It used to be easier. You finished one hell of a tee ball game and all the parents took you out for some pizza to celebrate. There was always a restaurant nearby, with a table big enough for the team, and somehow food magically appeared. There were also fountain soda concoctions and unlimited quarters for gumballs. It was the original group dinner.
But for the most part (excluding you adult kickball people), we’ve aged out of team sports. So when it’s time for you and your squad to meet up for dinner, a lot of Austin restaurants will laugh in your face and/or tell you the communal table will be empty by 11pm. We recommend trying these spots - they’re not built for your old tee ball team, but can definitely take a table of up to eight.
Don’t let the lederhosen fool you, this beer garden has a solid lineup of sausages to soak up your beer. And with picnic tables aplenty, Bangers makes group dining easy. Try the bratwurst or drunk chicken for the classic stuff, or Smokey and the Boar if you’re ready for less traditional encased meats. Also, the poutine works well for sharing and having a focused conversation about how underrated cheese curds are. Weekends can get crowded, so come during the off-hours to secure a spot for everybody and their dog. Speaking of, there’s a dog playpen that keeps them contained to a dedicated area, so dog moms and dads can get a break from all that aggressive squirrel chasing.
Nothing says group dinner quite like a lazy susan. Actually, it’s pretty sad to think of just one person eating off a lazy susan. Susan would not approve. Anyway, group dinners at Wu Chow involve lazy susans filled with farm-to-table Chinese food classics. The Shanghai soup dumplings are the best way to kick off the meal, along with a strong drink in a tiki glass.
This is the most convenient patio in town. The downtown location is prime, and your crew can grow and shrink while the jugs of wine continue to flow and the snacky food keeps people from getting too drunk. You’re going to want the pigs in a blanket (or would it be pigs in blankets?), and a steak sandwich on fresh bread from their sister restaurant Easy Tiger.
Any human not impressed by the perfect crust of a Via 313 pizza should be banned from future group meals. This Detroit-style pizza will make you forget that the Chicago vs. New York debate is even a thing. Also, in addition to local beers on draft, Via 313 serves Faygo. Unless you’re from Michigan or are an Insane Clown Posse fan, you might be unfamiliar, and we suggest googling “Faygo showers.” It’ll give you and your group an excellent conversation topic.
When you pull up to Justine’s, you can almost feel the good vibes from the car. This is one of the greatest patio situations in town, and it’s ideal if you’re looking to kick off a night out, or want to feel like you’re getting both dinner and a scene in the same spot. But Justine’s is more than just a pretty face - the French food holds its own and the kitchen is open late. Steak frites, mussels frites, anything with frites - order it.
The second iteration of Fresa’s is made for big groups. It feels like you’re hanging in the backyard of a friend who just happens to make incredible rotisserie chicken, wood-grilled vegetables, and skirt steak. (We need this kind of friend.) There is a giant playscape full of kids in the backyard, so the crowd sometimes leans toward parents who prefer margaritas to hanging out with their kids. No judgement here.
This spot sets you and your crew up for an evening of East Side bar hopping. The entrees are nothing mind-blowing, but this group dinner is about spending time on the patio with your best friend, your best friend’s friend, your best friend’s coworker, and four other people who introduced themselves while you were focused on your mojito. Get the Michelada that’s bigger than your head and their queso fundido, which will make you question why you ever even bothered with the drippy stuff.
Lucy’s serves the ideal menu item for group dining: a bucket of fried chicken. The mac and cheese and wedge salads don’t come in bucket form, but are still worth ordering as well. There’s also a solid selection of oysters, if you want to give your Southern self a little East coast saltiness (while drinking Pearl beers, which - trivia fact - have been around Texas since the 1800’s). This place is casual, but has enough vibe that you’ll still feel like you had a proper dinner out with your people.
You’re planning a group dinner with your friend who likes to yell when he tells stories for dramatic effect and another friend who snorts when she laughs. Skip the quiet tucked-away joint and head for Ranch 616, which expects you to enjoy yourself at full volume. Their Texas-style menu is heavy on the fried things, like crispy oysters and calamari and fish tacos, and there’s obviously plenty of red meat. For a nightcap (or a night starter), get the fire in the hole shot, which is served inside a fresh jalapeño. The kids would probably say, it’s lit.
This place isn’t for a group of picky people who order the grilled chicken no matter where they’re eating, or the kind of people who fear duck fat fries, pork butt, obscure charcuterie, or the kinds of vegetables that haunted their childhoods (turnips). Bring people willing to get away from the basics, get a big table outside, and don’t miss the slow-cooked beef shoulder. And if anyone in your group is trying to conserve dollars, know that Salty Sow does one of the best happy hour food situations in town.
For more than 50 years, Matt’s has been the spot everyone in Austin turns to for a big group Tex-Mex dinner. There’s seating for 500, so it’s safe to say there’s room for you and your friends. Whether it’s Nana’s birthday, yoga training graduation, or lazer tag pre-game - this place is a group dinner machine, churning out fresh tortillas and Mexican martinis as fast as you can consume them. All the usual suspects are on the menu - enchiladas, fajitas, and chile rellenos - and their Bob Armstrong queso dip basically invented a category of food, so pay your respects.
If everyone is sick of the usual places for dinner, throw Stanley’s Farmhouse into the rotation. Just a short drive outside of downtown, you’ll find yourself on a ranch that makes you feel like you’re finally Texas-ing. The main attraction is Jester King Brewery and their sour beers, but Stanley’s and its Neapolitan pizza are a worthy reason for the journey. On weekends there can be a long wait, so order right when you get there - it’ll give you some time to be ready with pitchers of beer.
Contrary to popular belief, not all great barbecue in Austin requires waiting in a long line. Freedmen’s has been around a while and has thankfully avoided the hype machine, which means you’ll spend less time standing around watching people eating, and more time stuffing meats in your face. Sit out back and have the holy trinity plate (brisket, pork rib, sausage) and the smoked banana pudding.
People are so focused on hate-driving by the bars with bottle service on West 6th Street that sometimes they forget about Winflo. But this is a great Italian spot where it’s actually easy to hear the people at your table (so don’t bring your friend who’s really into giving detailed description of her dreams). The menu is strong in the pillowy cheese department (get the burrata and spinach-ricotta dumplings), but also delivers on pasta you’d prefer not to share with the table (especially the short rib canneloni and lasagna). And you can’t go wrong with any of their charred-crust pizzas. In other words, come here planning to over-order.
When you’re planning a big dinner for some friends from out of town, your first move is to take them for good Mexican food. And because they might not be ready for the real-deal mole kind of situation, La Condesa is a good entry point (attractive space, shareable dishes, and strong mezcal cocktails). The prices can add up quickly, so order a few heavier things like the hanger steak and elotes so no one leaves hungry (or too drunk). And if you want an excuse to use the word “spelunking,” ask about eating in their secret cave meant for a large group.