Big dinners: family style or buffet line?

sushipup1

I have always served dinners like Thanksgiving from a line. Even if I have to have a separate folding table for the food. Children's plates are assembled first, then the elders in the group, then everyone else, cook is last. The table is set formally and looks nice.


Here's my pet peeve.... We'll have T'giving at the home of the DIL's brother. Big newer house, huge kitchen island, breakfast table, dining room large enough for the 18-20 people (well, extend table into the LR) who usually attend. She serves "family style". OK, we will have a couple of platters of the meat, a couple of gravy boats., one for each end of the table Everything else gets passed around. My end of the table doesn't even see a bunch of dishes. Clumsy. You eat staring at food. It's easier to overeat if it's sitting right in front of you.


Well, you can tell which side of the table I'm favoring in this discussion. How about you?

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Chi

Always a buffet. I don't want to spend my dinner passing around heavy plates and platters to other people when it's so much more efficient for someone to go get what they want. Plus we wouldn't have room on the table as there's decoration and I put butter, salt and pepper, stuff like that on the tables.

I use my kitchen island as the buffet. People fill (and refill) their plates as needed. Sometimes I use warmers to keep the food hot, which is another benefit.

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DawnInCal

Buffet style.

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blfenton

Always a buffet. Our family dinners have young'uns and the elderly and everything in between. It's easier for the parents of the young ones to help them select what they will eat, it's easier for the elderly moms (and quite frankly me with arthritis in my hands) not to be passing dishes from side to side, and it's more pleasant to have those who have finished their meal earlier to not be asking for some platter or other to be passed to them while others are still eating.

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georgysmom2

Buffet. When I had dinner parties for 8 - 10 people, I use to plate the food and serve which was very nice, but I wound up throwing out so much food because I tended to over-plate. I finally got smart and started serving buffet style. That way people could help themselves to what they wanted and how much they wanted. No more waste. I really never liked family style except for immediate family. Otherwise it's a real pain to constantly be passing dishes. By the time you get to eat, everything is cold.

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LoneJack Zn 6a, KC

Always buffet style except for the bread or rolls which go in a warming basket on the table.

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Rose Pekelnicky

Buffet style

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Elmer J Fudd

We have no rules, no consistent practice. Sometimes one way, sometimes the other. The larger the group, the more likely to do it buffet style on the kitchen island. But not always.

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chisue

I'd only do table service again if I had 'service' to serve the guests -- and me! It's just impossible to find good footmen these days! lol

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bpath Oh Sophie

I kind of do a combo. Start with buffet line, then when everyone is seated we may bring the bowls and a smaller platter of meat to the table or sideboard for easy seconds.

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Fun2BHere

For any meal with more than eight diners, I serve buffet-style. I don't like passing platters and bowls around the table, plus I like to have a centerpiece of some sort. For meals with eight or fewer diners, I plate the food in the kitchen and serve it.

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functionthenlook

I say buffet. There is 8 in my family when we are together. If it is just a easy Sunday dinner the food is set on the table. But for Thanksgiving where there is a lot of food we do a buffet. Only the rolls, butter and salad goes on the table. I don't like passing dishes back and forth constantly.

I do have a buffet, but all the food will not fit on it so I use it for the appetizers. I have a movable island and put it at the end of one of my counters making a L. That way I have 2 L in my kitchen. One for the food and one the working L. I just throw the chairs from the island out in the sun room ( AKA walk in cooler in the winter).

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moosemac

Lol I guess I am in the minority here as we do our meals family style except for X-mas Eve which is plated.

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Chi

This is an aside but I've seen a few people mention they plate food for their guests. Is this common practice? I've never had anyone plate my food outside of a restaurant. How do you know how much people want or if there's something they don't like? I'm very curious!

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sushipup1

I would plate spaghetti, but I wouldn't serve that to a crowd. Plate a steak and baked potato, salad on the table. But no, I wouldn't plate for anyone except small children.

I'm so relieved to see that most of you do buffet style. My son's in-laws are wonderful people, tho, so I'll forgive them. When they've come here for dinner, and someone 'helps' by starting to put serving dishes on the dining table, I just follow them and bring the dish back to the island where the buffet is.

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Michele

On my side we put the food on the table. Even large groups. Of course the very young and old are served. On my husband’s side if there is company outside of the immediate family, the food is plated in the kitchen

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Raye Smith

We grew up "plating most of the food" in the kitchen and then take the plates to the dining room. Breads, sides and some desserts were passed. I think it was just easier for mom since she didn't have any help in the kitchen.

When we traveled to family for the holiday and children's plates were "plated in the kitchen" and the adults passed the dishes.

Sushi, in the family style situation is everyone waiting until everyone has been served before starting to eat?

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OutsidePlaying

Always a buffet because we generally have split tables but mainly because the dishes are so heavy for so many people and too hard to pass around. I have butter, s&p on each table. And wine except for where the kids and teenagers are sitting together.

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Fun2BHere

@chisue If a diner doesn't care for something, then it's likely that I know that and don't serve it. As for portioning, each what you want and leave the rest.

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maifleur01

I prefer a modified buffet similar to what was discussed here several months ago and used by several of the groups that I belong to. I like the idea of islands of foods if you have room. Mains on one table, sides on a second, desserts and perhaps drinks on another. To me it has to do if I want the mains to be the most important part of my dinner or do I want to fill my plate with sides and only have a small portion of the mains. I do try not to go for the desserts first but sometimes that is not possible.

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gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

Ours is usually a combination of both - for T'day, the turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes would be served from a counter buffet style and all the other side dishes, gravy, cranberry sauce, rolls, etc. would be passed at the table. Often the sides are split between two serving dishes so easier and faster to make the rounds.

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sushipup1

Sushi, in the family style situation is everyone waiting until everyone has been served before starting to eat?

No. And no one says 'grace', either, given that most of us are non-believers. Thanks and grace go to the cook and hosts!

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Raye Smith

Here's an idea to make sure that all the dishes get passed. Have the person at the farthest end of the table be the one that says the prayer/grace/blessing. Then those that got the dishes first will have to wait for the far end before they can start.

Sushi, your reply came in just after I posted this. I think there would be a way to modify this idea for your situation with something creative.

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gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

I don't understand the "got the dishes first" thing. In a family style serving situation, there are various dishes scattered along the length of the table and in my fam, you just start with the one in front of you or closest and then pass it on. So pretty much everybody is serving themselves something and everybody receives their plateful of food at approximately the same time, just in a different sequence. So there is no first or last person or serving. And no one says grace in my family either....too many divergent philosophies :-) But once everyone is /served/eating we generally do have a toast to thank the hosts/chef for their efforts.

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Elmer J Fudd

" no one says 'grace', either, given that most of us are non-believers. "

My views (or absence of same) coincide with this. I'm going to sushipup's or gardengal's place for Thanksgiving. Don't worry, GG, I'll bring an umbrella.

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stacey_mb

I serve food buffet style if the group is larger, family style for a smaller group. When I'm a dinner guest, I prefer to plate my own food rather than have it done for me. I often like more of one item and less of another (or none of something), so a plate already filled means that my uneaten food is wasted or that I eat more than I would like. If a cook or food is unfamiliar, I sometimes will take a smaller portion until I know if it warrants a larger helping.

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Lars

We always had Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in a formal style with the table already set, and then food was passed around the table - never buffet style, which is way too informal for me - I might as well be at a cafeteria. In a formal setting, I think people appreciate who made the food more than if they just help themselves from a trough. It's much nicer and more polite if people ask for food than if they just help themselves. Also, I think it creates a better bond to have everyone sitting around the table together rather than running back and forth to a buffet table. After all, this is a special occasion that only happens once or twice a year.

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ravencajun Zone 8b TX

With the massive amount of food and family that we have at our big Cajun family get togethers it pretty much has to be buffet style. The little ones have their plates prepared first by the moms. We have several tables set up in various rooms. Lots of people enjoy the feast.

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moosemac

Chi brought up an interesting aside regarding plating food. The only time I plate is when I do a multi-course wine dinner Christmas Eve. My mother always plated our everyday dinners. I think it was her way of keeping her grocery budget in check i.e. portion control. In contrast she always served holiday meals family style which we thought was great as we could eat the food we wanted in the portions we wanted. It was a treat.

I have kept the tradition of family style meals on the holidays plus my in laws always serve family style when they host. All this discussion of buffet style has me rethinking things. A buffet would be so much easier.

