How Did “Small Plates” and “Family Style” Become the Same Thing?

Check out what our editors have to say

In our new series, Typing With Our Mouths Full, food editor Lesley Bargar Suter and associate editor Josh Scherer sit down at lunch to chat about a pressing (or not-so-pressing) food issue. Since we eat in front of our computers on the days we aren’t dining out, the conversations are typed frantically over IM, and our keyboards are now stained with sriracha and taco drippings. 

Joshua Scherer says: (4:13:08 PM)
How did “family style” and “small plates” become the same thing?

Like, the words have opposite meanings, but they both involve two fried smelt for $16

Lesley Bargar Suter says: (4:14:11 PM)
I think it all happened when restaurants stared conflating the terms “small plates” and “share plates”

To me, “share” means it’s big enough to share. As in, I shouldn’t be shooting daggers at my husband when he takes one quarter of our single meatball

Like, what parent cooks up 18 “seasonal” dishes for their family, puts them on the table all at once, and then forces everyone to fight over tiny forkfuls of each?

Joshua Scherer says: (4:16:59 PM)
There needs to be a government agency—or at least a consumer watchdog group—that regulates usage of the term “family style.”

Like they would need to test out “family style” dishes on actual families before being able to use the label. A family style approval process.

Lesley Bargar Suter says: (4:17:17 PM)
True that. I never thought I’d say this, but we should all take a cue from Buca di Beppo

Not only do they have a real knack for placing Italian antiques, but they seem to have a great handle on what Family Style means: 13 portions of overcooked spaghetti

Joshua Scherer says: (4:18:15 PM)

Agreed so hard. They’re the only ones doing true family style anymore. I think fancy restaurants (not that Buca isn’t fancy) insist on calling family-style “large format”

Which makes me think of a whole suckling pig or a side of beef. Not a slightly-thicker-than-usual pork chop.

Lesley Bargar Suter says: (4:19:45 PM)
I would hate to go back to calling everything “tapas” again (helloooo 2003!) but I think small plates has become completely meaningless. At least tapas implied: these will be tiny bites of food; I spent a semester in Spain.

Joshua Scherer says: (4:23:32 PM)
Small Plates, Shared Plates, and Large Format is the Tall, Grande, and Venti of the food world.

We should make everything tasting menus to avoid confusion. Alma was right.

Lesley Bargar Suter says: (4:26:33 PM)
Obligatory no sharing.


I do think restaurants should have actual size representations at the front. Like movie theaters with popcorn.

And maybe while we’re at it we can have French butter dispensers.

Joshua Scherer says: (4:29:54 PM)
Could do compound butters too. Shallot. Herbs de provence. Vadouvan.

What the hell are we talking about?

Lesley Bargar Suter says: (4:30:59 PM)
I’m not sure, but I do want Buca di Beppo now.

Joshua Scherer says: (4:31:21 PM)
I’m kinda down for a bucket of tiramisu.