food service
From: Hungerford, David (
Date: Mon, 16 May 94 12:35 CDT
On about 5/16 Judy Baxter wrote to ask about family style vs. buffet style 
meals in cohousing.  By the way, I'm David Hungerford and I live in Muir 
Commons in Davis CA--I've been watching the talk for a couple of weeks now.  
We moved in in September 1991, so we have almost 3 years of experience with 
meals.  What works/doesn't work for us may be a function of our size (26 
households; 48 adults; 27 kids; 4 teen/young adults), and our meals system.  
Each adult cooks once a month with a partner (yields about 24 meals) and 
cleans twice a month (so 2 cook and 4 clean for each meal). Meal attendance 
is usually between 35 and 45. We're pretty comfortable with this system--it 
works okay for us.  

Family style has a number of advantages: 1) because you don't have to stand 
in line, you can sit right down and begin eating with the rest of your table 
(buffet style, you start eating when you get through the line, so everybody 
at the table tends to come and go at a different time);  2) at least 
initially (before people want seconds), there is less traffic around the 
tables, and the mealtime is a little quieter; 3) families are more likely to 
eat together, rather than the kids eating at a "kids table" and the parents 
eating at an "adult table" (hungry kids hang around the common house waiting 
for the meal bell to be rung and are always first in line, so often the kids 
have eaten before their parents even get through the line--which has its own 
advantages and disadvantages).

All these things together make a family style meal a more intimate 
experience.  However, we eat 9 out of 10 meals buffet style, for a number of 
reasons: First, eating buffet style reduces the work for the cooks, and 
especially the cleaners, by a substantial amount.  Quite simply, we eliminate 
serving up and then cleaning bowls and platters for 7 to 8 tables(for a meal 
with 3 or 4 serving dishes per table, plus condiments, that can add up to 40 
or so serving bowls/platters). Second, since we almost always have a 
vegetarian option/version of the main dish, providing both at each table is a 
bit difficult, especially since there are usually only 5-10 people eating 
veggie.  It marginalizes the veggies to have them hop from table to 
table looking for a (usually cold) serving of their food, all sit together in 
a veggie ghetto, or make them serve themselves buffet-style while everybody 
else eats family style.  The other problem is dividing the food so every 
table has enough.  When we serve family style, it always ends up that we 
wander from table to table doing the cautious "you gonna eat that?" when we 
spot an unclaimed fritter.  Most foods also get cold when there's only a 
small amount left in 8 serving bowls.  Soups and casseroles especially stay 
warmer all in one serving container.  We just leave soups in the pot, and put 
them on the serving table (on a trivet, of course). We've even discussed 
investing in a steam table. Seconds are easier to deal with, too.  It's easy 
to see how much there is left and to know whether it would be polite to take 
a little more (sometimes people show up late for a meal, we leave the sign-up 
sheet out so you can check it before you get seconds to see that you're not 
eating somebody else's dinner when you take that last chicken breast).  

I guess the lesson I can pass on to newer groups on this topic is that there 
are good reasons for doing it both ways.  Currently, we treat family style 
meals as something special, like an old fashioned Sunday dinner, and buffet 
meals as part of our daily grind, when we need to eat and get out to the PTA 
meeting, the City Council meeting, the Little League game and so on (RE: a 
topic from last week; yes, we have an inordinate number of 'leader types' in 
our group).  We've also come to realize that group preferences will 
change over time--one year you may eat all buffet style, then the next year 
you might get on a family style kick--SO DON'T DESIGN YOUR KITCHEN OR DINING 
ROOM TO PRECLUDE ONE OF THE OPTIONS.  Also, when you move in, be aware of how 
your meals organization affects the spirit of the community AND BE WILLING TO 
other levels of organization as well), don't let it become so much of a 
burden that people don't want to deal with it; on the other hand, don't make 
the meals so institutional that people feel like they're eating at a hospital 

Is there anyone out there who is currently serving family style 
most of the time?

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