Lars brings up a great point; a sit down family style dinner is a bonding experience. For me it would be tough to get that special occasion feel with everyone getting up to get food from the buffet. Wow talk about conflicted! LOL

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sushipup1

People get their plates and food, then sit down. There's no getting up until well into the dinner, for seconds. Oh, except for the cook/host who is always getting up for something or other, either style of serving.

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CA Kate z9

Buffet... always a buffet. I don’t like deciding what and how much another person wants to eat. There are always seconds if someone wants more.

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plllog

It depends on the holiday. Passover is family style for the main course, but the soup and fish courses are plated in the kitchen and served. Dessert is a hybrid, partially dished up at the table, but the fruit is usually passed. At this point, the kids are looking for the hidden matzah, adults are stretching their legs, and everybody swaps around where they're sitting for new conversations. For the main, I do have two dishes of each food, piled high, and the guests know the drill and are good about passing. One dish of each starts at each end, and I've learned to demand that people don't help take them to the table, until everything is ready to serve, or someone will get all green beans and no meat. It can be done, however.

In my house, there isn't a good place to set up a buffet. I've tried. For Hanukkah, I landed on doing only nibbles and small plates, so I can use the table as the buffet, and set up tray tables and all the chairs in the house in little groupings in the living room, with a drinks table in the entry (it's a big room) and, later, a coffee and dessert table.

Outside, I have a serving shelf, but it still doesn't work well with lines. There, I'll serve family style, for the most part, and put the hard to pass things, like big casseroles on the shelf for people to help themselves to seconds so they're not passing their half empty plates around to be served again.

All of these decisions are about crowd control. For fewer than ten people, it doesn't matter. I've done buffet-ish stuff in the kitchen, like burger bar, or make your own pizza. The aisles are wide enough with just those few people, but it's not so nice for guests to ave to walk through the butler's pantry to get to the kitchen. I'd still rather set up a small serving table, near the dining table, if it's not a cook to order thing. That doesn't work with a big group because the extra dining table space fills the room.

It's all about limitations, logistics, and making your guests comfortable.



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Marilyn_Sue


Always buffet style, easier that way with so many. Tables here and there.

Sue

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naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan

Chi, I'm with you. I can not remember ever having plated food in a home setting. It's pretty much family style all the time - just nicer serving pieces for holidays. Our immediate family knew that they were to take a "normal" sized helping of foods served family style. Sometimes I informed them what that was, especially if there was a limited amount. For large meals with guests, such as Thanksgiving, we might have a nearby cart or counter that held a few of the larger dishes after they were passed. Some foods were put into two or three smaller bowls and spread around the table if their were lots of guests. It is all very friendly and everyone helps each other and cooperates.

I can see that if the group was very large a buffet might work better. And plating might be a good idea if some guests were known to take unreasonable portions of food in limited supply. I've heard horror stories of guests unlike any I've encountered personally.

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Annie Deighnaugh

We do buffet style as no one is trying to pass around hot casseroles and it saves on serving dishes, everyone can help themselves to what they want while they get a birdseye view of the entire meal so they can estimate how many scoops of each they're going to want.

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Zalco/bring back Sophie!

Plating a meal has nothing to do with portion control. We serve our everyday meals plated with platters and tureens for seconds on the table. For festive meals, it's buffet style if we have multiple seating areas. If everyone can fit at the dining table, then it's family style (aka service a la francaise.)

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Chi

I don't think I would want someone to plate my food for me. I'm a little particular/picky and wouldn't want to waste food that I don't want to eat.

It's so interesting to read all the traditions.

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arcy_gw

Thinking back to my mom's where there were 24 or so--mostly children we had two tables and the buffet method was utilized. NEVER has anyone nor would anyone plate another's food--well of course there is always the small child/mother exception. When one table is all that is needed ALWAYS family style. I couldn't imagine it any other way.

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sheilajoyce_gw

I serve buffet style from our island because my dining room table is not wide enough to hold all the serving platters and bowls. DH carves the turkey to order (dark, white or a mixture) as plates are filled with vegetable, choice of potato or both (twice baked and candied sweet potatoes), corn pudding, stuffing, and minced meat peaches. I put breads (pumpkin and yeast) on the table with cranberry-orange sauce, gravy, butter, and any extra minced meat peaches. Salads, if served, are plated and beside the dinner plate.

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amylou321

Buffet for sure. There are WAY too many of us to even sit at one table. In fact, most of us don't even sit at a table. Its usually reserved for the kids that are too small to be trusted to eat without a solid surface. The rest of us just find somewhere on the couches or chairs. Or even the floor. Its so much easier to lay the food out and let people help themselves. We always let the little ones go first with their parents so they can get settled down and start and then we have it at.

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plllog

Okay, will the vehemently anti-platers tell please how to safely serve soup to a few dozen people without mishap buffet style?

We do take requests such as "just a little", "no/2 matzah ball(s)", "lots of broth", etc.

Then there are the slightly twee platings, like the soup with an herb sprig, three dumplings, a carrot curl (or whatever it was). The bits are put in the dish well ahead of time, and the broth ladled over the top. That one is you get what you get, and the only request taken is just broth. That's just an easy to conceive example. If it's just meat/starch/veg, whether it's buffet or family style, people dish up for themselves, but some lovely, delicious foods need to be plated in the kitchen. I try to make sure that special requirements of my guests are met, and will prepare separately for certain individuals. But, please! You aren't required to eat anything you don't like at my house! Either say no thank you and come ask me if there's something more to your liking or eat the bits you like and leave the rest. Given everything that goes into putting on a feast, your little uneaten bits are a nothing.


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Chi

I think if you are feeding a "few dozen" (over 36 people?) that is a little different than the typical dinner party. I have never hosted anywhere near that quantity. But are people not able to serve themselves soup? I understand the little toppings would be difficult with self-serve but I am having a hard time picturing what the problem would be at a buffet.

That being said, I recently returned from a cruise where a grown woman at the buffet thought it was just fine to stick her finger in the soup to see if she liked it. If you have guests like that, then maybe serving it is the better option.

I think soup makes more sense to plate than other things, since there aren't really choices to make.

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plllog

LOL! That woman obviously has a broken behavior filter. Don't they usually have helpers at cruise buffets? One who could get her a taste in a proper vessel?

Your reaction to my few dozen helps me understand. I think the most I've had for sit down dinner here is 38, and usually more like 24-30 (more for buffet), but before some of the family moved away and some moved on, at my mother's or auntie's houses, 45 was the norm, and when it was more we had to get creative for seating them all at one table (concatenation of tables). Once people were in the back corner, they were pretty well stuck there through the whole meal. No way buffet could be done, because they couldn't get out, unless they wanted to play like the little ones and crawl under the table.

With that many people milling around with dishes of soup, there's way too much chance of dangerous hot sloppage. With only a few people running soup from the kitchen on trays, where there's no jostling, and the trays catch any incidental drips, it's a lot safer, and more efficient. Serving goes remarkably fast.

There are other plates beside soup that I've chose to make up in the kitchen. Again, there are little bits and pieces that go together to make the whole. Even when there's a sign noting that this sauce goes on that dish on the buffet, even when I announce it several times, half the guests end up asking if there's any sauce, or exclaiming to their neighbors, "There's sauce? I didn't get any sauce?" When there's a dish that needs to be composed, if it's a sit down meal, I'll go the extra bit to plate it up so it can be enjoyed properly. (Again, "no sauce please" or whatever the request is easy to accommodate.)

As I said before, the choices between buffet, family style, dished up at table or plated in the kitchen, depend, for me, on the kind of occasion, what works best for the food, and what works best for the logistics of getting the hoards fed. :)

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Lucille

I think it depends. My first ex MIL, an older Italian lady and I loved her, served family style because she loved to talk about the food in front of us, where the ingredients were purchased, whose recipe was used and was a mother hen making sure everyone got what they wanted. We basked in her attention to what we wanted and she loved sending the serving plates around the table so that we would leave happy and over stuffed.

. And my father's last wife who cannot cook whatsoever would take everyone to a restaurant, order, and it was family style there too. But we never had dozens of people in either gathering.

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Chi

"LOL! That woman obviously has a broken behavior filter. Don't they usually have helpers at cruise buffets? One who could get her a taste in a proper vessel?"

