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The Downside to Family-Style Serving We Hadn't Thought Of

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The first wedding I attended where the dinner was served family-style was in January 2010. Big bowls of vegetables and small plates of meats were passed around between friends, the whole experience feeling quite like a cozy dinner party save for the fact that we were decked out in tuxes and gowns. There's human interaction baked into eating family-style: You pass to or serve your neighbor, whether you've known them your whole life or just for ten minutes. It's chatty. Relaxed.

Thankfully, the trend caught momentum and I, for one, have loved seeing it opted for more often, especially at weddings. So when I was talking to the event designer Ron Wendt, who was telling me all the who-knew's of fancy wedding design, I was surprised to hear that he felt reluctant to agree.

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Why I Prefer to Eat Family-Style (Especially at Restaurants)
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Why I Prefer to Eat Family-Style (Especially at Restaurants)

We'd been talking about tabletop design—he thinks using silver is a little "too much" for a wedding in the Hamptons, and that glass containers are "so right" for summer—when I asked about the trend towards serving food family-style. The pause that followed sounded quite a lot like it accompanied a frown. "There’s something inelegant about seeing a bowl with partially-served food inside it," is how Ron carefully phrased his thoughts on the matter, going on to explain that you also need to leave big blank spaces throughout a tablescape for the platters to be placed—a real bummer for designers, brides, and grooms who are prone to feeling that more decoration is, well, more.

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Food52 Serving Platter, by Jono Pandolfi

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And if you are looking for your wedding to be a very zipped-up, fancy-pants, or otherwise high-design affair, you'll probably agree: Half-eaten platters of salad and salmon are neither cute nor appetizing. They will not photograph well. And by factoring them out of the overall table design, you'll gain back real estate for more flowers and candles and family silver. (You'll also want to un-invite me to your wedding, if such untidiness displeases you, because I can't eat a meal without leaving a disaster zone of crumbs and spills and creases in my wake.)

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The 6 Things We Didn't Expect to Learn about Fancy Weddings

But if happy chatter and the idea of easy-access second helpings matter more to you than tightly wound decor, the downsides of opting for family style are few. (Or if mingling is the primary aim, as it is at many events we throw in our office, an out-of-the-way buffet makes its own case.) It's all about how buttoned up or undone you want the evening to feel. Plus, as it turns out, your wedding decisions are yours to make).

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Family-style, buffet, or table service: Which is your favorite? Tell us in the comments.

Tags: family-style dining