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An Argument for Family Style Dining

Hi guys... I hope you can help me out with this regarding this little snag we just hit with our wedding reception venue.

We went in asking them to do Family Style dining. They agreed, but in the middle of the process got a new manager and she's scoffing at it trying to get us to do a buffet.

We are COMPLETEY against the buffet. We'd rather do a sit down meal, but that too would be not what we want. Idealy, we want the feel to be like Thanksgiving dinner, it's comfort irish food and we want folks to dig in and take from a selection of things (Cottage Pie, Corned Beef, etc...)

They are a medium sized restaurant (Can accomidate our 100 guests no problem), but they haven't done family style before, they are worrying about the waste of food, timing and that things will get cold.

What I need now a GOOD arguement as to why they should not worry and any hints we can give them to pull it off (Or at least feel better about pulling it off!). I know you guys will be 100% more creative than I am regarding what we should tell her or maybe have some ideas on how we can come to a middle ground.

Thanks so much.


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  1. Waste of food with family style? I don't get it. I think it's the same waste of food as you'll get with a buffet. There are issues of timing with family style. I think it's much easier for a restaurant to pull off a buffet than to fire dishes as the meal progresses. And the restaurant does have a point about food getting cold.

    But I think the best reason that you guys should do it family style is that you made an agreement with the restaurant (before the new manager) that your wedding reception would be family style. You may want to tell them Chinese weddings do it family style all the time -- but Chinese food normally doesn't take much time to cook as things are cut into bite-sized pieces. It may help if you tell us what is on your menu.

    1. Good for you on the family style! Ask the manager to call a Basque restaurant in Fresno and ask them how they manage night after night. And congratulations!

      1. Your argument as to why is that this is what they agreed to, it's not an unreasonable or unusual request and if they refuse to accommodate it, you will request your deposit back (if you gave one) and take your business elsewhere. It is not your job to educate a restaurant on how to handle service, whether it's seated, buffet, family style or any other service, suggest the chef and manager talk with other chefs and managers in town to find out how to properly service your guests in this manner, it's not your job. You should not have to CONVINCE them to do their jobs.

        1. Dommy -- You and Mattap... finally tying the knot!?! Congrats and how fantastic!!

          To address your particular current problem:

          First, have the new manager review both of your posts on this site and on the L.A. board. He or she will recognize that both of you are people of taste, enthusiasm, and sense of humor, and therefore be able to relax.

          Second, there should be LESS waste with family style than with either sitdown plated dinners or a buffet because people will serve themselves what they WANT. Those who don't like the vegie won't leave it sitting on the side of the plate. Those doing Atkins will avoid the starch or potato. There aren't the problems of long lines at the buffet with some early-grabbers lining up for seconds before others have even had firsts.

          The restaurant does have two legitimate concerns: One, how to keep things hot without the chafing dishes you have with a buffet. Two, the potential cost or waste problem of the most expensive items, the entrees, either being gobbled up or left uneaten. Of course, the heat issue is more of a problem with a plated meal, and the waste or cost issue is worse with a buffet. Ensure the manager that you will have a friendly crowd that won't horde food -- that if one table needs more salad while another has run out of pasta, either they will share or it will be ok for the serving staff to accommodate that sort of thing.

          Bottom line -- Sitdown, plated meals are perfectly predictable in terms of amounts, but require huge investments of personnel both in the back and the front of the house, and a lot goes uneaten. Buffets are the easiest for the caterers and items in chafing dishes stay hot, but they can be the most user-unfriendly, can result in incredible amounts of unused food (admittedly, it can be given to the hosts or the catering staff), and it is not what you want. Family-style can be the best of all worlds, particularly if some of the sides can be served cold or at room temp and you either provide more than one choice of entree or somehow portion-control that most costly dish.

          Good luck, mazel-tov, and post pics!!

          1 Reply
          1. re: nosh

            >>They agreed, but in the middle of the process got a new manager and she's scoffing at it trying to get us to do a buffet.

            Was the agreement in writing? If yes, case closed, next.

            Scoffing? Your money, your choice, no?


          2. Everyone has valid points, are you dead set on this restaurant, there are plenty of restaurants that would love to help you..

            Then there is also another point, your guest don't really care about family style or buffet or set plate, they just want free booze. Happy Wedding!!!!!

