What is a Family Style Restaurant Concept

What is Family Style Dining?

Family style Dining
Family style dining is a popular restaurant concept. Bill Kasman via Pixabay

Family style dining, also known as casual style dining in the United States, offers moderately priced entrees from menus featuring a mix of classics cuisines, individualized with signature sauces, dips or other toppings cuisine. Family style dining can be any number of themes, from barbeque (Long Horns) to Americana (Ruby Tuesday’s) to Mexican (On the Border). Family style restaurants offer table side service, non-disposable dishes, while still keeping the menu moderately priced.

The ambience of a family style restaurant is comfortable and inviting.

What Makes a Restaurant Family Style?

Running a Restaurant for Dummies classifies casual style dining as anything between fast food and fine dining. Trademarks of family style dining may include:

  • Moderately priced menu

  • Table service, rather than counter service

  • Full bar, usually separate from the dining room

Although some family style restaurants offer a limited alcohol selection, focusing on beer and wine rather than hard liquors. Often times this requires a different (and less costly) type of liquor license. Read on for more about restaurant liquor licenses.

Popular Family Style Restaurant Chains

Many of the most popular restaurant chains in the United States have a family style dining concept. This is illustrates the fact that this concept works well for any number of cuisines. A few popular chains include:

  • Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar– As the name implies, their menu focuses on classic America food including their signature menu item Riblets.

  • Olive Garden – Family style dining at this restaurant chain helped Tuscan style cooking go main stream.

  • On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina– Essentially the Tex-Mex version of Applebees, featuring tableside service, where servers whip up fresh guacamole for customers.

  • LongHorn Steakhouse - Focuses on grilled entrees, including beef, chicken and seafood. 

    What Does the Service Look Like at a Family Style Restaurant?

    In traditional family style dining food is served on platters and diners serve themselves (just like at home). You can see this type of dining at many traditional Chinese and Korean restaurants. Olive Garden built one of the most successful campaigns on their family style dining with the tagline “When you’re here, you’re family” serving up unlimited bread and salad in large platters for the entire dining party. Today it is not uncommon for family style restaurants to serve guests individual entrees already plated.

    Family Style Works for Catered Events

    If you offering catering services at your restaurant, family style dining works well for small to mid-sized groups. It is much easier to simultaneously feed 50 people if you have to drop only 10 salads versus 50. Read on for more about restaurant catering.

    Pros and cons of Family Style Restaurant Concept

    Like every type of restaurant concept, family dining has it’s benefits and drawbacks. Large platters of food can be messy and there is little portion control, unlike plating meals individually. Family style dining also requires a group consensus of what to order, which can be challenging.

    Benefits of family include a relaxed atmosphere where customers have more control over what they eat. If done right, family style menus can have better food cost than a traditional menu. It caters well to families with children or groups of friends. Finally, family style, which has seen a resurgence at trendy restaurants throughout the country, offer a change from all the small plates that have been popular for the past few years.   

    No matter what type of concept you decide to try, the basics of any successful restaurant are still great food, great people, and great service.