Tips for Putting Together the Ultimate Buffet

December 19, 2014 Classic Cooking

Buffets are a great way to feed a crowd and provide variety when you're entertaining. They also create a more casual atmosphere, which makes everyone feel right at home!

Follow these tips for setting up an easy, attractive buffet table — stocked with delicious food.

The goal of setting a buffet table for entertaining is to keep it simple for guests to make their own plates of food.

Prepare Ahead of Time Preparation and organization are keys to hosting a successful buffet. Make what recipes you can ahead of time, and time the others so they're ready shortly after all the guests arrive.

Focus on the Table With buffet-style entertaining, the table becomes the main focus of the party; fill it with flavorful food and a light touch of décor. Most importantly, arrange everything so guests are able to effortlessly access every dish.

Vary Heights Set up the buffet table with dishes at various heights. This allows guests to serve themselves without creating messes or confusion. For stands, use everyday items in your home, such as bowls, cake pans or baskets turned upside down. Stacks of books are perfect for large platters and bowls. Drape a tablecloth, scarf or other material over the items to cover them up and make the area more attractive.

Position the Table Place the buffet table to create a smooth traffic flow as guests make their way through the line. For example: If you position the table in the center of the room, you have more useable space and guests can reach the food from either side.

Decorate Simply Create one large, eye-catching centerpiece for the tabletop and complement it with tea light candles or other small pieces of seasonal décor. Be sure to keep everything low, so as not to get in the way of the food. Have your centerpiece do double duty by using a beautifully presented dessert as the focal point of the buffet area.

Arrange the Dishes & Silverware Stack the dishes, silverware and napkins off to the side of the table — but at the beginning of the food line, where you want the guests to start filling their plates. (Consider making easy-to-carry bundles of silverware and napkins.) If you're serving a soup or chili, put bowls alongside this dish toward the end of the buffet line, so guests don't have to carry a plate and a bowl at the same time.

Group the Foods Group foods together by main dish, side dishes, salads and dessert. If you're serving a meal with a ham or prime rib, for example, you would want to put the meat next to the hot side dishes. (Try these recipes for Southwest-style beans or blackeye peas.) Most guests don't mind their meat and side dishes touching each other on a dinner plate.

Don't Forget Beverages Set the beverages and stemware at the end of the line for easy access. Better yet, use a different space for drinks, where guests can set their plates of food down and gather their drinks separately.

To discourage congestion around the buffet table, don't forget to remove the chairs or any other items that may get in the food assembly line's way. Think about the traffic flow, and strategically place the end of the line near a doorway, providing a convenient way in and out of the room.

The goal of setting a buffet table for entertaining is to keep it simple for guests to make their own plates of food — with easy access and a casual feel — so they'll come back for more!

Meet Sandy Coughlin

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