A family-style wedding meal looks much a lot like the family dinners you had as a child. Large platters of prepared food are placed in the center of each reception table, and these generally consist of one or two entrées and a variety of sides. Instead of receiving a pre-plated meal, each guest takes turns serving themselves from the communal dishes. For many couples, this type of meal service combines the best parts of a plated meal with the best parts of a buffet—guests don't have to leave the table but they're able to pick and choose what they'd like to eat. But before you choose a family-style meal for your big day, it's important to weigh all of the pros and cons.
Pro: The wedding meal will be served efficiently.
If you want to ensure everyone eats at the same time, a family-style meal might be a good idea. Tommy Waters of The Renaissance says that instead of waiting for a small pool of waitstaff to serve each of your guests—or having to wait for every guest to make their way to and through a buffet line—family-style allows the rapid deployment of entrées and sides. Once they're at each table, guests can then begin serving themselves immediately and directly from their seats.
Con: It's not always the most economical choice.
Because you'll need dinner plates for each guest and serving vessel for the actual food, you may end up paying more for rentals. Waters suggests asking your venue or catering team about dinnerware and serveware early on—there may be an upcharge to rent the larger serving plates and extra dishes, and those hidden costs can add up fast. Margot Jones, of Purple Onion Catering Co., adds that you may also end up paying more for the food, too. "With guests likely to serve themselves a heartier portion than they would receive with plated service, your caterer will need to make more food to ensure that no one at your table goes hungry."
Pro: Guests don't have to pre-select their entrée.
It's hard enough to get guests to RSVP on time, let alone RSVP with their preferred meal choice, which is often what's required when you're serving a plated meal. According to Waters, the biggest benefit of a family-style meal is that you don't have to send out and keep track of meal cards. Eliminating this extra piece of stationery won't just save you stress—it'll save you some money, too.
Con: Communal dishes take up a lot of space on the tables.
If you're hoping for elaborate centerpieces or to display a collection of different items on your reception tables, a family-style meal might not be right for you. This is especially true if you plan to serve a few different entrées and sides. "The more menu items you have, the more space will be needed on each table," says Waters. "That may mean you have to scale back on your beautiful floral centerpiece, toasting flutes, and favors. If you know you are having a family-style meal, or even considering it, one of the first questions I would ask is how many tables your venue has, their sizes, and if they have linens available for all of them."
Pro: It's a good way to get guests talking to others at their tables.
Additionally, Waters says that the act of asking each other to "pass the plates" can serve as an icebreaker for guests seated together who may not be that familiar with one another. Jones agrees. "The sharing between your guests encourages engagement and memorable conversations. We find that this form of service is the best when you have people seated at tables who don't know each other yet. By the end of the night, they're guaranteed to!"