            2 Replies
            1. re: waitress

              We are kind of set on the Restaurant. It has many pluses and this is the one minus. As hound in LA, we have convinced restaurants to do family style and it has worked. But the owners seem to have more of an open mind then the place we are dealing with here. If push come to shove we will likely give in but it would be a disappointment. This is the first time we've made contact with the New managers and we haven't made a real argument yet. That will come in the next few days. Maybe we can come to a middle ground.

              If you have suggestions, pass them on, if not, wish us luck.

              Take Care

              - P.

              1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                Stick to your guns. Family style just means that maintaining proper temps is done in the back and that servings are plattered rather than plated. Should not be a big deal. On the other hand, what do you have on the menu? Some dishes are more or less family-style appropriate.

                Congratulations to you as well!

            2. The problem with having parties in restaurants is they are not experienced in preparing and serving a large number of people at one time. They are used to serving tables one at a time.....did you ever go out in a group of more than ten for dinner......someone at the table always gets their food after everyone else has had theirs for some time.....or it was not served as ordered.

              Catering Halls, Hotels and Country Clubs are in the business of running parties......efficiently, with great service and excellent food.... You get what you pay for. The caterers compared to restaurants are equipped to handle large numbers. They have the equipment, refrigeration, stoves, ovens, tables, serving platters, tableware, silverware, glasses, necessary labor for preparation, wait staff and etc. to make sure everything runs smoothly. Everything is preset and backups are in the wings.

              Restaurants however are not a versatile or accommodating in this regard. I can only surmise the new manager realized to do a family style dinner for you, extra serving items or other costs would have to be incurred by the restaurant that makes doing the contracted party problematic on many fronts for them. If the house does not have enough of the above items I have mentioned, they have to purchase it or rent it.....are you willing to assume these costs or do you feel the restaurant should have to honor your original prior agreement? I would caution you to think hard about this.......the restaurant in an effort to accommodate your original contract may cut corners in the end.

              As for the food, the most profitable party for the house is a buffet. Assuming you have ten tables of ten guests each.....the restaurant has to prepare the equivalent of 50% the amount of each food item normally of one full buffet chaffing dish to do family style dining, On a buffet, a main dish you select would take up one full pan per selection on your menu with back-ups, probably two pans....for a total of three pans......in this scenario the house saves the equivalent of four full table's worth of food. Even using a simple dinner salad as an example will show you the difference in the amount of food prepared for family table service or buffet. For each table family style, one three pound bag of prewashed salad greens or mesculin would be necessary for each table, a total of ten bags...for buffet service, they would probably use three to four bags at most in a large bowl and many would not even touch it. Expanding on this thought to get the full realization the difference between family style and buffet using your Thanksgiving Dinner theme, each table would require one medium sized turkey per table. On a buffet they could buy breasts only or large whole turkeys. Serving portions dished out would only be a few slices to each guest and many may not have any and just go for the other items. Even if the restaurant prepared the same ten turkeys for the buffet, and if there were untouched turkeys not served in the end, the house could keep them and use it for another day effectively being paid twice for the same food......They save on food cost, labor costs and etc.....but they are still charging you for the additional 40 guests by head count. Many believe they are getting a great deal with buffet dining, but they really are not. How this concerns you in the end is if they can even cook and hold the amount of food necessarry to ensure you and your guests are served quality food.

              I think your original idea of family dinner service is what you should have on your special occasion......but I would tell you to make sure the restaurant can handle the service. Please note also, if the restaurant cannot prepare family style for 100 without concern and actually worry the food will come out cold......I would suggest they are ill equipped to properly serve any party of your size.........I would worry they would prepare your items too earlier in the day and try to reheat the items possibly compromising the dishes.....as in dry and over-cooked.....or Corned Beef falling apart.....not pretty.

              The only argument I can see for you to give reason to the new manager you feel confident you want family style service and know the restaurant can pull it off........is if you also tell her to make sure the liquor keeps flowing and no one will notice the service or the food.

              Last, I do not understand any discussion or concern about excess consumption of any food or the possible waste of uneaten food........especially since corned beef is one of the cheapest types of meat available wholesale. The most expensive brand in the New York greater vicinity is less than $3.00 per pound and many other brands are under $2.00 per pound...........not withstanding all the food is paid for. As Miss Needle gives the example of Chinese Banquets......the guest take home the food not eaten.....and it's expected of them to do so.

