How to Plan a Buffet Party

Planning a buffet can be a practical and fun answer to home entertaining when more than 8 people are invited to dine in your home.  A buffet can, of course, be just as impressive as a sit-down menu, if you give some thought both to the presentation and display of the food.  A buffet table also provides the perfect excuse for impressive settings, perhaps with swags of flowers or greenery, as well as a visually stunning decorative centerpiece.  The food should be decorative, and ease of access should always be a consideration when guests are serving themselves.

Depending on the size and shape of your room, you could either place the buffet against a wall so that guests move along in front of the table and serve themselves, or situate it in the middle of a room  (with space all around) so that guests freely move around the table. Whichever system you use, threshold should be an obvious starting point for serving, indicated by a pile of plates.

If you decide to set the buffet against a wall, the decorative centerpiece should be at the rear of the table and positioned centrally. If guests walk all around the table, place the decoration in the center for maximum effect.

Make sure that all the dishes are easy to reach and that there are serving spoons nearby.  If there is a ham or are other foods to be carved, set it in a position to one side of the table so that guests do not obstruct access to other dishes while they carve.  It should be someones task to check the availability of foods, topping up dishes and tidying the buffet occasionally.

Streamers and brightly coloured napkin sand tableware enliven an informal buffet table.

Set napkins and cutlery (flatware) separately on a side table. Large paper napkins are usually used for informal buffets. If you use disposable plates, they should be sturdy and of good quality, as thin plates sag miserably and make eating difficult. Buffet-style plates are now available. These often include a holder for a wine glass.  Alternatively, keep a large number of good-quality, large plastic plates, which are ideal for entertaining in large numbers.  They are easier to rinse, stack, and wash than china plates, and are ideal for outdoor parties as well as for informal buffets.

Be sure to site the buffet in a cool, well-ventilated place, away from radiators, and cover the table with a protective cloth before adding decorative linen as there are always spills when guests serve themselves.

China adds style to a buffet table, but plastic plates make a good alternative.

The buffet should be set with savoury food for the main part of the meal.  If you are serving a starter (appetizer), you can bring it to the buffet at the beginning of the meal, and assist the guests with it.

Serve deserts and cheese from the buffet once you have removed the main dishes. If, at a large gathering, you set out the desserts and cheese before clearing the main course, prepare a side table for them.

Always make sensible arrangements for receiving the used dishes and cutlery (flatware) when preparing a buffet.  At a large gathering some guests may not feel inclined to bring their dishes out to the kitchen, so it is a good idea to set up a trolley (cart) where these maybe kept out of the way.