Oh, there are many helpers. And there was a bucket of spoons right next to her, alongside the bowls. Not that dipping a spoon in it is okay but better than a finger! Luckily a crew member also witnessed it and promptly took the soup away.

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amylou321

When I cook an everyday meal for me and SO I plate it and bring it to him. It's just easier. And it seems silly to cook it, then call him in the kitchen to dish his own food up. I make his plate while I make mine. But it is just two of us and i know what he likes and how much. Growing up, the food was put on a giant lazy Susan in the middle of the table,often in the vessel it was cooked in and we served ourselves. I would feel weird if someone plated my food for me in a home setting. I am a picky eater. I like people to eat as much as they like of whatever they like,and none of what they don't. I like to do the same.:)

Soup? Well,that may be different as there is no choice involved. But I think I would still stack some bowls by the pot with a ladle and tell everyone to serve themselves.

For a family party it can be 30 to 40 people (just immediate family. My Parents, siblings and their families. And little ole me by myself) I don't think soup would ever be served to such a large gathering of ours.

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lonestar123

My family 11-13 has a formal china, grace family style dinner and my husband's family 30-40 people sometimes has a buffet and sometime family style.

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Kathsgrdn

No big group of people but when we had 2 exchange students and my 2 kids and me we just did it family style. I don't cook a lot either so that helps. A plate of sliced turkey and/or ham, mashed potatoes, gravy in a creamer thing that's easy to pour from, stuffing, cranberry sauce, baked sweet potatoes, rolls and some type of cooked vegetable. Oh, and the infamous veggie tray that isn't very big either.

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plllog

Amylou, it wouldn't be Passover Seder without some kind of matzah ball soup. :) I've done matzah spaetzle and stuffed matzah balls and mini-matzah dumplings, and other variations, but it's always chicken soup with some kind of matzah dumpling. As it was in the previous generations. That's sit down dinner with all the fancy china, stems, etc. I can set for 30 without dipping into the casual stemware and tumblers for water and at least four dozen before I have to substitute placemats for chargers. (That's "fancy" not "expensive".)

That's also why I'm missing getting to go to the Thanksgiving cousin. Sigh. She does the bottleneck buffet in the breakfast room, with overs on the kitchen counter. But no soup.

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colleenoz

We usually have 12-16 at Christmas, and it's always family style, with dishes of food on the table. Sometimes there are multiples of the same dish at either end to cut down on passing, but we are always attentive to each other and looking to see that everyone has got the food that they wanted.

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amylou321

Understood plllog. Well, kinda. No special Catholic soup for anything. :)

Just fish on fridays. Yuck.

Back before all the siblings got married and had little ones, mom would drape a giant tablecloth over our ping pong table and that was the dining room for holidays! Now there is just too many.


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maddie260

For Thanksgiving, I have sisters who help me out. We serve the salad to everyone (whether or not one wants it- ha!) and pick up those plates. And, then, the rest is buffet. We used to plate all of the food, but, with food preferences and all, decided to let it go. I do put gravy boats, butter, bread, cranberry sauce, etc on each table. There are usually 18-25 at our dinners.

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yeonassky

We are a small group of eight or under and we do family style. However the turkey platter has already sliced meat on it and we pass that around and then I put it on the side table.

Pretty much everything else fits in the middle of the table. We're all adults though so we don't have to worry about things being too heavy yet. I would imagine there will come a time as we age maybe 20 or 30 years older... Right now, in our sixties, DH and I feel like we're still going to live forever and be strong enough.

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Islay Corbel

For soup, bowls with trimmings on the table, and a strong person goes round to each guest with the tureen so people can serve themselves.


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lindac92

I grew up with all the food on the table and then the turkey was "presented" we said grace and watched as Daddy carved, asking each "White? Dark?" and then passing the plate to it'w recipient, who then filled it with the other foods on the table, much passing!
When I do a holiday meal, I do a combination...the turkey or a big roast is carved in the kitchen and put on a platter, and the sides in serving bowls in the kitchen, we gather in the diningroom, say the blessing and grab a plate and go to the kitchen to fill plates and I refill serving bowls and take them and the turkey platter into the diningroom for seconds. the salads, rolls butter, cranberries, relishes etc are preset in the diningroom. In the years when all the kids and grands would be here, we set a "kids" table in the family room where there is a dining table that seats 8. In those days the 'kids were 10 to 20" and didn't want to sit around while the adults talked whatever. Sometimes a "kid" would bring a chair and join the adults for conversation as we were finishing up and some of the kids (and adults) turned to the ball game.
I have served a sit down meal for 35 to 40 a few times and I plated then. Had tables all over the house and no space to set up a buffet. One time we had grilled chops and I forget what I served other times .
I have a lot of beautiful serving dishes and I like to use them.

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John Liu

Normally, we serve food on the table.

We do buffet style when the quantity of food is ridiculous (Thanksgiving, etc) or when multiple tables are in use.

I will plate if there are only a few guests and I'm feeling fancy. As numbers rise, I get too frazzled to bother.

Soup is usually brought to the table in bowls. Way too messy for people to serve themselves. One drop of the ladle and soup is splashing all over.

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functionthenlook

The common thread here is every family serves Thanksgiving different. After all Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family and friends over good food. It doesn't matter if you eat turkey on a picnic table in your backyard or in some fancy restaurant. Formal or informal, paper plates or china, suit or jeans, there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Thanksgiving as long as it is with family and friends. That is what makes it special.

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Suzieque

We typically do family style. On occasion, buffet. What I can't stand, personally, is having my food plated. Why would someone assume that they know what I want and how much of it? I hate, hate, hate having my food plated (not counting a restaurant, of course). If I don't eat all/any of something on my plate I feel like I'm insulting the hostess and it's very obvious. If I serve myself, I just don't take what I don't want or I take the amount I want.

Can you tell that I hate for a hostess to plate my food??? Ha. I'm extremely honored to be a guest at someone's home and flattered that I'm included. But please don't plate my food.

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gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

How food is served - buffet, family style, formally plated - is up to the host's pleasure, not yours! The fuss about plated meals is silly. If you can tolerate a plated meal in a restaurant, what is the big difference in someone's home? Eat what you like, leave what you don't, same as you would in a restaurant.

As for "assuming" portions or what to include, there are standard portion sizes and the host includes what is on their menu.....just the same as they would offer that menu family or buffet style. Leaving something is not considered an insult. I sometimes will take something from a buffet that is not my cup of tea after tasting, so I leave it. No one takes offense at that........no reason to assume they would do the same if plated!!

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Elmer J Fudd

"The common thread here is every family serves Thanksgiving different. "

I'm not so sure the approaches shared show that every family serves Thanksgiving differently.

I think it's more just about preferences concerning hosting a "larger than normal" group for dinner. Which can be any time of the year for any occasion or no occasion.

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Suzieque

garden gal said: "The fuss about plated meals is silly. If you can tolerate a plated meal in a restaurant, what is the big difference in someone's home?"

Silly to you. Not to me. In a restaurant I order what I want. Often I can substitute if I wish (but I don't often do that). At someone's home, whose feelings I care about, I can't order what I want. I have to take what (and how much) they give me.

When I host a meal, I do it for my guests’ pleasure, not mine and as far as comparing a plated meal to a buffet, well, no.

Please don't call me or my opinion silly. It's not nice.


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Barb

Definitely family style. I don't really have room to set up a buffet if we are going to eat in the dining room.

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OutsidePlaying

I do plate food when I have a smaller group, for example our supper club, which is 4 couples, and all the hosts plate food. It’s easier to ensure everyone gets a fairly equitable portion. And if I am serving something like salmon, for example, where there is a serving per person i can ensure I get the smallest size portion if there is one. Most of us in the group have small appetites anyway and don’t eat large portions. Dont bet me wrong, the hosts always have plenty to eat, especially sides and desserts, but usually no one asks for seconds because the food is plentiful.

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Anglophilia

When I used to have dinner parties, I always plated the food in the kitchen and then served the plates in the DR. Occasionally, I hired someone to serve and that was much nicer.


When I did Thanksgiving, the turkey was carved at the table and people passed their plates to my husband and made their request - white/dark/both. All the rest of the dishes were next to me on a small table and I served them. Our family is small enough that the table was not too long for someone to say, "small serving of sweet potatoes, please". DD always had the side dishes spread around the table, and after the turkey was served, they were passed. Neither of us has a good place to do "buffet-style" unless people are eating on their laps and not at the table (where the buffet is).


