Our Complete Guide to Family-Style Serving

Over the years, we've learned that one of the first steps to planning any gathering or celebration is to determine the style of serving. Selecting how you envision serving guests paves the foundation for the rest of the planning to unfold. One of our most used serving styles is family style. This type of serving is perfect for more casual and intimate settings, and with the right serving dishes, you can easily create an inclusive atmosphere for your guests.  
For the host, family-style serving can provide a low-stress option for entertaining. With minimal preparation, small and large serving platters, and simple place settings, you can sit back and enjoy communal dining with your loved ones instead of handling every plate. If this sounds like the right style for your next event, our complete guide to serving family style will help you prepare. 



What is Family-Style Serving? 

A family-style gathering typically includes arranging a few small and large serving platters of food in the center of the table and allowing guests to pass each serving dish while building their own plate at the dinner table. Think of your typical family dinner- everyone is seated at one table, there’s light conversation and connection, and there are delicious dishes to choose from. This casual serving style brings that intimate and friendly feeling to the table every time. 


The Benefits of Serving Family Style 

When you’re choosing a serving style, note that family-style dining is best suited for casual gatherings when the dishes on your menu can be passed around and you’d like to cultivate a communal dining experience. Passing each large serving platter and serving tray invites guests to engage with one another throughout the meal. Whether you’re celebrating your mother’s birthday as a family or hosting an intimate brunch for your friends, family-style serving is perfect for encouraging connection and community as you eat.  
While serving family style is perfect for creating an inviting atmosphere for your guests, it also takes the pressure off the host! Where more formal serving styles require you to set each individual place setting, family-style serving means you can bring large serving platters and serving trays to the table and encourage your guests to help themselves. After the courses are set on the table, you can sit back and enjoy every moment of your gathering. 

With family-style serving, your guests will appreciate the power to fill their own plates. Instead of serving specific portions of the courses to each person, passing the serving dishes enables every individual to eat what they’d like to choose. With family style, your guests will be encouraged to dive into seconds - or even thirds! 


When To Choose Family-Style Serving 

To help you decide if this is the best serving style for your next gathering, you need to consider the following: 

  • Size of the gathering 

  • Set up of the gathering 

  • Menu 


The Best Gathering Size for Family-Style Serving   

Serving family style works best for smaller, casual gatherings where everyone invited can gather around the table and experience the meal together. Whenever your guest list is on the smaller side (or you want to create an intimate atmosphere), sit everyone at one table and have your guests pass each large serving platter around. 
If your guest list is too long for one table, you can create a similar mood for your gathering with multiple tables. Just ensure you have multiple serving platters, serving bowls, and plate settings, so every table has the same setup. 


What Layouts Work best for Family-style serving?

Family-style serving works best if you’ve planned to have a set table layout where everyone eats sitting down at their plate settings. If your gathering is intended to be more free-flowing, where you can sit around the house or prop your plate in your lap, passing the serving dishes won’t work. If that’s the case, try serving buffet style.  


What Menu Is Needed for Family-style serving? 

Most menus should allow for family-style serving, so as long as your dishes can be presented in serving bowls and serving trays, you have the flexibility to plan any menu. Family style typically features larger portions presented on large serving platters, so make sure you have enough for everyone invited.  
If your dish requires a particular assembly, like building your own tacos, it may be best to go with buffet-style serving, where they can prepare their preferred dish. 


Family Style Serving Menu Inspiration 

If you’re looking for a simple menu for your next family-style gathering, we’ve curated beloved family recipes that can be plated on serving trays and serving bowls.  

When we want a healthy starter, we make Our Go-To Green Salad or Wild Rice and Chicken Salad. For the appetizer round, we serve Spinach Madeleine, Vegan Summer Rolls, or Grilled Seasoned Artichokes on serving trays so our guests can easily fill their plates with delectable dishes. For the main course, we present our flavorful Grilled Flank Steak or refreshing Thai Garlic Shrimp by passing around a large serving platter. Bon Appetit! 
Feel inspired to whip up these dishes for your next gathering or create your own family favorites. As long as your menu can be easily presented in a serving bowl or on a serving platter for family-style dining, you’re all set!  


5 Occasions to Use Family Style Serving 

We tend to use family-style serving for gatherings where we want to inspire our guests to linger around the table for as long as possible. From celebrations to intimate dinner parties with loved ones, simply creating a tasty menu and an inclusive atmosphere goes a long way. Consider serving family style and create unforgettable memories on occasions like: 

  • Birthday dinners 

  • Thanksgiving 

  • Family dinner 

  • Brunch 

  • Rehearsal dinners 


How to Arrange a Family-Style Spread 

Now that the menu is set and invitations are sent, it’s time to plan and arrange your serving area. Gather all of your serving trays, serving bowls, and wood serving boards in one place before you create your tablescape. Since family style calls for passing around each course on small and large serving platters, your dining table needs the most attention.   
When setting the table, we recommend beginning with each plate setting to determine how much room is left for the serving dishes. Choose your napkins, dinner plates, utensils, and more to create individual plate settings in front of every chair. Then, set your favorite serving dishes in the center—play around with the different sizes and shapes of each serving platter and serving bowl to ensure your whole menu fits!  

