How to Setup and Organize a “Family Style” Catering Event

The buffet line. It’s a tried and true way to serve a large group of people in an orderly manner. No matter where you go people understand exactly how it works.

You start on one side, pick up a plate and walk through the line until your plate is full. If you need to serve 100 or more people this can be a smart way to reduce overhead of hiring wait staff and keep cost competitive. Yours truly has seen the buffet line pulled off for corporate events, restaurants, and even weddings. I grew up in the Midwest where no one bats an eye at a wedding buffet line.

We can all agree a buffet line works. But let’s rethink group dining for a minute. Is there a way to offer something different with a large group of people for your next catering event? Something more imaginative that will leave people remembering the food they ate and the experience they shared. Well… A family style service may be the perfect solution to your needs.

What is a Family-Style Dinner Service?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term family style, it’s a sit down meal where food is placed on the table in large serving dishes. After food is delivered to the table, diners help themselves from there.According to this article, it’s also referred to as casual dining in the United States.

You put a more elegant spin on this concept by setting up serving stations to prep each dish individually. This ensures consistency of plating across all tables and customers. This is the approach Eric Silverstein of The Peached Tortilla took for their collaboration with Revolver Brewing in the video below.

This family-style dinner included four courses. Each course was paired with a specific beer from Revolver Brewing.

  • Course 1: Furikake buttered popcorn. Paired with Revolver High Brass (American Blonde Ale)
  • Course 2: “Wedge” Salad. Togarashi buttermilk ranch, bacon, panko, fried shallots. Paired with Revolver Sidewinder (Southwest Pale Ale)
  • Course 3: Bo Ssam. Lacquered slow roasted pork shoulder with all the fixins’ (kimchi, pickles, ginger scallion sauce, chinese bbq sauce, rice, bibb lettuce). Paired with a Revolver Blood & Honey (American Wheat Ale)
  • Course 4: Salted chocolate chip ice cream sandwich. Paired with Revolver Bock (Traditional Bock)

Benefits of Choosing Family Style

By going family style you get some of the same business side benefits of running a buffet, paired with a sit-down restaurant vibe for attendees. There’s no need for diners to get up and wait in a line for food. Everything comes to them. Many diners prefer being served and this is a great way to accomplish this experience in a large group setting.

One way to arrange this is if you had 100 guests, setup 10 people up at each table. From there two wait staff could handle serving each course to the group one table at a time. If you can time it right, everyone gets their food within a 5 minute window as everyone else. This is much better execution than many buffet lines you may have experienced were you need to get up and stand around for 10 – 15 minutes.

There’s also the opportunity to amp-up these events by having the chef visit each table to explain the different courses that will be enjoyed. Having the chef explain the reasons behind each dish informs, entertains, and creates a more upscale dining experience for guests.

As the caterer, you can serve everyone the same meal just like you were offering a buffet. The execution of the family-style service is closer than you might initially think. You prep the food in advance. But instead of making everyone stand in line and serve themselves, you bring the completed plates to each table.

Popular Restaurant Concepts with Family-Style Dining 

If you want to experience family-style dining in your town, Italian or Chinese restaurants are your best bets. Most Chinese restaurants have family options that includes four menu items such as egg rolls, Won-Ton soup, Chinese Chicken, and fried rice for example. The main dishes are placed in the center of the table and the food is self-serve from there.

If you’re not in the mood for Chinese, Buca di Beppo is a restaurant chain that that specializes in Italian food served family style. Popular dishes enjoyed at Buca di Beppo are baked rigatoni, fried calamari, bruschetta, lasagna and stuffed shells.  You can find a location in just about every major U.S. metro and they have international locations too.

Whether you’ve been operating a catering business for years, own a restaurant or a food truck, adding family-style service into your offerings can be a simple way to differentiate yourself from other businesses. This style of dining is also considerably more memorable and more appropriate for formal environments too. Let us know if you plan to utilize this approach in your business within the comments section below.

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