5 Things to Consider for Family Style Wedding Dinners - Wed Mayhem Blog
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5 Things to Consider for Family Style Wedding Dinners

There are three main service styles when it comes to your wedding reception dinner: Buffet, individually plated, and family style. The latter has been growing in popularity, and for good reason. Family style dinners bring the comforts of home to your reception, creating a more social eating experience.

“It’s like if you were to have a Thanksgiving dinner, but on a larger scale,” says Marni Scott, catering sales manager at Blackbelly, a farm-to-table caterer and restaurant. “It’s a very social option for events because it forces people to get to know each other.”

Of course passing giant platters of food around is nothing new—it’s how many of us, unless a parent acted as a short order cook, ate dinner at home every night. So it’s no surprise that couples are opting for this homey feel at their events.

“It’s more than a trend, it’s a service style that is here to stay,” says Claire Ploegman, director of operations at GB Culinary, a boutique caterer and farm. “It’s an easy way for guests to choose their own adventure. And it fits into a couple’s aspirations for the day. It can be very luxurious feeling and high end with wine service and attentive service touches, or it can be more casual.” 

Here, five things to consider when opting for a family style wedding dinner. 


Depending on your desired service style, family style meals can cost less. Or more. “It has to do with your approach,” Ploegman says. “Depending on the attentiveness of service, you can maybe whittle down the staff side a bit. You can have fewer servers, fewer plates, but more platters. You can rent one plate per person instead of four.”

Those rental and service needs are something couples may not necessarily think about when choosing their style, but it can make a big impact on budget. Depending on the size of your caterer, they may not have the inventory of large platters you need. Blackbelly, for example, is a smaller operation, so their inventory is limited. 

“The menu itself isn’t going to be more expensive than a buffet—in our case it’s the same exact price,” Blackbelly’s Spott says. “It’s the rentals that couples don’t tend to think about that will add up in cost.” 

But larger companies may have all the platters and bowls you’d need to pass around, and using fewer plates, not to mention staff, per guest could translate into big savings. Bottom line: Talk with your caterer about staffing needs and the equipment they have on hand versus what you’ll need to rent. 


“We get a lot of questions from clients about how they can make their event less wasteful,” Ploegman says. “Family style is amenable to that mindset because it harkens back to community.”

At GB Culinary, they source their meats and produce locally and sustainably, which means they may not always have 200 portions of carrots at the ready. But with a family style meal, they could use the locally grown carrots that are available, plus other combinations of sustainably grown vegetables to round out the meal in a way that’s not possible with individually plated. 

Another benefit is that family style meals tend to have less food waste. “Honestly, I see less waste with family style compared to a plated meal. People can take as much as they want. They’re choosing their portions, they’re taking what they think they’re going to eat, and most of the time they take the right amount,” Spott says. 

One more way this style is more sustainable is in water conservation. If you’re using fewer plates, that translates to less water use in the washing. “With family style, one plate can get us through dinner in a sustainable way,” Ploegman says. 


In terms of timing, a family style dinner can move things along a little more quickly than sending out multiple individual courses or corralling guests back and forth to the buffet. Depending on how tight of a timeline you’re on with your reception venue, this can help ensure you have more time for mingling and dancing instead of waiting on courses.  

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“It’s a little more efficient for us to get the food out with family style,” Spott says. “It provides more simplicity.”


That simplicity doesn’t need to extend to your wedding dinner’s presentation, though. “People can really dial up how high-end they want it to feel,” Ploegman says.

You can still have that wow factor of amazing presentation, even with fewer plates on the table. At GB, they like to showcase multiple cuts of a protein on a giant plate for maximum impact, and Blackbelly uses edible flowers to gussy up their platters. 

Just keep in mind the size of your tables and planned table décor when considering the family style option. Remember that this style involves large platters, which do require some table real estate. Translation: If you’ve got your heart set on cozy tables with massive floral displays, this may not be the style for you.


Of course when it comes to food, more is more. Instead of having to make the hard decision of picking between chicken or fish on their RSVP cards, guests can try a little bit of everything. 

“Family style is a fun option for guests because they get to make more than one decision on what they’re eating,” Spott says. “If they have a plated meal, they have RSVP’d, and that’s what they get. With family style, they get to taste everything on the table if they want, or they can have all the steak!” 

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