family style dining
I’m so happy to welcome Gay from A Pimento Catering in Charlottesville. I had the good fortune to work with Gay at our clients’, Alex and Paul, wedding last year at Maymont, and she has been gracious enough to stop by today to talk about family style dining, the style in which we served dinner at Alex and Paul’s wedding. Without further ado, I’ll turn it over to our guest now…
I am thrilled to share my experiences catering in the “family style.” I’ll make no secret of it: serving a dinner this way is my personal favorite approach, for lots of reasons. It’s definitely not for everyone, but for those who wish to enjoy a relaxed (not to mean informal, necessarily), gracious and more “home-y” meal, family style service – meaning that guests sit down for a meal which is presented on platters to be passed among them for self-service – is a perfect way to connect people, food and conversation.
We cater many weddings in the course of a year. Clients come to us with all manner of questions, ideas and, sometimes, challenges to overcome when planning a wedding. There are definitely many among us who feel that a plated dinner is the preferred approach to a wedding dinner. But for those who are exploring other ideas, I encourage you to consider this new, old-fashioned method of sharing a meal. I’ll highlight what I feel to be the plusses here, some of which are the perfect solution to challenges that may arise in deciding how to serve your guests a meal that all can enjoy.
Graciousness Most of us are fortunate enough to remember at least a few holiday or weekend meals when family and friends would gather around a table (a large table in my family!) to eat together. Remember the comfort you felt when you settled into a chair you knew you’d occupy for an easy while, unhurried? The pleasure of sharing a meal your host or hostess, or maybe even some of the guests prepared with care? What more perfect day to enjoy that feeling than your wedding day when (as I see it) a group of people you care specially for, a group of people likely never to be in one place together, like this, on any other day? Because the dishes are passed among guests, even those who have never met will speak to each other, connect, as they hand off the roasted root vegetables or bread.
Variety One challenge in planning a wedding meal is that the average wedding party includes a wide variety of personalities, tastes and dietary conditions. When serving a plated meal, the scope of what you serve is narrowed to what fits on a plate in a few courses – choice can be more challenging to offer. But with family-style service, one can offer more than one entrée and multiple sides – with a little creativity (who doesn’t love that?!) – and appease a wide spectrum of tastes.
Often we break up a meal and serve perhaps a pre-set, plated first course, a family-style main course and come back to a plated dessert. You can squeeze in a delicious cheese course, too, that guests can linger over at the end of a meal.
Beauty Many wedding guests find themselves seated at a round table of eight or ten guests. With family style service, you’re better off opening up and expanding your seating to larger groups of 12, 20 or more. That can be a great way to help unfamiliar guests connect and keep together large groups of family or friends that can one has to break up in smaller seatings. I love the conviviality among larger groups – conversation always seems larger, more open. These days many design and equipment rental companies keep larger tables to make this happen. Now many are renting wood-constructed, farm-style tables which I love especially, but not exclusively, in outdoor settings. They are décor in and of themselves. (…I have yet to see an unattractive farm table…)
And formality? No loss there. A family-style dinner need not mean less thorough or attentive service. Go ahead and pull out the china and crystal, too, if you like.
But one can just as easily create a less dressy table with things like wild flowers, second hand china and the likes. Or a more sleek look, with geometric or paper table runners or placemats, cool stemless glassware and textured china. The options are truly endless.
Cost Because of the choices open to you – food, décor, seating and mode/intensity of service – the cost can be quite variable, especially in terms of staffing and equipment rental. You’ll want to discuss all of your preferences and needs with your caterer or planner, including your budget (it’s a part of planning every event and they can serve you best when they know the parameters you’re working in).
Thank you so much for stopping by, Gay!
photography by Don Mears