What is family style dining?
Family style restaurant dining, sometimes called large format or casual dining, is when food is brought to the table on large platters or serving share dishes, rather than being individually plated. Guests then serve themselves from the dishes which are passed around the table.
A growing restaurant trend, family style dining actually has deep roots in many cultures. Today for a wide variety of reasons including changes in how people work and spend their leisure time, many families no longer seem to have time to sit down to a meal together at home.
In contrast, family style restaurant dining is a call back to the era of the traditional daily home-cooked meal served around the family kitchen or dining room table. Of course different variations of family style dining have long been popular in many cultures (think Spanish tapas, Korean barbecue, Middle Eastern Mezze or Chinese hot pot, to name a few), and growing interest in these cuisines is also driving the family style dining trend. Let's take a closer look at the benefits of family style dining and how to do it right.
What are the benefits of family style dining for clients?
Family style dining celebrates the meal as a communal rather than an individual experience. Instead of relishing one's own beautifully plated dish, the diner is invited to engage in the intensely social experience of choosing and enjoying a wide variety of dishes with everyone at the table. The very act of selecting the menu sparks conversation as people share their preferences, dislikes and food experiences in order to reach a consensus about what to order. In short, family style dining tends to inspire social interaction and cohesion. Generally more informal, family style dining aims to bring people together around the common goal of choosing the perfect balance of dishes to suit everyone's tastes.
Along with creating a fun, relaxed vibe, family style dining gives your guests the chance to sample many different dishes in one meal, expanding their culinary experience. This can be very exciting for guests and a great opportunity for you to showcase your signature dishes. In short, suddenly within just one meal, your chef has multiple opportunities to wow each diner. This contrasts with the individually plated format, where the kitchen only has one or two chances (i.e. starter and main) to make the customer happy (except for multiple course, gastronomic meals which are also much more expensive).
The benefits of family style dining for kids
Family style dining is also a good option for people who want to eat out with their kids. Here's why :
- Just like for adults, family style dining gives children the opportunity to identify and explore new foods, tastes, and menus. As there are many dishes, there is a good chance that the child will find something he or she likes.
- It teaches kids valuable lessons about sharing, waiting your turn, how to politely ask for something you want, how to be aware of and listen to other people’s requests to pass dishes. In short it keeps kids actively engaged throughout the meal.
- Children have the opportunity to choose the amount of food on their plate and learn not to waste food by over-serving themselves
It encourages both autonomy and consideration for others (making sure that everyone has enough to eat).
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Family style dining: potential challenges
🚩Children and even some adults may initially take too large portions because they especially like a certain food or are fast eaters, while other people who may be slower eaters or are shy about asking for more, may end up not having enough. This can be frustrating for some guests and can intentionally backfire on the restaurant if not handled carefully.
✔️Solution : Ensure that waiters keep a close eye on whether the serving dishes are empty and remind them to ask guests if they would like an additional serving. You might try offering a price reduction for refill orders on the same dish. Advise guests honestly about what to expect in terms of portions.
🚩 Family style dining tends to be considerably messier than individually plated dishes. The more dishes passed around the table and self-served, the more chances there are for food to be spilled.
✔️Solution : Reassure customers at the beginning of the meal that it is OK to spill and always be ready to clean up if things get too messy. Provide easy to use serving utensils and always caution guests if a dish is hot.
🚩 From a sanitary perspective, the more people handle a dish and utensils, the more chances there are for contaminating food accidentally.
✔️Solution : Be aware of current sanitary conditions and guidelines and provide hand sanitizer at the entrance to the restaurant. Make sure that you provide specific cutlery only to serve the food. Therefore, dinners won't use their own to serve after having used them to eat.
A few tips to make family style dining a success
💁♂️ Train your people on how to positively explain the principle of family style dining and ensure that staff know the menu well. People will want reassurance about portion/dish sizes, so ensure that your staff are ready to provide them with clear answers and recommendations.
🥣 Try offering different size options for each dish (ie. For two, four or six people or more...)
🥙 Whatever the dish, make sure that it is easy to share and that components of the meal are arranged and thought out so that each person can at least try each ingredient.
🍽️ Invest in a wide selection of attractive yet user friendly serving dishes, platters and utensils to showcase each dish. Don't forget that whether individually plated or served family style, the food always needs to be both attractive and delicious.
💚 While family style dining gives diners more autonomy (they are serving the food themselves), this does not mean staff should disappear once the dishes are on the table. Always be sure to continue to engage with customers, asking for feedback, and checking whether guests need order refills or have any questions. Train staff to advise guests on choosing a selection of dishes that go well together. As always: in addition to excellent food, great service is the key to any successful restaurant!