Sometimes sharing is the best part of a meal. Many restaurants offer family-style dining featuring communal seating and shared dishes full of hearty fare. When chefs prepare food to be served in this way, it calls for adapting the menu as well as the portion sizes. If you’re pursuing an online culinary arts certificate, you should consider how you can develop your own creations to suit family-style dining.
What makes great family-style meals
All good chefs know their work goes beyond preparing delicious food for guests to enjoy. They are contributing to a welcoming atmosphere and an enjoyable time in a restaurant. Serving meals family-style goes a long way to make patrons feel at home, where they are free to relax and share stories while grabbing bites off each other’s plates.
“Family-style dining makes patrons feel at home.”
Georgette Farkas, owner of the rustic French restaurant Rotisserie Georgette in New York City, explained to OpenTable that large dishes like roasts require longer preparation than most restaurant meals and can lead to smaller profit margins. The payoff comes from the way the shared meals evoke celebratory feelings in guests and make them want to return. Instead of putting a lot of thought into what they will each eat, customers focus on anticipating the main course and enjoying each other’s company.
The communal plates are in some ways a throwback to an earlier form of dining out from before the twentieth century, as The San Francisco Chronicle pointed out. Today’s family-style dining, however, tends to appeal to a younger crowd of customers who have become accustomed to sharing through eating at tapas restaurants. In addition to providing a festive atmosphere for these diners, the large-format entrees can make preparation easier on staff, chef Ravi Kapur of Liholiho Yacht Club told the Chronicle.
“The kitchen doesn’t get bogged down in overcoordinating between stations,” he said.
Sharing in exceptional cooking
A number of restaurants have built their reputations on providing excellent shared meals that bring groups together. These establishments demonstrate how gathering a group around a big platter of tasty food can make dinner an event, whether the entree is classic comfort food or a unique culinary invention.
Guests at The Progress in San Francisco choose four dishes to share from a list of intriguing options. For instance, a group might order grilled octopus, barbecue duck, beef and marrow dumplings and a dish of yuzu-marinated plums and heirloom tomatoes. Whatever they choose, the restaurant offers a wide selection of wines perfectly suited to accompany the banquet-style meal.
Monell’s in Nashville takes its cues from Southern boarding houses, inviting strangers to meet one another and dig into an array of old-school favorites. There’s fried chicken on the menu everyday, but the other options alternate. On Mondays, guests enjoy meatloaf with chicken and dumplings. Fridays bring fried catfish and spinach-stuffed shells for lunch, with barbecue ribs ready by dinner.
Students attending a Boulder culinary school should plan to visit farm-to-table bistro The Kitchen on a Monday night. The community-focused downtown restaurant offers a weekly shared meal with seating available by reservation and a portion of the proceeds going to support gardens in local schools. The selection shifts every week, but it always features fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Feast in New York City offers a three-course prix fixe meal for diners to share. The appetizers include summer salad, lentil soup and flat bread with smoked salmon, fried egg and creme fraiche. Then comes a meat course featuring a strip steak with chimichurri, pan-seared fish and a melon risotto. Finally, there’s a peach and blueberry cobbler for dessert.
If you’re training at a culinary academy, you should explore the possibilities of family-style meals. You may find that shared dishes bring out your creativity while pleasing crowds of diners.