Maggie Coster stood behind the counter at Traditions restaurant in Saco on Christmas afternoon serving plate after free plate of steaming ham, mashed potatoes and pie with ice cream barely starting to melt to anyone who walked in the doors.

Coster, 17, has spent every Christmas since she was a little girl at the same restaurant with her extended family, either serving dishes, taking orders or clearing dirty plates in what has become for them the most memorable part of the holiday.

“I’ve always come here,” said Coster, between running to the kitchen and calling orders to her brother or sister or one of her cousins.

The restaurant’s “customers” were single people with nowhere else to go for Christmas, couples unable to afford a good meal, families who had fallen on hard times, and anyone in need of good company on the holiday. Everyone ate for free. Tips were not accepted.

Leon “Joe” Hadiaris, Coster’s uncle, started the family tradition at Traditions Italian Ristorante on Main Street in 1999 after springing an idea on his family to open the restaurant doors to serve free meals to anyone and everyone who wanted one.

The idea caught on, and Thursday was the family’s 16th consecutive Christmas volunteering at the restaurant. Hadiaris’ extended family – including relatives, friends and co-workers from Thorton Academy, where he teaches – served meals to about 250 people who made reservations and others who just walked in the doors, and delivered more than 50 hot meals to the homes of people in Saco, Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach who were unable to leave their homes or had no transportation.

Every member of the family has a role. Hadiaris leads a crew of aunts and uncles and others in the kitchen. His wife, Sue Hadiaris, acts as hostess at the front door. Their daughter, Jenny Hadiaris, drove up from her bank job in New York City to coordinate the home deliveries. Their son, J.D., an attorney, spent hours mashing the potatoes. The cousins wait tables.

Coster joked that her official job title is “auxiliary” because she can handle orders for only one person at time. She stuck to serving plates at the counter rather than waiting on any of the restaurant’s 10 booth tables.

“Most of my cousins have serving experience, and I do not,” Coster said with a smile. She’s a senior at Falmouth High School.

Even her grandfather Dick Bachelder, 86, of Hallowell bused tables and ran dishes from the kitchen. Bachelder’s cousin Frannie Perazzi, 94, put a bread roll on each customer’s plate.

Many of those who came to the restaurant this year were repeat customers who have come to know the Hadiaris family over the years, watching the young cousins grow from children to adults and as two new babies joined the family.

Earl LeConte and Shelly Nelson of Biddeford said as they finished their dessert that they had nowhere else to go on Christmas.

“I don’t have no money,” LeConte said. “I like to come here every Christmas.”

“The service is great. The meal is great,” Nelson added.

In a booth on the other side of the restaurant, Dan and Rebecca Dube of Hollis sat with their 7-year-old son, Jason, who wore a tie for he occasion.

“I came down with a serious illness, and I haven’t been able to work,” said Rebecca Dube. “We used to go to my mom’s, but she passed away.”

The Dubes own their home, which they said is fortunately paid off because they currently have no work income.

Rebecca Dube had been a substitute teacher until being diagnosed with interstitial pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease that usually requires her to carry an oxygen tank. Dan Dube had been the stay-at-home parent.

“It was right out of the blue,” he said of his wife’s illness.

The couple said they “very much appreciated” what the Hadiaris family had done hosting Christmas dinner, and clearly their son agreed.

“I love this place,” said Jason, a second-grader at Hollis Elementary School.

Leon Hadiaris said he got the idea for opening Traditions on Christmas Day while his son, J.D., was playing hockey for Colby College in 1999 and the family traveled to Saratoga Springs, New York, for one of his hockey games. After the game, they went to what he described as an “upscale diner” with pictures all over its walls from Thanksgiving dinners that its owner had hosted for free over the years.

“On the way out, I told my wife, ‘We should do this,’ ” Leon Hadiaris said.

Shortly after that trip, he learned that the Saco-Biddeford area’s soup kitchen, Bon Appetit, serves meals five days per week but closes on holidays. He said once he realized the cities’ needy wouldn’t have a place to go for Christmas, he decided to make it happen.

“When he first mentioned it, I have to say, my first response was, ‘What would that do to the kids? What would this do to our Christmas?’ ” said Sue Hadiaris. “The reaction of the kids was like, ‘Of course we are going to do it.’ ”

The Hadiaris family had once run a restaurant, called Plaza, years ago in the same building that is now Traditions. Traditions is owned by Doug Murray and the Kerry family, but they lease the building from the Hadiaris family. And they came to an agreement. The Hadiaris family would prepare all the food up the street at Dairy Queen, which they also own, and use Traditions just for Christmas Day.

Jenny Hadiaris, now 31, said she started volunteering on Christmas when she was in high school and now looks forward to it every year, partly as a family gathering and partly to help others.

“For us, it was such a wonderful thing because we could focus on what’s important,” she said. “I think this is the best thing about Christmas.”