Have you heard of Outstanding in the Field? I’m dying to go to a dinner and would love to snag a seat at one of the two dinners in Virginia later this year (they’ll be here during my birthday month, hint, hint certain someones who might be reading), but in the meantime, the tables Outstanding sets has me dreaming of dining en plein air…
Although outdoor events come with unique sets of logistical considerations (that’s another post or ten for another day), they truly are the most fun to plan. What’s better than being outdoors, sky above you, yummy food upon your plate, surrounded by the ones you love? Nothing, I’m quite sure!
all images via Outstanding in the Field
Gay offered such great insight into what it means to serve dinner “family style.” Here are a few technical things about this dinner style…
*Design your floor plan to match the service style. Nearly 250 guests attended Alex and Paul’s reception. Although that’s a large party, we really wanted the reception to feel intimate and for the focus to be on conversation and feasting! That was the entire point of serving dinner family style, after all. For that reason, we grouped tables end to end and created a u-shape around the dance floor. The table set-up facilitated conversation and passing of platters.
*Using escort cards and place cards are a must with this floor plan! Each table seated eight people, but with tables grouped end to end, some table groupings seated as many as 40 guests. When tables are grouped in this fashion, it is really important to number each table in the group (as shown below) and to offer both escort cards and place cards. Even though each table will be numbered, without place cards, it can be difficult for guests to discern where one table ends and another begins.
*Vary the look of the tables. To keep things interesting and to make sure the tables weren’t a sea of sameness, which could have easily happened with this many tables, we decided to seat guests at a mix of linen covered tables and farm tables.
*Don’t forget to leave some room for platters! We really labored over how much decor to put on the tables. Because dinner was served on larger platters that were passed from guest to guest, we had to be mindful of leaving space on the table. Unlike a plated dinner service, where you could literally create a “runner” of floral down the center of the table, we had to be sure to leave some breaks. We also had to be mindful of budget — long tables can be more expensive to decorate. Ultimately, we decided to group jars of flowers in threes and spaced the groupings with hurricane candles. To add a little more sparkle to the table, we scattered tea lights.
photography by Don Mears
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
Two of my favorite things — Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold and spun sugar cupcakes topped with champagne buttercream. Although I’m pretty sure the design of the latter wasn’t inspired by the former, the similar gesture of the sugar to the falling rocket in Whistler’s painting illustrates how event design inspiration can come from many places…even your favorite painting.
Rarely do I feel comfortable getting snarky about people’s choices for their weddings. It’s your wedding after all, and you should have what you want. But, seriously, guys. Seriously. Bon Appetit hits the nail on the head with their slideshow of 16 wedding foods that should be banned. That chocolate fountain. Um, that’s a no. Really. It’s a no. Any other foods you’re oh-so-over that you’d add to the list?
Today is national donut day, but it doesn’t have to be the national donut holiday to serve these tasty treats at your wedding. If you’re in Richmond or Charlottesville, you’re in luck. We have some of the best donuts in the country, of course! : ) Last year at an event, we packaged donuts from Westhampton Pastry Shop in glassine bags for wedding guests to take with them at the end of the evening. Country Style Donuts are also dee-lish. If you’re in Charlottesville, maybe Carpe Donuts will make a surprise appearance at your event like it did at Keli and Nick’s wedding?
images: 1 – Designed by Simplesong Design and photographed by Kate Headley via MSW; 2 – from Eunice + Daniel’s wedding featured on MSW; 3 – Carpe Donuts photographed by Katie Stoops and featured in Southern Living Weddings