or Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant---actually there are many dishes that are just meant for the individual like soups or snacks foods etc., but I mean main dishes. Especially when two or three diners order the same main dish and eat it by themselves, like three people each eating a giant plate of lo mein or a whole plate of saag paneer or something. Ideally, a "family style" Indian or Chinese type dinner, a group of people should select a combination of several types of protein (say one from the sea, one poultry, one red meat), a mix of a selection of dry gravy and wet gravy, perhaps a vegetable or tofu (or more variety of this if they are vegetarian), rice to eat with the gravies, plus a flat bread for South Asian, and perhaps a noodle dish to share at Korean/Chinese/Vietnamese, and a giant bowl of soup. I can imagine that the same type of thinking could be applied to any cuisine. All the dishes are set in the middle of the table rather than on each person's plate. Then each individual serves herself from the dishes on the middle of the table. That way, everyone gets a good mix of dishes and gets to try everything.