              1. This sounds like a perfect wedding idea -- family-style to merge two family in the creation of a new family unit. How much more appropriate than the huge show-off extravaganza now called a wedding. Congratulations!

                I'll hazard a guess that the new manager has never done "Family Style" and is, therefore, uncomfortable with a new idea in a new job. Several other posters have suggested making her aware of this venue in other places. That's sure to make her see that something like this can be done. In a town the size of LA, there's bound got be some family-style dining. Do you think that perhaps the restaurant is short of the serving platters, bowls etc necessary to carry this off? That could explain their reluctance. It would be costly to buy the necessary pieces, especially if they think they'll never use them again. Rentals?

                Are you at all flexible about the "Irish Comfort Food" menu? Unless there are a significant number of Irish Comfort Food dishes that are equally good hot or cold or lukewarm, this could work againt your success. Lots of other cuisines come to mind that fit the flexible temperature profile.

                For the life of me, I cannot understand why the manager is concerned about "waste of food". It is not their problem (as if there is no waste at a buffet!!!). You contract for X numbers of platters/bowls serving X number of people per table. If table #1 runs out of something, they can borrow from table #2. What better way to introduce friends and family than over food. The more I think about your wedding, the more enthused I become about your idea. I hope that you find a way to make this work - it has been the standard elsewhere for eons.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Sherri

                  Thanks so much everyone for your posts. Every POV was helpful... Especially your's Sherri, you captured the essence of what we are trying to do here. The typical "dream" wedding is actually a version of a nightmare for me and we wanted the focus to be on the FOOD and celebration (in fact, that is what we are calling it instead of a 'reception' because there won't be dancing, cake cutting, etc... :P). I didn't even place an order for centerpieces (hurrah!!) because I wanted the food to be decoration at the center of the table.

                  As P. noted above, this is top choice and yes, Irish food is essential because it celebrates his side of the family (We are actually getting married in the south coast of Massachusetts). We will be having another celebration in L.A., which is still in the works, but thankfully the restaurants we've contacted are more than happy to do family style.

                  P. will re-engage her next week and hopefully we can negotiate some sort of middle ground...


                  1. re: Dommy

                    Dommy, can you get your hands on a recent Darina Allen "Ballymaloe" cookbook? There are a lot of wonderful Irish recipes that might be useful for your wedding meal. Things like Fish Pate and Potted Shrimp, both traditionally Irish, are delicious and easy to have ready ahead of time. Smoked Salmon with brown bread and butter couldn't be more delicious or festive.

                    I would probably send an e-mail to Ballymaloe asking for suggestions, after describing the family-style meal dilemma, but that's because I assume that the whole world loves a bride!

                    I continue to think that your idea is fabulous and EXACTLY what a wedding represents. Go For It!

                2. Well, the best argument in favor of family style dining is because it's your wedding and you want it! The problem I see with a buffet is it gets congested, it isn't very elegant to ask guests to fend for themselves. If the restaurant can't do family style OR provide enough wait staff to take care of your guests with quality individual service, then I'd start talking to other restaurants.

                  1. Dommy and Matt,

                    I don't really have an argument for you to persuade the restaurant, bud did what to provide this perspective, and maybe shed a little light on why the restaurant is resistant to doing family-style.

                    For an establishment that is not accustomed to doing family-style dinners, it can be very difficult. It's easy to plate individual entrees, but to eyeball how much a particular table will need can be a rather difficult and foreign endeavor, esp. if it's being undertaken for the first time.

                    Perhaps you can take the restaurant's hesitancy to honoring your request at family-style dining as their polite way of saying, "we simply don't think we can do it properly for your special wedding celebration."

                    Just my 0.02.

                    As others have said, congrats to you both.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      My guess is that the restaurant's resistence to family style has to do with not having enough serving dishes and being hesitant about investing in them for a single occasion.

                    2. I can't think of a better argument than the fact that it's your wedding reception, which means that everything should be done just the way you want it. Had they told you from the get-go that family style wasn't an option, that would be one thing, but they didn't.

                      And if that argument doesn't do the trick, you can always remind them that you chose to spend your money with them and can just as easily choose to spend it elsewhere.