When I'm setting the holiday table for a buffet, I borrow from the Swedish tradition of the Julbord buffet, which most restaurants in Sweden offer throughout the month of December in place of their traditional menus. I drape all my tables with red tablecloths and use white candles of varying heights to set off the food. Using masses of candles, as is customary in Sweden, is an attractive way to decorate the table, and it also gives you the option of featuring the flowers that your guests may bring.
Here are some of my other tricks for setting and decorating the table:
- Most of my buffet menu consists of self-contained food that doesn't need utensils. For the few dishes that do -- and for guests who prefer a utensil, place a bean crock filled with forks on the table next to the plates. Don't bother to line up utensils in a row all along the table; they take up too much room.
- Salad-size plates make servings look more generous than dinner-size plates. Stack the plates with napkins next to them in one corner of the table; otherwise, they distract from the food.
- Place the candles (and any flowers) in the center of the table, and arrange the food around the periphery. Reserve the most prominent spot for the smoked fish and/or pork and the vegetables.
- Remember that if you are serving expensive items, such as smoked salmon or shrimp, your guests will station themselves near these foods and eat them up first; replace them at intervals throughout the party so that everyone gets a chance to enjoy them.
- Group all the vegetable choices together, next to the fish.
- Shop at discount stores for attractive baskets that you can fill with an assortment of dark and white breads. Slice them at the last minute (or freeze them sliced and arrange while still frozen) so they don't dry out. Place the breads alongside the meats, with mustard and a bowl of mayonnaise.
- If you have room for two additional, smaller tables, segregate the cookies and the beverages.
- Set up a place where your guests can put their plates when they're finished eating. (Or, if you can enlist some help, institute a constant patrol for dirty plates and glasses and have them whisked off to the kitchen.) Nothing makes a party table look more tired than plates filled with food scraps intermingled with the serving dishes