The New Standard

I had a very interesting conversation the other night with my family at the dining table. My parents are in town to visit and we began talking about traditions as they pertain to dining and culture. There has been a long-standing debate between my wife and I as to which is the more desirable way to serve dinner: family style, buffet or plated.

My wife was born and raised in Brazil in an area called Minas Gerais which is known throughout Brazil for its amazing food. She is a spectacular chef and loves to prepare and serve food to all. She was raised on having large weekend family lunches during which many different types of food were brought out onto the table and people dined for hours, helping themselves to the various offerings while engaging in social interaction.

For me growing up in the states, most of my memorable dining experiences were either in the family home, club or restaurant and almost always, excluding large holidays, the food was served plated. Our meals, for the most part, would go on for an hour or two. I think it is commonly understood that Americans are known for more abbreviated dining experiences. I do however feel that the plated service aspect plays a role in this. Probably more than half of the projects I have worked on, my clients ask or suggest buffet or plated service. Over the years I have seen the profound difference between the two. By nature, a buffet style dinner creates the need for the individuals to remove themselves from the social interaction at the table to serve themselves. Therefore at any given time, you could have guests away from the conversation or table and though this free-flowing self-serving process can be attractive depending on the type of entertaining, in other circumstances it can form as a distraction.

So back to the dinner the other night during which my wife and I were debating plated versus buffet service. My mother asked my wife the simple question to please explain why she was so opposed to a plated service. It was so interesting that my wife’s response was motivated by the same intentions, what persuaded me to favor plated persuaded her to favor buffet. She talked about when we first started dating, how hard it was for her to get used to having food served to her on a plate as though she was being told how much and what to eat, and that this approach would be considered rude in her culture. She even went as far as to say that in her upbringing, the families and the leaders of the community would commonly be served buffet style and the workers were often served plated.

At the end of the conversation, I had this profound feeling that she and I were both coming from the same place in regards to our intentions. Both of our goals were to be as hospitable and welcoming to the people around us and try to create an environment that would be as engaging and stimulating as possible.

Understanding traditions and cultures play a key role when entertaining. As our cultures and traditions are fusing at a rapid rate, more than ever before there is now a new standard to consider which is not dictated by the end result (for example plated or buffet) but rather by the intention behind it. As a host, our responsibility is to convey our willingness to welcome all of those around us disregarding how the differences in culture and tradition might play out. This is a challenging proposition as traditions and cultures run deep, however, I am excited by the outcome that can deliver a much more desirable message which is: “we are so grateful to accept each other’s differences as our opportunity to experience life’s journey together on this day.”

Experience Life’s Present!