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What is Family Style Catering? What Types of Food are Served?

Family-style catering is a type of service where the food is served in large platters or bowls and placed in the center of the table for guests to help themselves. This type of catering is popular for family gatherings, weddings, and other social events.

It is a service that provides guests with a more intimate and communal dining experience than traditional plated or buffet-style meals. Rather than having individual plates of food, guests are served platters of food that are placed on the table, allowing them to serve themselves and share the dishes with others.

This style of catering has its roots in the traditional family dinner, where food is served and everyone sits down together to enjoy the meal. In recent years, it has become popular for events because it creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere, where guests can interact with each other and enjoy the food together.

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The dishes served are often classic comfort foods that everyone loves, making them an ideal option for events where guests have diverse tastes. Family-style catering is also a practical choice for events with large groups of people.

It eliminates the need for long buffet lines or individual plating, which can be time-consuming and lead to congestion at the food stations. Instead, guests can serve themselves from the platters that are placed on the table, allowing for a smoother flow of traffic and a more relaxed atmosphere.

It also allows for more efficient use of space, as there is no need for extra tables or buffet stations. Truth be told, family-style catering is a great option for those who want to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere at their events. It offers guests the opportunity to interact with each other while enjoying classic comfort foods.

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Pros and Cons of Family Style Catering

Family-style catering is a type of catering service that is becoming increasingly popular at events like weddings, corporate events, and family gatherings. This type of catering is popular for family gatherings, weddings, and other social events. Family-style catering has its pros and cons, which are properly outlined below.


  • Social Interaction: Family-style catering encourages social interaction and conversation among guests. It creates a more relaxed atmosphere, allowing guests to interact with each other while serving themselves.
  • Variety: Family-style catering offers a wider variety of food choices. Guests can sample different dishes and flavors, which is not possible with other types of catering where the guests have to choose a set menu.
  • Cost-Effective: Family-style catering can be cost-effective as it reduces the number of servers required. Since the guests serve themselves, fewer servers are needed, which reduces labor costs.
  • Flexible: Family-style catering is flexible, and guests can adjust their portion sizes according to their preferences. This allows guests to try everything without committing to a full serving size.
  • Avoids Food Waste: Family-style catering helps to reduce food waste. Since the guests serve themselves, they can take only what they need and avoid wasting food.
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  • Limited Space: Family-style catering requires more space on the dining table, which may be a problem if the venue has limited space. It can also be challenging to set up and serve the food efficiently.
  • Hygiene Concerns: Family-style catering raises hygiene concerns as guests are sharing the same serving dishes. This can increase the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of germs.
  • Slow Service: Family-style catering can be slower than other types of catering as guests have to serve themselves. This can cause delays, especially if there are a large number of guests.
  • Unappealing Presentation: Family-style catering may not present the food in an appealing way as the dishes are placed on large platters or bowls. This may not be visually appealing to some guests.
  • Quantity Control: Family-style catering can be difficult to manage in terms of portion control. Guests may take too much food, which can lead to waste, or not enough food, which can leave guests feeling unsatisfied.
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Key Elements of Family Style Catering

  1. Shared Plates

The essence of family-style catering is the shared plates. Platters of food are arranged in the center of each table and guests can serve themselves. The plates are typically large and meant to be shared, encouraging guests to interact with each other while dining. This style of serving creates a communal atmosphere and allows guests to try different dishes.

  1. Menu Selection

Family-style catering menus should be designed to offer a range of dishes that can appeal to everyone’s taste. The dishes should be carefully selected to accommodate different dietary restrictions, such as vegetarian, gluten-free, or dairy-free options. The menu should also include a variety of proteins, vegetables, and starches, as well as a mix of hot and cold dishes.

  1. Serving Portions

When it comes to family-style catering, serving portions are key. The goal is to ensure that there is enough food for everyone to have a satisfying meal.

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The serving sizes should be large enough to allow each guest to have a taste of each dish but not so much that they are unable to try everything. The caterer should have a good understanding of how much food is needed per person to ensure that there is enough for everyone.

  1. Tableware

Tableware is an important element of family-style catering. The plates, serving platters, and utensils should be chosen to match the theme of the event. The tableware should be of good quality and durable enough to withstand multiple servings. The plates and platters should be large enough to accommodate the food without overcrowding the table.

  1. Presentation

Presentation is key to the success of family-style catering. The food should be presented in an attractive and appetizing manner. The platters should be arranged in a way that is visually appealing and easy to access. The dishes should be garnished with fresh herbs or other decorative touches to enhance their presentation.

  1. Service Style

The service style for family-style catering is different from other styles of catering. The caterer should be experienced in serving food in this style and should be able to ensure that the guests are able to access the food easily. The caterer should also be able to monitor the food levels and replenish them as necessary.

  1. Clean-up

Clean-up is an important element of family-style catering. The caterer should ensure that the tables are cleared promptly after the meal is finished. The caterer should also take care of the washing and cleaning of the dishes and utensils used during the meal.

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Best Food ideas for Family-Style Catering

If you’re planning a family-style catering event, it’s important to choose the right food to ensure your guests are satisfied and happy. Here are some of the best food ideas for family-style catering:

  1. Appetizers

Appetizers are a great way to kick off your family-style catering meal. Choose a selection of finger foods that are easy to share and eat.

Some popular options include cheese and charcuterie boards, mini quiches, sliders, and bruschetta. You can also consider serving a few dips and spreads, such as hummus, spinach and artichoke dip, and guacamole, with some fresh vegetables and bread on the side.

  1. Salads

Salads are a healthy and refreshing addition to any family-style catering menu. You can choose to serve a single large salad that guests can pass around or several smaller salads that guests can choose from. Some popular salad options include Caesar salad, Greek salad, caprese salad, and mixed greens with various toppings such as nuts, fruit, and cheese.

  1. Entrees

Entrees are the main course of your family-style catering meal, and there are many options to choose from. Consider serving a variety of proteins, such as chicken, beef, pork, and fish. You can also offer vegetarian options, such as roasted vegetables or a hearty grain dish. Family-style dishes that work well include lasagna, shepherd’s pie, and paella.

  1. Sides

Sides are an important component of a family-style catering meal, as they provide balance to the meal and complement the entrees. Some popular side dishes include mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, rice, and pasta salad. You can also consider offering seasonal sides, such as grilled asparagus or a corn and tomato salad.

  1. Desserts

No meal is complete without dessert, and family-style catering is no exception. Choose a variety of desserts that guests can share and enjoy, such as a fruit platter, mini cupcakes, cookies, and a chocolate fountain. You can also consider offering a dessert buffet with a selection of cakes, pies, and other sweets.

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In conclusion, family-style catering has its pros and cons. It encourages social interaction, offers a wider variety of food choices, and can be cost-effective. However, it also has limitations such as limited space, hygiene concerns, slow service, unappealing presentation, and quantity control issues.

When planning your family-style catering menu, it’s important to consider your guests’ dietary restrictions and preferences. Be sure to offer a range of options, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free choices.