Lobster stew was always served from the kitchen. We'd already had the salad (which was on the table when they sat down to eat), and the rolls were passed.


Yes, we do say "grace" and it is the one that my children's great, great grandfather wrote. The children always say it together.

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Feathers11

I actually plate food for my immediate family because of how we dine. For a group of 5-10, I do family style.

For larger groups, I prefer buffet over family style. There is nothing more awkward than having a large group of people sit politely with their plates partially filled, waiting for each dish to be passed around. My husband's family does it like that, with no one touching a bite until everyone has had each dish passed to them. It takes far too long for the size of group.

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colleenoz

It's not an insult to not eat something on a plated meal, Suzieque. As an example, I made breakfast the other day for myself, DH and a friend I didn't know well. I plated the food at the stove and we ate at the table. The friend didn't eat the mushrooms on his plate. Was I insulted, did I care? No. Did I mention it? No, because it's rude to make such comments.

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war garden

we go with plated service that way everyone gets an equal amount and the look of plating is pleasing to the eye. I also keeps one person from hogging one of the main dishes,the side dishes or desserts.



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annie1992

My dining room table will seat 12 with both leaves inserted. If I have more than 12 people I will serve buffet style and then some will sit at the counter and some at the table. If I have fewer than 12, I'll serve family style and everyone will help themselves to the items they choose. The meat gets carved in the kitchen and put on the table on a platter. When plating for too many people I'm slow and have not found a good method, so the first people served end up with cold plates by the time the last person is served.

I'm never insulted if someone doesn't eat what they've taken, I've even made new dishes and then not cared for them, so it's all part of the "game" for me. I always make too much and then leftovers are taken home by those who want them.

When it's just Elery and I, I plate the food in the kitchen, but for large groups I find it easier to serve family style. We always say grace, usually one of the kids has the "honor". And I'm thankful, very, very thankful, that all my family is at my table, and that takes priority over everything else.

Annie

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marymd7

This may be counterintuitive, but a buffet is a disaster in a small house. People need to go sit down and let the food be passed. I prefer family style anyway. We're all at the table at once for any blessings or toasts, seconds are readily obtainable, etc. The key is to have multiple smaller bowls of food so that it gets around to everyone more easily.

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Marilyn_Sue

Way back when I was growing up, men ate first, then the women and then the children. That is just the way it was. Not that way now, usually Mother's get the children's food first and whomever wants to get in line for their food does it. My girls or granddaughters usually fix my plate, I tell them what I would like to have.

Sue

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marylmi

I like family style the best and a buffet only in certain circumstances. I would never plate someone's food unless they couldn't come to the table for some reason. I really don't want someone to plate mine as how could they possibly know how much I want of a certain food.

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Marilyn_Sue

Being it is hard for me to walk and stand, they plate my food, if I want more of something they will get it for me.

Sue

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Raye Smith

I've noticed an interesting theme. I grew up with eating what was put before me, no rejecting what I didn't like and no extra of what I did like and children don't have "second helpings". We always had plenty to eat but didn't put such an emphasis on catering to individuals. The meal was about being nourished and more importantly spending time as a family together. Interesting how that focus has changed for so many.

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gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

"as how could they possibly know how much I want of a certain food."

The same as a restaurant knows how much to plate.........it's called a portion or serving size. Not absolutely dead-on - there is flexibility up and down the scale - but within a fairly moderate range it is recognizeable. And based on what nutritionists have determined to be of proper nutritional size (Food Pyramid, MyPlate, etc.)

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functionthenlook

I'm not saying it is wrong, but i never was served plated food in a home setting. I think it because of our upbringing. A lot of people from SW PA came from eastern block countries, Germany , Ireland and Italy. They were poor immigrant stock who came for jobs in the steel mills and coal mines. Owning your own home and having plenty of food was a sign of prosperity. Something they didn't have in the old country. Then the depression came reinforcing the ideal. That idea has passed down through some of the generations. If your entertaining 6 you cook for 12. It is viewed as lack of prosperity for a host to run out of any one food, even if there is plenty of other food. Someone taking 2nds is viewed as a honour for the cook. Eat as much as you want, but eat what you take. Wasting food is frowned appon. Also offering guests to take home left over food is common. Home plated food would be viewed as being cheap or a lack of prosperity no matter the type of food being served.

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Zalco/bring back Sophie!

Wow, that is a fascinating take on serving food at home. I appreciate the explanation, function.

It would never in a million years occur to me to equate plated food with a lack of it. The only problem with plated food fr a large group is that even with warmed plates, it is apt to get cold. OTOH with a plated service, you eat as soon as you are seated and the hostess has given the signal.

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marylmi

Gardengal, it's somewhat different when being served in a restaurant then in a home. At home, why would you want a bunch of food on your plate that you don't want and just waste it. Yes, you might remember who doesn't like mashed potatoes or corn but then again, maybe you won't. I would rather have the food passed around so I can take as little as I want .....so I can have more room for dessert! :). It's not about the portion it's about what foods you like .

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Louiseab Ibbotson

I agree with chi, we have a couple of friends who believe that buffet is too “low class” and they prefer to serve us as we remain seated. Although I appreciate the intent of making us feel “special”, I have a very small appetite and they have very large appetites and it always embarrasses me to leave so much on my plate for fear they will take offence. We always serve buffet style. But that said, we are casual people.

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plllog

If there are things I need to attend to, or the food is slow, I just ask my guests to start eating rather than waiting and having the food grow cold. It's not perfect, but better than letting formal manners overtake common sense.

The points about portions and plenty made by Gardengal and Functionthenlook are very interesting. As one who has served plated food, yes, it's possible to know what a correct portion is. It's not about being fancy schmancy or formal, but some foods just lend themselves better to plated service. To which, I always announce that there's plenty more, and then offer seconds. And if the guests want to go help themselves to seconds in the kitchen (the only ones who do are family, so it's not weird), I have no problem letting them, if I think they can find the warming drawer (some stand and stare at it and still can't find it).

I grew up with a slightly different set of parameters to Function. We weren't trying to cook takeaways for the guests, but always wanted to make enough of each thing that there were at least a portion and a half left. No one ever takes the last spoonful, but if there's a generous bit left plus a portion, one can be confident that everybody got their fill.

I was once invited to a luncheon that an acquaintance in a group held at her home, and went in a carful with other women. We ended up on the wrong road and thoroughly lost so called to say we weren't going to make it. We were told it was a relief because there wasn't nearly enough food even without the 4-5 of us who weren't there! The hostess wasn't young, and I wouldn't have thought she was completely unfamiliar with entertaining. All I can think was that she must come from one of those cultures where people eat before going to a meal in someone's home in order not to be seen as needy or something.

I don't stand on formal manners when I entertain, beyond be nice and kind to the other guests and don't try to schmooze me in the kitchen while I'm finishing your dinner. No matter how I'm serving, if you want something more or less, just tell me. Have a special request, and don't try to swamp me when I'm doing four other things? I'll do my best to make it for you. Don't be embarrassed, do speak up. And when there were cold artichokes on the table to snack on and a relative wanted to make a little sauce to go with it for his kid, I was perfectly fine with it. He found a dish, a fork and the ingredients without bugging me or getting underfoot, while I was getting the dinner out. He's also been known to see something that needs doing and just jump in and do it when my brain is too fried to figure out how to ask. But if you're not ready to make your own sauce, I'll do it for you, but it'll have to wait until I'm done getting the dinner out. That's all.

I am never offended when people swap their beets for someone else's peppers. Try not to get them on the tablecloth or rug, but I don't care if you want to redistribute your food. Or push the interlopers to the side of the plate. Or eat half your portion. If it doesn't taste good, I wish you'd just tell me so I can get you something else, but if it's just more than you can eat, leave it. But then, I don't have any issues with the people who take half portions, unless there are already three half portions on the platter. And I find the auction of "who wants to split this potato with me?" an ongoing diversion. Sometimes, it'll be tablewide crosstalk with the auctioneer pairing people up and adding an extra scurry of passed plates, even though there were some small potatoes in the bowl and enough for everybody to have their own and eat only what they wanted. It's funny! And if they want to do all that, and then all the pass the fixings with both dishes of sour cream hiding behind the candles at one end of the table, well, just pass one of them back!


