Here are 10 tips for setting up a buffet table. The buffet approach allows guests to mingle instead of being stuck in their seat next to one or two people—and gives guests freedom to eat what and when they wish.
For the host, a buffet is also a more relaxed and easy way to entertain many guests instead of hopping up and down from the table to serve and wait on them. We don’t always think about the host or hostess who has planned the meal and is feeding everyone; in modern times, we’re a little more aware.
I like to 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. For the Christmas holidays, I drape all my tables with red tablecloths and use white candles of varying heights to set off the food. Using groupings of candles, as is customary in Sweden, is an attractive way to decorate the table. (It gives you the option of featuring the flowers if your guests bring a bouquet.)
If you have a lot of guests, consider a tablecloth that goes to the floor. That way you can hide back-up items underneath the table instead of going to the kitchen constantly.
10 Tips for Buffet Table
When you set up a buffet table, there are a few tricks that make it easier for guests
- Reserve the most prominent spot for the smoked fish and/or pork and the vegetables. Place the candles (and any flowers) at the back of the table if it’s against the wall or at the center of the table if it’s not. Arrange food around the periphery.
- Try to put serving platters at a variety of heights so they’re not all on the same plane knocking into each other. If you don’t have a riser or stand, DIY! Simply stack books or upside down baskets and cover with tablecloth. Even cake plates can be used in creative way for vegetables or sandwiches. Put the taller items behind the shorter items so guests don’t knock anything over.
- 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 and force guests to go back and forth to find utensils.
- 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.
- 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 line with linen napkins and fill with an assortment of dark and white breads. This makes cleanup easier. 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, but place towards the outside of the table with butter and condiments to keep guests from reaching over taller items.
- If you have room for two additional, smaller tables, segregate the desserts 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