Pro tip: Since everyone at the table should be able to see each other and all serving dishes need to be placed on the table, centerpieces should be on a smaller scale than more formal dining styles. 


5 Serving Dishes Required to Serve Family Style 

When you carefully select serving dishes from your curated collection, it’s important to note which ones work best for each serving style. When you intend to serve family style, these serving dishes are essential:  

  1. Serving platters

  2. Serving boards

  3. Serving bowls

  4. Utensils

  5. Accessories


1. Serving Platters for Every Course  

Serving platters are necessary for passing each dish with family style. They take the pressure off the host to plate every place setting. Our serving platters are perfect for passing and serving around the table, allowing your guests to easily fill their plates. We recommend collecting a variety of small and large serving plates so you’re prepared for any course on your menu. 

When choosing the right serveware for family-style serving, consider the type and quality of the food within your menu. For example, if you have a saucy main course, pick a serving tray like the Iris Blue Drop Large Handled Oval Platter with a taller rim to keep the juices contained. If you have multiple courses, choose different shapes of serving platters, like the Signature White Ruffle Skinny Tray with the Signature White Oval Platter to fit it all on the table. Serving trays are a versatile and simple way to perfect family-style serving. 



2. Serving Boards for Small Bites and Appetizers 

Our serving boards are designed for serving small bites and appetizers to your guests before dinner. Whether you enjoy creating an elaborate charcuterie board or prefer something simple, wood serving boards are an elegant way to decorate any tabletop before the main event.  

Invite your guests to mingle around the table with striking serving boards. If you’re planning a summertime soiree, our Palm Mango Wood Small Rectangle and Palm Mango Wood Large Rectangle boards feature a green, leafy pattern. Enjoy a splash of blue with the small and large Iris Blue serving boards and the Iris Blue Burst Mango Wood Medium Round Board. No matter the occasion, a few useful and beautiful wood serving boards are essential for smaller courses. 


3. Serving Bowls for Sides 

Serving bowls are designed for presenting all kinds of side dishes, from salads to rolls and everything in between. Serving bowls are one of the easiest serving dishes for your guests to pass. Elevate your tablescape and add dimension with our serving bowls by placing them around the serving trays and serving boards.  

We enjoy having a few different sizes and shapes of serving bowls on hand to efficiently serve all sorts of delicious family recipes. Grab a few shallow pasta bowls, like the Signature White Ruffle Pasta Bowl or the Iris Blue Burst Large Pasta Bowl, for your guests to fill up their plates. Ensure you keep deeper bowls like the Blush Layered Arabesque 9’ Footed Bowl or the Fundamental Wood Large Ruffle Bowl to easily contain sides as they’re passed around the table. You can never have too many styles and shapes of serving bowls in your collection! 



4. Utensils for Easy Self Serving 

When arranging your tablescape, include a few serving utensils spread throughout the table to allow guests to serve themselves. You could also decide to have a set serving utensil to go with every single serving dish to keep the tastes of each course separate. 

Our serving utensils are an easy way to elevate any tablescape. The unique Signature White Knob Serving Spoon and Fork are striking on any table. If you want to add some warmth to your table design, set each place setting with Fundamental Wood Appetizer Utensils and pair the Fundamental Wood Ruffle Salad Server Set with the matching serving bowls. While they seem small, serving utensils are one way to make your tabletop feel extra special for family-style serving. 



5. Accessories for Functional Flair 

Just because family style is one of the more casual serving setups doesn’t mean you can skip tabletop accessories! We enjoy making every gathering unforgettable with functional and fresh additions like unique salt and pepper shakers, placemats for each place setting, and mixed-and-matched cloth napkins—and you will, too. 

Table linens may feel fancy to some, but your everyday gatherings deserve to feel extra special, whether they’re an average weeknight dinner or a celebration for a friend. Adding something as simple and elegant as Deco Gold Scallop Round Placemats to your plate settings will enhance your family serving style and intimate gathering. 



Inspiration for Curated Family Serving Gatherings 

You never need an excuse to throw a family-style gathering, but we always enjoy creating a themed occasion for our friends and families. Whether celebrating Valentine’s Day with our intimate Fondue of You Gathering or welcoming in warm weather with our How Does Your Garden Grow theme, family-style serving helps create unforgettable memories. Throw your own Frond Fête to celebrate summer or feel inspired to design your themed gatherings with family-style serving.  

Family-style serving is perfect for casual dining with friends and family. Take the pressure off hosting by selecting your favorite serving dishes and enjoy the sight as your loved ones pass around each course as they fill up their plates. Make sure you have endless options of small and large serving platters, serving boards, and serving trays in your collection for family-style serving, so you can keep the focus on making memories around your table. 

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