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ophoenix

Pollig,

I loved your description of family dinners especially Passover. Our very large Jewish family originally came from Russia, part not know as Ukraine, and were very traditional. My father and brother lived with his Aunt and Uncle and they were my 'grandparents' although called Aunty Zena and Uncle Norman. We passed the fish after the service m the condiments were on the table at several places. The girls passes the soup after taking the matzo ball order from the next in line to serve. The main course was plated and passed with seconds on the table. I had forgotten all about the auction! 'Who wants my sweet potato pudding?' 'Anita does not like veggies, who wants her share?' lol We all ate till stuffed and then desserts were placed on the table for all to help themselves.

My little sister was a horrible eater! every night was a fight to get her to eat. She held my parents hostage and I vowed never to let that happen in my home - and I didn't. I had three sons and they chose what they would eat and how much they wanted on their plates. My husband also a very picky eater helped himself so he got exactly what he wanted and the correct amount - sort of. Growing up it was a sin to waste food and I still feel that way.

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arcy_gw

I wonder if plating is a regional thing? My MIL was from the east and was used to plating for people but at the table, like I've seen done in old movies. Host and hostess standing at the head of the table, filling then passing plates. My DH has a habit of doing this when we sit down together and it ALWAYS grates on me. I want what I want how I want it not what he wants to give me!! If we plated in the kitchen it saves on dishes to wash I suppose. When it is just the two of us I am not much into fancy and don't concern myself with "serving dishes". It is curious how restaurant eating is soo different than home, at least in my world. But reading through these posts gives one a real view into preferences and how at many homes eating is much like at a restaurant. The soup question is easy--for that many people I wouldn't serve something that isn't easily self served either at the table or in a buffet. The idea of anyone carrying sloshing soup from the buffet line to the table is a nightmare waiting to happen so I wouldn't provide that chance. That's part of the "trick" to menu planning IMHO. I always chuckle at the "cold food" issue many cooks put on airs about. Never buffet or family style has a dish gone cold before we ate it, but we aren't 30+ as many here are. The concepts around "waste" are also interesting. I would much rather a guest pass on a platter being passed if they prefer not to eat an item then that item being served to them sitting there staring. In that situation I would feel forced/compelled to eat what I know I don't care for. Manners are definitely in the eyes of the beholders and not everyone looks at things the same.

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colleenoz

Louise, my MIL eats like a bird. When I'm serving out something like cake, for instance, she indicates that really, just a square inch is plenty. I can't do it. I tell her, here's a small piece, just eat what you want and leave what you don't, I won't care a whit. And arcy, if I ever give you something you don't like, just don't eat it. That's fine. My philosophy is, once I give it to you, it's yours to do with as you wish. Eat it, don't eat it, give it away, give it to the dog.

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ruthanna_gw

For everyday dinners, I plate the food in the kitchen for spouse and myself, serve it, and tell him if there are any extra portions in the kitchen. For larger dinners, I serve family style with bowls and platters of food on the table.

Holiday dinners of at least a dozen people have a buffet set out on a large kitchen table with rolls, butter and boats of hot gravy on the dining room table.

I do plate food when we host what I call “dinner parties” of 2-6 guests. I already have asked if they like the main course so I select side dishes and other courses that will complement it.

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Elmer J Fudd

"I wonder if plating is a regional thing?"

Interesting comment.

It's a practice I've NEVER seen or heard of anyone doing. Is it regional, is it by familial tradition, or what?

All I've ever experienced is family style or buffet, depending on the size of the group. Plating my meal would almost make me want to ask if Mommy could please cut my meat for me too.

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gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

I am amazed at some of these comments!! "NEVER" having seen this would make me question how much one gets out and about and to where :-) Would you ask your restaurant server to cut your meat for you as well?

Why is this such a foreign concept to so many? Most catered wedding dinners are plated........and other large functions where a sit-down meal is served. Not to mention most dinner parties, which seem like almost a lost art in these days of uber casual dining.

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arcy_gw

LOL Colleen but because you think your need to control is stronger than the eaters need to not waste or be unduly tempted to eat what they know they shouldn't or be turned off by something they really dislike on their plate...I think you are mistaken. You may well not care but your guests do care and are not going to risk the fopaux. It isn't about what you want. And I would go so far as suggest that isn't gracious hostessing's aim. Of course eating out, formal weddings, formal dinners with wait staff and multiple cooks etc. etc serve plated dinners. That isn't where this thread began. The question was about what happens in peoples homes among families, at the holidays and yes serving plated dinners in non formal situations appears to be foreign for many of us. Obviously some people live where among family life is less formal, while other's want to treat their families to a step above the every day. Viva la difference!!

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marymd7

Plating is nice, but, unless you've hired someone to help (and I don't), it's just not feasible for the large group I usually host on the holidays. I've certainly plated for smaller dinner parties and family meals, but if it's more than 6 sitting down to dinner, it doesn't work for me. I'm not a caterer and I don't have a caterer's kitchen or a caterer's staff.

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Michele

My family’s custom sounds very similar to function the looks. We would never have plated food. It would have appeared as being cheap and etiquette would have prevented anyone from asking for more.

My first experience with plating food was at my in-laws. It appeared so strange. They also serve men guests first, followed by the other men then women guests then children then the lowly family women! It’s a miracle that I managed to get through it. For the last few years I no longer go when there will be guests. I can’t/won’t do it anymore.


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marylmi

Upon thinking more about this, there are a few times that I have plated the food and one would have been Cornish hens. I would only have them for 4-6 people and they would be plated with any garnishes plus the rice. The rest of the food would be passed at the table. I haven't had them for a long time....something to correct maybe?

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Zalco/bring back Sophie!

This thread has sent me down a long rabbit hole about different ways of serving a meal. In case anyone else enjoys learning the history of the different styles, this article is particularly good:



Place setting for 12-course dinner a la russe

By the 1860s, the rich and fashionable had abandoned service à la française in favor of service à la russe, or Russian service, and magazine writers, cookbook authors, and “behavior” experts were strenuously promoting this new serving style to middle-class women. While a French-style dinner was essentially a three-course buffet, a dinner à la russe was served in eight to fourteen separate small courses. In antebellum America, the more or less obligatory courses comprised, in the following order: raw oysters on the half-shell, soup, fish, croquettes or a creamed food in puff pastry, a roast with potatoes and a vegetable, game with salad (or salad only), a cold dessert, a frozen dessert with fancy cakes, and, finally, coffee. If a grander effect was wanted, other items could be grafted onto this basic template: an entrée (meaning a light meat or fish dish), and/or a vegetable, and/or a palate-cleansing sorbet could follow the roast; cheese and crackers could be served either following the game/salad or just before coffee; a hot dessert or a large cake could precede the cold dessert; and fresh, preserved, and dried fruit might follow the frozen dessert.3 It all sounds like quite a production, but in Practical Cooking and Dinner-Giving (1876), Mary Henderson opines that “it is very simple to prepare a dinner served à la Russe”—indeed, “after a very little practice it becomes a mere amusement.” Henderson’s nonchalance is less surprising than it seems. She presumes that many items will be purchased ready-made, either from a caterer or in cans, and that all of the cooking required will be done by servants, which any hostess who hazarded such a dinner would have had at the time.


https://www.manuscriptcookbookssurvey.org/when-service-a-la-francaise-met-service-a-la-russe/


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functionthenlook

Michele, the husband getting served first dates back to when the husband was the only breadwinner in the house and they wanted to keep him healthy to work. My FIL never ate the table but in his recliner in front of the TV. My MIL would plate his food first and bring it to him. She also worked and had 7 kids to take care of. Oh it took all I had not to tell him to get off his as- and make his own. When he came to my house he knew he had to sit at the table or he was going to go hungry. My house, my rules.

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gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

"We would never have plated food. It would have appeared as being cheap and etiquette would have prevented anyone from asking for more."

According to accepted etiquette rules, plating is typically associated with more formal dinners and not at all indication of cheapness !! In fact, was most common with wealthy households as there was usually "staff" to do all that individual serving :-) And you didn't 'ask for more' - a serving size was a serving size and it would be uncouth or boorish to expect seconds.

It is my considered opinion that if all our food had been plated from our early years onward (with appropriately portion controlled serving sizes) there would be a whole lot fewer obese people in this country!

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Elmer J Fudd

Yes, never in a home. That was what I said. You can suggest any number of places where food is served commercially. Airplane meals too, you forgot to mention those.

nice try to be nasty, gardengal. Maybe get some exercise to burn off tension.

