Family Style Eating – Pros and Cons

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!).

4 comments on “Family Style Eating – Pros and Cons
  • While individual plates are nice and you can govern your own food- I think I’d have to side with family style. It might be because I grew up on family style food, but often when I go to a restaurant that offers entrees, and you only get to choose one, I find myself being unable just to choose one. With family style, you get to try several plates, the more the merrier! Chances are there’ll be a couple you love, unlike individual plates, if you’re unlucky, it sucks.

  • I went to an Italian place that served family-style. It was my first time eating family-style and I hate it. I didn’t get to order what I wanted because nobody in my family would share it with me. Nobody eats what I like to eat. So I had to settle. Then my brother ate the rest of the food I actually wanted to take home. Family-style is really inconvenient and uncomfortable. I want my own plate so I can order what I want and take home what I like. I don’t think I will ever willingly eat family-style again.

  • I hate family style.

    My dad and I go to pho restaurants. I enjoy eating pho when I’m alone at a restaurant because I get my own vegetable plate, but if I go with him he monopolizes the vegetables and doesn’t leave me with anything much to put in my bowl.

    The first time I went alone and actually got to have all my own vegetables I was so happy. From then on out I ask them to bring the vegetables separately for us so he doesn’t eat all my food.

    I like to know what belongs to who. I like each person’s food to remain separate.

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