Family Style Dining
Articles, Menu Planning, Wedding Planning, Wedding Trends

Does Family-Style Dining Work for Weddings?

In the wedding world there are typically two types of reception dining styles: buffet and sit-down. Sit down usually involves a wait staff who individually serve plated meals to guests, while buffet involves a long table adorned with platters and chafing dishes from which guests serve themselves.

Recently, we booked a few weddings that featured family-style dining. This is an approach where food is brought to the tables in serving bowls or on platters and the diners serve themselves. We’re not sure if family-style dining is a growing trend for wedding receptions, but if you’re considering it for your wedding, here are a few considerations to keep in mind.

Table Size & Formation

A common table for weddings is an 8’ long x 30” wide rectangular table. Dinner plate sizes do vary, but based on an average 10.5”plate, using this popular table size only leaves 9” between plates for your centerpieces, favors and platters! Some platters might not fit even if you didn’t put anything else on the table!

Some brides prefer the 5’ square table for family-style of dining. It does offer more space in the center, but depending on your venue size or configuration, a 5’ square table can be challenging to accommodate your intended number of guests . If you’re having a tented reception and want to use 5’ square tables, expect to increase the tent size.

When discussing table formations, we recommend you check with your venue and your caterer to decide what works best.


Usually with a double-lined buffet you are looking at a price tag of two 8’ tables, two full drop linens and 4-6 chafing dishes with sternos. With family-style dining the price tag can be considerably more. Each table will need a minimum of three platters for passing: one for a protein, a vegetable and a starch. You might want additional serving platters or bowls per table to reduce the wait time for food to be passed among guests. Since the caterers will need to refill the platters, you’ll need to rent additional platters and bowls for timely table service.

Some quick math: 9 platters per table (6 on the table + 3 to replenish) X 15 tables = 135 platters. The average platter rents for $10. This brings your bill to $1,350 just to present the food to your guests. We didn’t even add in the cost of serving spoons! Additionally, with family-style dining, as well as buffet, you could end up with lots of leftovers.


It stinks to be the last table called to the buffet line or even to get a plated meal, but timing is everything. Think about your picky cousin. Are they going to pick out the vegetables they do like in your vegetable medley and leave the rest behind? Is your best friend going to start fuming at your cousin because her chicken is getting cold and she’s waiting on the vegetable medley to be passed her way? With a buffet there is a natural pressure to take what you want and move on. With a plated meal, you get the same meal and portion as everyone else, but can start eating your hot meal almost immediately.


The family-dining style exudes a social, conversational setting. Nevertheless, having to pass large, heavy platters or lean into your food to get another serving can be annoying. If you do go with platters, consider size. Would you want your grandmother handling a 10”x 12” dish filled with chicken? However, if you go with serving bowls that are too small, expect to have guests waiting for refills or the catering staff running around like crazy!

Whether you elect for a buffet, sit down or family-style dining for your day, we hope you find these tips helpful. If you attended a wedding that featured family-style dining we’d love to know your thoughts. What did you like best? Worst?