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Chi

It's interesting how people who plate seem to be offended by those of us who would prefer to serve ourselves.

I've never had someone plate my food in their home. It doesn't mean I think it's bad or wrong, but it's just something I have never seen before, and not my personal preference as I am a bit picky. I'm also a vegetarian and a lot of people don't consider things like the chicken broth in stuffing or the bacon in the green bean casserole and once something with meat has touched my plate, I have to throw away anything that's touched it or I'll get sick.

I can't tell you how many people when I ask "is there any meat in this?" say "no" and when I say, "oh, no chicken broth?" they say "oh, yeah there is broth in there but that's not meat." Or the person who swore her baked beans were vegetarian but there was a giant hunk of bacon in it when she put a spoonful on my plate at the buffet. I had to throw the entire plate out when she wasn't looking.

And while people here proclaim they would never be offended if someone didn't eat what they were served, many more people feel social pressure to eat it. I would choke down something I didn't like (unless it had meat in it) if someone put it on my plate rather than insult the person who served it to me. It's entirely different from a restaurant where I decide what I want to order and will ask them to exclude something I don't like.

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amylou321

Restaurants and catered meals are different. It's more like "this is what you get for this amount of money." Its not the same as portioning out food for family or friends. (And if I go to a restaurant, I can substitute. Or add extra of what I want.) I think its ungracious to plonk down a plate of food that you deem appropriate in front of someone. Like, "here, eat it or don't. Doesn't matter to me." And if you invite them to help themselves to seconds,why not firsts to begin with? I would feel uncomfortable and frankly, unwanted if someone were to plate my food for me outside of a restaurant or catered affair. It sends the wrong message. Not "You're a welcome guest ,help yourself to what you want and enjoy." It says "I am already doing you a favor by allowing you to dine in my presence. This is what you get. Take it or leave it."

I wonder why buffet restaurants are so popular......

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gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

I am reluctant to even respond but no Elmer, that is NOT what you said. You said you had "NEVER seen or heard of anyone doing".........there were no qualifiers as to whether this was in a private home or anywhere else. I'm not sure why you take anything that differs from your opinion as a personal affront. I was not being nasty.....only commenting that "never" (and stated in caps yet) was a pretty narrow view. So no need for you to be nasty - although that seems to be your stock in trade. If you don't want your comments to be misconstrued from your intention, then make them clear.

"I wonder why buffet restaurants are so popular......"

Maybe because portion size control is a foreign concept to many? Eat until you can't squeeze another bite in to make sure you get your money's worth? Maybe why 40% of Americans are obese?

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amylou321

Do you point out your guests weight while you serve them what you deem an appropriate portion of whatever you think they should wanna eat? It seems to be important to you......

I would love a lecture on portion control and calorie counting while dining with a friend. What a joy....

And it's also condescending and almost downright mean to suggest that overweight people are too stupid to know why they are overweight and that they need someone to dole out their food for them to basically save them from their own ignorance.

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Michele

My father in law always sat at the head of the table. Most important male guests next to him. There would be my husband as the oldest son on the opposite end. No women allowed in these seats. What a trip! Excuse the phrase but that’s what it is to me.


Where my family is from, in Brittany, on the other end of Europe, I never got the impression men, by the mere fact that they were men, were more “valuable” than women. It was pretty egalitarian.

I haven’t been able to go back for well over 30 years. I’m sure it’s all changed. Everything is so homogenized now.

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functionthenlook

Staff! Who has staff anymore. That went out years and years ago. You have to be filthy rich not just wealthy to afford full time staff.

The wealthy also would have multiple staff bring around platters of individual food items to each individual guest and the guest would take what they pleased and put it on their plate. I wonder if plating started as the cost of employing so many servants became cost prohibited.

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Zalco/bring back Sophie!

Interesting to see a place where men sit next to men. We usually have the most important man seated to the right of the hostess and the most important woman to the right of the host. Couples are not seated together. If the dinner is not given in someone's honor, then the eldest are considered the most important.

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Zalco/bring back Sophie!

Function, in my Googling I learned the terms silver service, where the staff person serves the individual seated at the table as opposed to butler service where the butler held the platter for the diner to serve herself. Butler service was on Sundays when regular staff had the day off, according to wiki.

And while most people don't have staff any longer, some still hire cater-waiters form formal events.

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amylou321

Wow. Told what to eat, how much of it you're allowed to eat, and where to sit while doing it? The tyranny of it all!!!!!

Better to stay home and feed yourself....

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Michele

I didn’t mean to offend anyone and I apologize if I did.

I was agreeing with a previous post.

I was talking about my family’s customs compared to my in-laws.

Believe me, there is no way anyone could have eaten more calories than they expended. Small farms means hard work for everyone. Men, women and children as soon as they could help.


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Zalco/bring back Sophie!

It's fascinating to see how different all of our cultures are. I would never seat myself at someone's table. It never occurred to me that someone could see this way of doing things as unusual. If any guest comes to my table I indicate where he should sit a matter of courtesy and putting the person at ease.

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Elmer J Fudd

gardengal said "there were no qualifiers as to whether this was in a private home or anywhere else."

No? The thread is about big dinners in homes, for holidays or otherwise, and how they get food to their guests. People spoke about kitchen islands and counters, dining room tables, family style, yada yada. Miss that?

My comment quoted and was a follow on to what arcy said. Miss that?

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amylou321

Zalco, I don't know it is cultural or regional. I think it is more of what one is used to really. With our family, its grab a plate, fill it with what you want, grab a fork and find a seat. Sit with who you want. Go refill your plate with whatever however many times you want. It's a PARTY.

I would not be at ease nor have fun at a gathering in which I was told where to sit, SO and I not sitting together, straight back, don't let that spine TOUCH the back of the chair, and please for the love of all that was proper don't let me use the wrong fork to push the 3 spears of asparagus I was allotted around the plate,as I won't eat them.

I have heard that rule of no couples seated together before. May I ask those who follow such rules WHY!?!? I like my SO, I wanna sit by him. I really wanna know. That seems so strange.

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patriceny

Amy, you just made me literally laugh out loud. Thank you.

I have never once had my food plated for me at a family dinner in someone's home. I'm talking over 5 decades of family dinners, spanning multiple Northeast states, 2 sets of grandparents and multiple relatives from both sides of "my" family, then my spouse's grandparents' house, and his parents house, and also one fabulous Thanksgiving dinner at a close friend's house.


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Zalco/bring back Sophie!

The idea is that couples being apart is more conducive to socializing and mingling when seated at a dinner table.

Formal meals at my house are family style, with guests helping one another with platters being passed around.

If the meal is more casual, like a buffet, then unless you are elderly or in need of assistance, it's as you describe. Help yourself and find a place to sit. The hostess of course will try to ensure there is someplace comfortable for everyone and introduce people who may not know one another.

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Raye Smith

Amy, have you read or own a copy of Emily Post? The answers to your questions are in there. I still use my 1950's copy when hosting.

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amylou321

No, I have never read Emily Post. The only time I ever hear her or her book brought up (usually) is in jest, to be honest. While I am sure she has some valuable information for some, I can't help but think her rules and regulations would be terribly outdated for most. But again, i never read it so I shouldnt speculate.

That's odd Zalco. I cannot imagine being seated with ones spouse or SO would be somehow restricting to ones ability to be social. But okay I guess. Thanks for answering my question.

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Zalco/bring back Sophie!

This says it better than I can. From the blog Uncommon Courtesy:

I recently bought a copy of the incredibly fascinating The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser, which is all about the origins of our customs surrounding dining and meals in Western culture, and I have great plans to share bits and pieces from it over time.

A tiny thing that Visser mentions is an intriguing piece of etiquette, which in my experience can be very controversial, the “rule” that at dinner parties couples (married ones, traditionally), should be split up in the seating arrangement. Previously my understanding of the reasoning for the rule was that couples talk to each other all the time and that it’s more fun for them to get to talk to other people for an evening (which, I think, is a totally fair interpretation of the rule).

However, Visser says that:

It has always been a rule of politeness that people in groups should show no favouritism. There must be no whispering in corners, no sharing of private jokes or blatant preferences for particular company; attention should be given to everyone present, as equally as possible. This is the reason why it is customary to separate engaged and married couples at table. Etiquette manuals remind us that dinner parties are for opening out towards other people; pairs or groups who do not want to do this should stay home.

