Tips & Techniques Entertaining Tips for Hosting a Buffet
Tips for Hosting a Buffet

Buffet service works well for both casual and formal meals. The food is arranged on a table or sideboard and guests serve themselves. It's perfect for large groups because people can eat in areas other than the dining room.

These tips will help you host a buffet with ease and style:

A buffet should convey abundance. Choose a table or sideboard that will be just the right size to hold everything. Arrange empty platters and bowls on the table ahead of time so you can determine their placement. Then attach post-its indicating which foods will be served in each platter and bowl.

If space allows, pull the table or sideboard out into the room so guests can serve themselves from both sides. For large buffets, consider dividing each dish between two similar platters or bowls and creating a mirrored effect down the sides of the table.

Cover the surface of the buffet with a tablecloth, runner or place mats. Once you have determined how the traffic will flow, set plates at the beginning of the buffet and napkins and utensils at the end. That way guests won't have to juggle them while they fill their plates. To make serving easier, roll the utensils in the napkins.

Arrange the food in the order in which it will be eaten: first course, main course, side dishes and so on, and put cold dishes before hot ones. Be sure to set out serving utensils for each dish. To make service more efficient, set up a separate table for desserts, or reset the buffet after the meal has been served.

Designate another table for drinks and place it as far from the main buffet as possible to keep traffic flowing.

Placing food at different heights on the buffet table creates an attractive look and makes serving easier. It can also help you fit more food on a smaller table. Place food on a tiered serving platter, or use stackable cake stands. You can also use pedestals or footed bowls, or place platters on boxes or bowls set under the tablecloth or draped with napkins.

A simple centerpiece adds a decorative touch to the buffet. Flowers with a mild fragrance are a good choice. You can also add small decorations or low, stable vases of flowers along the entire length of the table or sideboard.

As the meal progresses, keep an eye on the food and replenish or replace platters as needed. Having extra prearranged platters and garnishes ready in the kitchen makes it easy to keep everything on the table looking and tasting fresh.

Unless you have a warming plate or chafing dish, it's best to serve food that tastes good at room temperature.

If possible, allow for some traditional seating for guests who are more comfortable eating at a table.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma, Entertaining, Edited by Chuck Williams (Oxmoor House, 2004).