The Art of the Buffet
Serving buffet style is a great way to entertain a lot of people at once or at an open house style party where people come and go at various times. Today, we are writing about the art of setting a spectacular buffet table. This is Part 4 in a series on Elegant Entertaining Made Easy. If you missed Part 3: Miix-and-Match Dinnerware, you can find that post from October 17, 2016. If you missed Part 2: The Essential Basics, you can find that post from October 11,2016. If you missed Part 1: The Key Ingredients, you can find that post from October 6, 2016.
Buffet parties can be for dinner, brunch, pasta, dessert, appetizers, cocktails…the options and combinations are endless! Of all the buffet style parties I have done, dessert parties are the most fun because they are pretty low maintenance logistically – nothing needs last minute heating, AND desserts are generally quite show-stopping to display in and of themselves! Remember we “eat first with the eyes”…so a spectacular looking buffet is instantly more appetizing.
The arrangement of a buffet table needs to incorporate the food, obviously, but also the plates, napkins and utensils for your guests, and usually some sort of centerpiece which often helps define the theme of the party…but centerpieces are a topic for a whole other post!
While some cohesiveness is desirable, your serving pieces do not all need to match. As we talked about earlier in this series, collecting a variety of white serving platters and bowls is very practical, and nice quality baskets and trays in wicker or metal or wood...with or without handles are sometimes a nice addition as well.
Because I collect teacups, the tiered stands shown below have proven a very practical way to display them in my china cabinet as well as to use them for parties without taking up a lot of precious real estate on the sideboard where I usually set up the beverages.
Making things as easy for your guests as possible is one of the hallmarks of gracious entertaining.
Because not all items are self explanatory, I like to add labels to identify the foods and beverages for my guests....these can be designed on the computer and printed on cardstock, or hand lettered - attached with ribbons to pitchers and carafes, or stood as tent signs or in place card holders by each offering. Arranging the utensils in a holder – I often use a teapot or small pitcher to corral them, and adding colorful, thematic napkins is both practical and a way to add another layer to the overall table design.
For buffets, one of the key ways to make the table look exceptional is to vary the heights of the serving platters – either by mixing in some pedestal serving pieces like cake stands of various sizes – sometimes even stacking two or three, using a tiered plate holder or two as serving pieces, or even using decorative boxes to vary the heights. Setting up a buffet table with a cookie display the other day, my friend Donna commented on the 4 tiered swivel plate stand we were using as a serving piece, “the varying heights really do make such a difference in how it looks!” and she is absolutely right! Even if you do nothing else, this single change will revolutionize your table display.
Using a few scattered pedestal dishes or tiered racks have the added advantage of leaving a little space underneath in which your guests can set their plate whilst they load it. Having a table look full and abundant is important but needs to be balanced with the practical need of space for guests to serve themselves easily.
Designing a buffet table is not that different from designing a room or a tablescape vignette….all the same guidelines apply …vary the heights, vary the textures, repeat elements, refine the color palette…experiment until you have a pleasing rhythm of items… and have fun!
Our next post in the series will focus on creative centerpiece ideas.