Now, I’ve been to events where this was practiced, and been seated with the “outsider” (to the hosting group) spouses, and honestly, I think being separated from one’s partner really does make one stand on their own feet and have a conversation of their own rather than simply listen to their partner talk. Of course, this absolutely demands that everyone acknowledge the social contract of the dinner party to really give it your all in making conversation and trying to draw everyone in speaking distance into the conversation and not leaving anyone out. And as a somewhat anxious person (who has literally turned around at the door of an event and gone home because of nerves), I totally understand the urge to cling to the one person you know. But it really is a useful skill to be able to make “dinner party conversation” with anyone, on your own, because these situations do come up!

It should be noted that hosts also have the obligation to seriously look at their guest list and try to match up people who will have a good time talking to each other and hopefully will be able to draw useful social and business connections from the meeting. (Though the New York Times says that that particular kind of dinner party is dead and buried.)

https://uncommon-courtesy.com/2016/04/06/separating-couples-at-dinner-parties/

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Chi

Oh I would absolutely hate being separated from my husband. That would be one invitation I'd never accept again. My husband would probably leave! He hates small talk even more than I do.

Sometimes we sit apart naturally at casual parties and bbq's but never "seated" at a table that way. I am glad it's outdated.

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amylou321

Chi, my SO would leave as well! I mean, we are not teenagers cliquing up to whisper mean things about the other kids are we???? We are adults. As an adult,I bristle against being told basic things like who I am allowed to sit with. It would be a mistake to try to separate us at an event,as SO would not care a fig about etiquette and would get up and move his chair to be next to me. If he didnt just up and suggest we leave. And I hate forced small talk. It reminds me of the play dates my mom used to force us to go on. She really really really wanted us to be best friends with certain kids. We just didnt mesh. But still, those play dates were scheduled over and over. We did our best to get along,but really wanted to be with our real friends who we knew we liked..... kinda the same thing....Or when we acted up in school and had assigned seating in the cafeteria.....

I am glad no one has tried that with us,or probably ever considered it.

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functionthenlook

Lol in my house the seating arrangement is dictated by my 6 year old granddaughter when we have family dinners. Even when it is family and friends. At a young age I had her and her sister set the table when they are here. From that she started stating where everyone was to sit. She does a pretty good job.

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Zalco/bring back Sophie!

At the risk of beating a dead horse, it's not about people saying unkind things or being cliquish. Here is Miss Manners on the subject:

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Please explain the correct way to seat couples during dinner parties. I was recently at a family event where couples were asked to sit at separate tables. This announcement drew complaints and derision from some who were offended by being told what to do (and forced to deal with their in-laws without backup.)

I think it is a wonderful idea and have since read that during formal state dinners at the White House, this tradition is maintained. Could you lend some guidance on how to entertain in the future with these same couples in mind?

GENTLE READER: It is not only at state dinners, but at any properly run dinner party that couples are seated apart from each other. This heads off the irresistible temptation to break into the telling of family stories with remarks like "No, dear, that was the second time we went there, not the first."

When Miss Manners is told of couples protesting that they can't bear to sit apart even for the length of a meal, she does not take it as evidence of marital devotion. On the contrary, it sounds mighty like distrust. If they have no social interests or skills, they can always stay home.

But you are talking about a family gathering, where everybody has heard everybody's stories, and the tensions are probably just as well known. In that case, a full seating chart, which separates not only couples but potential combatants, would be helpful.

------++++++++++

Also, this is not outdated. It's simply the rules of the road for some people. Any seated dinner party or fundraiser or wedding I attend observes this rule, and while I am middle aged, I am not ancient and do have plenty of younger friends.


PS I am not trying to convert anyone, just want to be sure the rationale for the custom is clear.

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Louiseab Ibbotson

Huh!

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Zalco/bring back Sophie!

No need for such eloquence, Louise,

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Chi

When Miss Manners is told of couples protesting that they can't bear to sit apart even for the length of a meal, she does not take it as evidence of marital devotion. On the contrary, it sounds mighty like distrust. If they have no social interests or skills, they can always stay home.

Well, that's enough for me not to give a fig what Miss Manners thinks! What a rude assumption, and not very mannerly!

Luckily, the hostesses I know are gracious enough to prefer their guests be as comfortable as possible. I can't imagine suggesting someone stay home if they don't want to follow a seating chart that separates them from their spouse! I guess it depends whether you prioritize a "properly run dinner party" or your guests when hosting.

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amylou321

Well, I'll grab a stick and beat with you. It's not about not being able to bear being away from each other, and it's certainly not a lack of trust for heavens sake. Its about preference. We like sitting with each other and socializing together. And we prefer,as adults not children, to sit with and converse with who we please,and also avoid possible combatants. Presumably, a dinner party is meant for the fun and pleasure of the guests.

I am not sure that Miss Manners represents the accepted etiquette of modern society. I wouldn't want to go to a dinner party of hers,nor would I enjoy being bullied into sitting with people I have no inclination to sit with when my preferred companion was bullied into sitting elsewhere. I do think that is outdated. At the modern weddings I attend,the only assigned seating is the main table where the bridesmaids and groomsmen join the bride. And even THAT has gone somewhat out of style. The last 2 weddings i attended(more than 3 years ago) ,the bride and groom sat alone at the main table and everyone else(wedding party included) sat wherever they wanted. You can tell the difference in atmosphere and overall fun level between an affair in which one is told where to sit and with whom. And those that let people enjoy themselves with friends and family.

I don't think that sitting with one's partner indicates "lack of social interest or skills." That's a reach. But,tell me ahead of time that I will be given assigned seating away from SO (and probably no dessert if I didnt clean my dinner plate, and sent to bed early for not eating those 3 spears of asparagus) and we for sure will stay at home.

I am trying to convert people. That's a weird (and dumb) custom.

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cynic

For decades it's been buffet only around here, yes, pass rolls (or fetch for someone), have beverages/condiments available but also for the most part the last decades is not a sit at table type meal. Primarily because of the design of the houses. My acquaintences just don't have the large formal dining rooms and the dining area in the place isn't made for larger groups. So buffet is common sense for that event. But after reading a few I was reminded of when I was growing up. We were in a small home. The dining table was set up in the living room and then it was family style. And yes we had "staff" bringing food, beverages, requests, the staff was my dear mother together with my sister and myself. The table was too small to set the platters of meats (and yes it was plural), side dishes, etc. There would be the "refill plates" on the table, restocked as needed. There still needed to be a second table or TV trays used for the kids or the ones who desired. My mother worked herself to death over these occasions but she loved doing it. She'd eat after everyone was burping. It's how it was done. How that generation was raised.

I saw no significant difference between the "socializing" aspect of the 2 possibilites, except there would be a difference when some might take their plates to another room, the basement or garage to watch TV while they ate or so they could smoke (yes, horrors! people might smoke in those days). For large groups, family style just isn't as practical most of the time. And for the socializing, come to think of it, there's much more socializing in the "sit where you can" atmosphere since you can likely see and more likely to talk to more than the ones right next to you or across the table.

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functionthenlook

Although it never happened my hubby and I wouldn't take any offense to sitting apart. We were at a Shriners ball last week and even though the couples are seated together we didn't speak often to each other. We enjoyed speaking to the other couples around us that we don't see that often or we were on our separate ways taking to people at other tables. We see each other every day it is nice to partake of fresh conversation.

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plllog

It's been a long time since I've been at a truly formal dinner with place assignments, but if done well they can be a lot of fun! Done well. Done well. The hosts, when they do it well, put a lot of time and effort into inviting a group of varied people who mostly don't know each other, but whom the hosts think will enjoy each other's company. At this kind of meal, it's rude to talk across the table or talk across another guest, so you pretty much only converse with the people on either side of you. You switch during the meal. Before and after, during the milling around of drinks or coffee, small groups form and you get a chance to speak with the other guests.

We've had meals where someone carried around the dishes for people to help themselves from at the table, sometimes with hired help, others just some of the family, because the dishes were hard to pass for some reason. I work hard, when serving family style, to make sure that the serving dishes are more easily managed, though sometimes people will take it upon themselves to carry them around anyway.

I've also been to meals where the server comes around and serves you this or that. They're pretty awkward. I know some of you are so put off by plated meals that you just want to leave anyway, but to me this is the worst of all the versions because you're given the portion that would have been plated (though you can decline) but have to sit there and wait for them to get through serving everyone. The passed help yourself dishes are fine, when done casually, where 2-3 people will help themselves at each stop, rather than the formal serve from the left.

