14 Tips for Setting Up a Crowd-Pleasing Buffet

An entertaining pro shares tricks to make serving a crowd easier for both the host and guests at your next buffet-style brunch, lunch or dinner.
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Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Brian Patrick Flynn

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Serve Like a Pro

Serving buffet style frees up the host for mingling while letting guests help themselves to their favorite foods with a well thought-out display and curated selection of sweet and savory menu items.

Build In Hidden Storage

One of the main reasons that professional caterers using folding banquet tables for their buffets is the ability to use the space under the table to house necessary party supplies. Just cover the table with a tablecloth or roll of fabric that's long enough to touch the floor, then fill the hidden space with backup menu items, glasses and serveware.  

Makeshift Risers

The key to an efficient buffet is serving foods at a variety of heights. To avoid all items sitting on the same plane and knocking into one another, risers are needed to elevate platters or serving essentials. Instead of spending money on actual risers, use books that have been stacked to the necessary height, then covered by the tablecloth.

Get Creative With Serveware

Add a bit of personality to your buffet by serving menu items in colorful or interestingly shaped containers. For instance, a colander is a creative way to serve solid foods, like popcorn, potato chips or even fresh fruit, like grapes.  

Put Cake Plates to Work

Cake plates aren't just for displaying cakes. Group less fancy fare like sandwiches or hot dogs together on cake plates to elevate them above condiments and save precious serving space.  

Serve Bread in Baskets

Keep your breads contained in long bread baskets lined with linen napkins that will contain crumbs and make clean-up easy. It's best to keep the bread toward the front of the table along with butter or other toppings to keep guests from reaching over taller items.

Vary Serving Heights

Vary dishes' height so the tallest items are toward the back of the table and the shortest dishes are at the front. This will allow you to place any condiments below and in front of the elevated dishes so guests can garnish them once they're pulled off cake stands or risers.

Provide Plenty of Serving Utensils

To prevent guests using their hands when making their own plates of fruits, veggies or bread, be sure to stock the buffet with a spoon or set of tongs for each menu item.

Choose the Right Dish for the Job

Serve any sticky or messy foods in casserole dishes that are deep enough to contain drippy sauces or juices.  

Group Cheese With Crackers and Grapes

Make it easy for guests to assemble their own cheese plates by pairing each cheese with grapes and stacks of crackers. This way guests won't have to reach over other areas of the table to put together combinations to suit their palates.

Match Serveware to Your Theme

If you're throwing a formal buffet, cloth napkins and real china are the perfect fit; however, for a more casual get-together, upscale paper napkins and cups are the right choice. Many paper goods retailers offer a wide variety of punchy colors and graphic patterns to give your buffet a cohesive design scheme.

Keep Glassware Safe

A great way to keep glass drinkware neatly grouped and safely contained is to display them in vintage carriers. Here, this rustic metal basket keeps each glass safe. As guests pour themselves water or lemonade, the drinks won't be knocked over should another guest accidentally bump into them.

Let Them Eat Cake

As the party progresses, keep one end of your buffet table stocked with desserts surrounded by the necessary flatware and paper goods guests will need to enjoy them.  

Position Wine Near the Cheese

Since wine and cheese pair so well together, it's best to group your buffet's wine selections next to the cheese platters. Also, make the selection process easier for guests by noting which wine pairs best with assorted cheeses using identifying flags.