You know what they say: The family that eats together stays together. And when it comes to weddings, we think the same holds true. The best way to pull it off at your own affair? A family- style feast. “Standing in line at a buffet has been done a thousand times,” says Carrie Mashaney, executive chef at Seattle’s perpetually buzzy Middle Eastern restaurant Mamnoon. And individually plated meals can be both cost-prohibitive and cold. But, unlike being dismissed table-by-table for a buffet, or receiving a standard plated dinner, a family-style reception (a meal in which huge platters of food are dropped at the table and guests are allowed to serve themselves) is one that brings people together in conversation and conviviality, because nothing quite breaks the ice like asking your table mate to pass the pork (or green beans, or tofu, or whatever else may be on your menu).
A Middle East Feast
At Capitol Hill’s Mamnoon restaurant, the menu is designed to be shared— making family-style perfect for Mashaney’s private catering events. When all the food hits the table at once, it’s a big wow factor. “You just dive in and go,” she says, “with everyone talking and passing food and having fun.” Her menu leans on the flavors of Lebanon and features a robust selection of mezze—or appetizer—plates, like hummus, tabbouleh, roasted red pepper muhammara dip with walnuts, stuffed grape leaves called dolmeh, and labneh, a rich yogurt dip. “When you go to a wedding, the food is rarely hot,” she says, “and with mezze, it doesn’t need to be warm—the plates hang out, and you continuously eat throughout the night.” Larger dishes to be shared include grilled lamb, chicken, and fish kebabs, a tomato and olive salad, and mujadara, a richly spiced rice and lentil dish flecked with caramelized onions. “A menu like this showcases something for everyone,” she says, “vegetarians won’t feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick, and meat eaters won’t wonder when the main course is going to appear.”
A Carnival of Flavors
For Emme Ribeiro Collins, owner of Seattle’s intimate Afro-Brazilian restaurant the Alcove Dining Room and catering company Chef Emme, family-style dining represents the best of all worlds. “It’s like a little buffet at each table,” she says. When it comes to creating a menu, she works closely with her couples to customize dishes to their tastes and to highlight seasonal, organic, fresh ingredients. Here, her Brazilian-inspired, family- style menu is all about soulful food that “makes people happy”—think a fresh hearts of palm salad studded with heirloom tomatoes and arugula, a traditional Brazilian seafood moqueca stew, grilled chicken with a bright mango salsa, green beans tossed with caramelized shallots, and hearty braised black beans and rice. “You want food to be beautiful at your wedding!” she notes. Ribeiro Collins suggests featuring at least two protein options and creating a mix of textures throughout the menu; here, a crisp salad provides a fresh component against rich braised black beans and the seafood stew, while the vibrant mango salsa com- plements the char of grilled chicken. Plus, “green beans are a vegetable that everyone likes,” she says.
And when it comes to pulling off a family-style feast for your big day, you really can’t go wrong. “I love this type of food for that reason,” Mashaney says, “it’s meant to be shared, and what’s more about sharing than bringing two families together?”
All in the Family
For wedding coordinator Elizabeth Sheils of Bridal Bliss, family-style feasting “offers a fun and interactive twist.” Plus, it allows couples to showcase dishes or flavors they personally love, and it makes a great way to offer a more complex and curated dinner menu, she notes. Her tips for going family-style? First, make sure your tables are large enough to accommodate it. “In addition to the normal place settings, a centerpiece, and any other décor, you will also want to make room for serving platters,” Sheils says, “so we typically suggest choosing a wider table and chatting with your florist for arrangements that work well around the addition of three to five large dishes to your table.” Second, “pick out platters that are easy to hold with one hand,” she continues, “since large, heavy platters can be difficult to pass around the table, especially for older guests and kids.”