family style dining

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Family-style dining is transforming the dining experience by offering an opportunity for people to connect and share in a communal setting. Typically found in casual dining environments, this method of meal service is becoming increasingly popular among restaurants and diners alike. By placing large platters and bowls in the center of the dining room, guests are invited to serve themselves, creating a unique interactive experience. For guests, family-style dining isn’t just about the food they’re enjoying, but the relationships they’re building at the table. The combination of engagement and ease makes this dining style appealing to many.

What is Family-style Dining? 

Family-style dining is a traditional method of serving meals where diners share food from common serving dishes. It creates a homely ambiance, where everyone at the table takes part in the meal together, enhancing the social aspect of dining.

How to Serve Family-Style Meals

When you serve family-style meals, the food is often presented in large platters or bowls, allowing guests to help themselves.

  • Serving Dishes: A variety of serving dishes are used to present the food, creating a visual feast.
  • Encouraging Conversation: By sharing dishes, family-style dining promotes interaction and lively conversation.
  • Traditional Forms: In some cultures, such as Chinese cuisine, dim sum is a traditional form of family-style dining.

The Importance of Sharing a Meal Together

The concept of sharing a meal together goes beyond mere eating. It’s about building relationships and fostering connections. Types of restaurants that offer family-style meals tap into this rich tradition, providing an experience that resonates with many diners.

What Are The Benefits of Family-style Dining For Restaurants? 

Reduced Staff

With a variety of dishes served in communal platters, there is no need for specialized staff to plate individual servings. Chefs can focus on creating delicious food, while fewer servers are needed to manage the dining room.

Lower Expenses

By offering a variety of dishes, like tapa, dumpling, Italian pasta, and more, the kitchen can often reduce costs. Ingredients can be bought in bulk, and menus can be designed to optimize resources.

A Fun and Relaxed Vibe

Family-style dining promotes a friendly environment, where everyone can choose what they like from a variety of dishes, encouraging valuable communication and a joyful atmosphere.

Benefits for Children

It’s an opportunity for children to practice social skills and learn about new foods. The casual setting allows kids to explore and ask questions, making sure that everyone, even the little ones, enjoys the meal.

What Are The Challenges of Family-style Dining? 

Family-style dining is a format that excites many, but it also comes with its unique set of challenges. Similar to family-style joys, the hurdles are also part of the dining experience and must be addressed with care. Here’s a closer look:

Portion Control: Children and even some adults may take too large portions of their preference because they especially like a certain food or are fast eaters. Meanwhile, slower eaters or those shy about asking for more may find an empty selection, leading to frustration. Balancing the amount of food, in order to make sure no one leaves the table unhappy, is a lesson restaurants must learn.

A Messy Experience: Family-style dining is also known for being considerably messier than individually plated dishes. The joy of passing dishes around the middle of the table and self-serving can also lead to food being spilled. While this format encourages a more relaxed environment, the worry of spills might deter some guests.

Sanitary Concerns: From a sanitary perspective, more hands handling a dish and utensils mean more chances for accidental contamination. Implementing practices to also help mitigate these risks is essential in ensuring a pleasant dining experience.


Family-Style Dining Service and Food

Family-style dining offers a unique approach to service that’s quick, efficient, and caters to a variety of preferences and occasions. Here’s how:

Quick and Accurate Service

  • Ideal for Many Occasions: This type of service is often ideal for events like weddings or large gatherings where many families come together. The planning and execution of service must be swift and precise.
  • Separate Yet Together: Dishes are usually served in a manner that caters to the tastes of different people, including separate seafood or expensive components, but in a way that encourages sharing.
  • Efficient Catering: By tending to the needs of guests quickly, family-style dining can add an elegant yet homely touch to any event. 

A Variety of Choices

  • Satisfying Preferences: A variety of choices is a key component in family-style dining. Whether it’s seafood, vegetarian options, or specific cultural dishes, having an expansive menu ensures that the bill pleases everyone.
  • Balancing Costs: Offering expensive and more affordable dishes together tends to satisfy various budget needs, making it an excellent choice for diverse gatherings.

Tips to Make Family Style Dining a Success

Family-style dining is more than a dining trend; it’s a return to communal eating that connects people over a shared meal. Whether it’s a traditional Chinese meal or a modern fusion spread, here’s how to make it a success:

Educating the Guests

Explain the Process: Family-style dining might be new to some of your guests. Explain how it works and guide them through the selection and serving process.

Clarify the Options: If you’re serving a traditional Chinese meal or any specific cuisine, a brief description of the dishes can enhance the guest’s experience.

Managing Portion and Waste

Refill as Needed: Keep an eye on the dishes and offer to refill them as they start to get low. This ensures that everyone gets to try everything and can also lead to a reduction in waste.

Consider Serving Tools: Providing serving spoons or tongs can help in portion control and sanitation.

Creating a Comfortable Atmosphere

Set the Mood: The ambiance is crucial in family-style dining. Comfortable seating, warm lighting, and attentive service can make the meal feel more like a special occasion.

An Online Ordering System Is Essential For Family-style Restaurants

In today’s digital age, an online ordering system has become a necessity for all restaurants. 

Menubly is a comprehensive online ordering system designed specifically for food service businesses. It offers an interactive menu that customers can use to place orders for dine-in, pickup, or delivery. It also comes with a QR code menu which allows your customers to scan to access your menu. This system allows customers to get their food quickly and conveniently, reducing waiting time and improving the overall customer experience. The ability to easily serve dishes to customers, whether they’re enjoying their meal on-site or on-the-go, opens up new ways to make your restaurant more profitable and customer-friendly.

Unlike third-party delivery services like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and GrubHub; Menubly doesn’t take a commission from your sales. This allows you to retain more of your profits, which is crucial for small businesses.

Moreover, an online ordering system like Menubly can simplify operations. It can reduce the chances of order errors, speed up service, and free up your staff to focus on preparing those famous dishes that make your restaurant stand out.


Family-style dining is more than a culinary trend; it’s a symbol of connection, tradition, and communal enjoyment. From offering a variety of choices to ensuring a pleasant dining experience through proper portion control and sanitary measures, it embodies a dining philosophy that celebrates togetherness. Whether in the context of a traditional Chinese meal or a lively wedding feast, family-style dining continues to grow in popularity, reflecting the human desire to share, connect, and savor life’s delicious moments together. It’s a dining experience that transcends the table and becomes a cherished memory for families and friends alike.