Arcy, it's bad planning to eliminate the much desired and looked forward to traditional soup! Carried in on trays with three or four bowls on each gets everybody served, even when there are three dozen guests, without mishap. Good planning is doing what works well, not surrendering to expediency.

As I've said before, I've served many ways for different menus, circumstances and numbers. I must be doing something right because they all come back to the next party. Friends come too, not just the family, though they don't go scrounging in the kitchen for themselves. :)

Absolutely, yes, the essence of good manners as a host is to make your guests feel welcome and comfortable. I can attest, however, that there's no single way to do this. There's no one right way to serve, nor one right way to seat. And for those of you who really really hate plated dishes, just ask! If you want to choose your own, I'll let you in the kitchen to choose your own. Just be aware, you're making more work for the hostess, and if you're really interested in the best manners of it, you could also just eat what you want off the plate you're presented and enjoy the company, rather than grumbling that it's not the way you like it.

ETA--maybe we have a different concept of a plated dish? As I said before, I'm not talking about plating the classic meat and three, nor a traditional Thanksgiving dinner which might be three meats, five veg and thirteen starches, each put in its own spot on the plate, and some doused with gravy. When I plate a dish it's what they call a "composed dish" on TV. Rather than this here and that there, the components are put together to make a whole out of different parts. In my experience, people who want seconds don't want another whole composed portion, just a little more veg or something like that.

Chi, speak up! Call the hostess a week ahead of time and be frank--no meat, no poultry, no chicken stock, no salt pork. Then, on the day of, quietly ask if there's anything that has stock or pork or whatever in it, and if your hostess can point out which dishes you can eat. I once had a new girlfriend of one of my regular guests come. He asked me to invite her but never mentioned that she was a vegetarian. It just so happened I'd used vegetable stock rather than chicken in a hearty veg dish, and she was lacto-ovo so could also eat a greens casserole. She was thrilled to find so many things she could eat on the table (there were other small sides that were also meatless), but I wish it hadn't been by dumb luck that I had veg stock that needed using up. If I think I might have a vegan guest, I make sure there's one good source of vegan protein, as well.

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annie1992

As plllog says, the essence of good manners as a host is to make your guests comfortable. Even Emily Post said "etiquette has more to do with instinctive considerations for the feelings of others rather than using the right fork".

Additionally, Ms. Post once opined that "well mannered women don't work". She then got divorced and went to work, breaking her own rule. If that had not happened, we wouldn't be able to read the 19th updated version of her book, LOL,

What works for one family may not work for another. I've attended those "assigned seating" events. Sometimes I meet someone lovely and enjoy myself immensely and sometimes I'm stuck trying to converse with someone with whom I have no interests in common, or worse. I'd much prefer to sit with Elery than with anyone they might assign me, that's why I married him, I actually like him a lot. I don't require that, but I prefer it.

I tend to be flexible, as I'm much more interested in who I'm sharing the table with than I am with the food or how it's served. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely appreciate a well prepared meal and much prefer to choose what goes on my plate, but if my hostess likes me well enough to invite me for a meal, then I'm happy. I do feel guilty, though, if I leave something there that I don't care for, it seems so wasteful to serve something that I don't eat. The result is that I just shut up and eat something I don't really care for, and that's not an ideal option either.

Annie

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ophoenix

For many years I did a lot of entertaining: large business parties for my husbands colleagues (up to 80), our California family (15 t0 30), traditional family parties (15 - 18) and many weekend dinners for our friends of my sons friends. The large parties were served buffet style with seats indoors and out. Family traditional parties were part served and part buffet. Two weddings (200 and 100 each) were catered by my sister and her dear friends. Both are gourmet cooks and members of an international group and the dinners were a smash. They brought a 60 lb. fresh frozen king salmon and barbecued it right on the patio. Salad and sides were beautiful as well as delicious. The fish took up the entire grill!

Our family and traditional meals were a group effort. The menu was - and still is - selected by the hostess and assignments are given depending on the skills of the contributing cooks. This gives the vegetarians and fussy eaters the opportunity to prepare and bring what suits their diets and others can try their selections as well. Some times we would have place markers for each guest and other times it would be much more casual. When the kids were small, we would decorate fall leaves and then write a name of one guest and place on the salad plate. We did these meals buffet style and of course helped anyone who could not navigate with a plate in hand. Adults migrated to one table, the teens at theirs and the kids would have a kids table to everyone had a great time. Everyone felt at home and helped serve, clean up, do dishes and put the tables away at the end of the evening. It was always a treat to have a family dinner and wake up in the morning to a tidy house!

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watchmelol

If I plan a sit down meal for guests I am not serving a smorgasbord. It's not cafeteria day. I plan the menu and I don't see the need for a huge variety of dishes other than maybe a choice of vegetables. So whether for 8 or 20 the meal is planned for enough food and can be put in more than one serving dish for easier passing. Once guests are seated I want them to stay that way, not milling around. The main course is generally pretty traditional depending on the meat being served.


Any additional foods are in the way of appetizers that served at the table not sitting around like munchies. It's how I grew up. The appetizer is a course. Liver pate, a cold fish thing, sardines, pickles, olives,radishes, salads, eggplant spread etc. There could be several courses including more than one meat course. My grandmother used to have everyone over and would be popping up and down pulling things out of the oven. That little oven was like a clown car. Out came the turkey, then maybe a veal roast, then a ham. Sometimes chops were added. It was huge food fest.


I only knew one other person like grandma. I was invited to a this Greek guy's mother's house for dinner. Just the three of us. First the appetizers including both a green and a potato type salad, then a soup, then the chicken, then the lamb chops, along with various breads, rice pilaf AND Potatoes Anna. I don't even remember dessert. I know there was oozo before and after. LOL


If I were having a large gathering where people contribute dishes then I am no longer hosting a meal so that becomes a potluck served buffet style.


At home alone DH and I plate from the stove and eat in the kitchen.



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bbstx

So, how many subscribe to the etiquette rule that you first converse with the person on your right but change conversation to the person on your left with the next course, back to the right for the third course, etc?


Our Thanksgiving/Christmas/Easter dinners were always served family style. My mother thought buffet style was barbaric. I have no idea why. My sister and I serve buffet style for most large-ish gatherings, except brunch. Brunch we serve plated. It is often Eggs Benedict, which lends itself best to being served plated.

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Raye Smith

Zalco, thanks for posting that information, such a lovely way to explain the importance and kindness of etiquette. I enjoy talking to others and would be quite happy to have the opportunity to sit with someone I don't know.

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Debby

I have a small house. In some circles it's "cottage" sized. LOL 1000 square feet. I don't have a dining room, just a kitchen with space for a table and chairs. It's an old house built in 1959. When it was just my huband, kids and I, I always set the table for big dinners. If I was cooking a turkey dinner, I was not eating it on my lap on the couch. But now we have a daughter in law, a son in law and a grandson and my table only fits six. We need room for 8. So, it's buffet style and find a spot anywhere you like, now. I don't like it, but it is what it is and the important thing is, we all enjoy a good meal.

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Michele

I remember when I was a young child they would set up a folding table (or two) in the living room of the small two bedroom apartment we lived in. (My parents slept on a convertible couch).

Back in those days Sunday was a real day off from the usual routine. Most businesses were closed. It seems every Sunday we had our extended family/friends over or we were guests at theirs. My parents would even have music playing. It was quite a festive atmosphere. My father was a chef. If only I had payed more attention!

When I was 7 my parents bought my aunt and uncle’s half of the house when they went back. At that point my parents converted the first and second floor to our new home and rented out the third floor. Then we had an actual dining room, my parents had their own bedroom we had two bathrooms. My sister and I still shared a room. My brother still had his own. Nevertheless it was quite a major change in our lives.

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Zalco/bring back Sophie!

Raye Smith, thank you so much for your kind words. If you are in SF, I would be delighted to have a dinner in your honor! (Really)

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Raye Smith

Zalco, how kind! You're welcome, unfortunately I live a long, long way from SF.

I just realized that one of my favorite Christmas parties to attend the host invites people that mostly don't know each other, it's a fun time.

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cookebook

Always buffet no matter how many. On "fancy" occasions we use grandmother's china and silver. We have the table set (except for the plates) and everything looks beautiful. We are a very casual family and, like Annie said above, it's more about who is around the table rather than the food or the "fanciness."

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