In Chinese restaurants all food is served family-style (dishes in the middle that each person takes from).
In general, I am not a fan of family style set-ups because it turns the meal into a collective exercise of eating instead of individual responsibility of a plate. I prefer to know that one plate is mine and I can eat it. In a family style set-up, you’re constantly gauging how much you are eating versus others. You also have to serve little bits of food onto your own plate before eating. Finally, every time there is one last dumpling or one last piece of bread, it sits for there 10 minutes, no one wanting to take the last piece.
At dinner tonight I did reap a benefit of family style, as will be the case when you are dining with small eaters (if you’re hungry) or big eaters (if you’re not hungry). If you don’t worry about perception, you can dominate a family style set up by consuming much more food than you would have if you had just a single plate. A family style setup avoids one of my great agonies when eating with other people at a restaurant. I finish my plate. They nibble at their plate. Still half a plate of food. Waiter comes by. “Are you done?” “Yes”. Waiter takes plate. I think to myself: Would it have been rude to have asked if I could have finished plate of food? Would it have hurt the person to at least offer it to me? ‘Why yes, Joe, I’d love to finish off your burrito. Not only that, I’d love to wash it down with that full glass of water you haven’t touched.’
Given the high cost of failure of the meal, I’d rather not leave it to chance, no matter how compelling the small-eater-family-style set-up can be. Stick with individual plates. If you’re dining with me and choose the restaurant, please don’t pick a family style place, and please don’t choose a do-it-yourself speciality place, either (unless it’s Swiss fondue!).