Stress-Less Holiday Entertaining: Set Up a Thanksgiving Buffet

For this year's Thanksgiving feast, set up an inviting buffet that's piled high with mouthwatering dishes, seasonal decorative elements and touches of vintage elegance for a holiday celebration that your loved ones won't soon forget.

Keep It Simple

For a meal that already requires days of prep, serving food buffet-style is a surefire way to lighten the load on the hostess. And on a holiday that's as food-centric as Thanksgiving, there's no better way to give guests the freedom to come back for a second (and third!) helping of their favorite dishes. I set up my buffet on a vintage wood sideboard. This is a great time to get creative and think about repurposing furniture from other parts of the house — an old dresser, desk or even a wood door propped up on sawhorses would make a perfect buffet.

Take It Up a Level

Using levels on a buffet is a little trick I learned from my days in catering — it's a great way to bring visual height and functionality to your display. For this rustic-elegant table, I sourced vintage wooden cheese boxes from antique stores then stacked them underneath serving platters, flower arrangements and decorative elements for added visual interest.

Inspired Entertaining

Defining your color palette is the first step in creating a signature look for your celebration, and it doesn't have to be complicated. Find one decorative element or tabletop piece that you love, and let that set the tone for the rest of the decor. This year, I was drawn to the plum, gold and sage green in this set of heirloom china, so I let those colors inspire the flowers, place cards and favors for a simple yet pulled-together look.

Add Organic Elements

A dramatic garland made of lush greenery is an inexpensive way to transform the look of your buffet. This one was created by connecting bay laurel branches with floral wire, then fastening it to the corners of the table for an organic, seasonal pop of color. Bay laurel can be ordered from any wholesale florist, but this is also a great time to take a walk around the neighborhood and see what beautiful branches you might have in your own backyard.

The Season's Harvest

Celebrate the season by scattering harvest elements like gourds and pumpkins around the platters on the buffet. Pick up the real thing from the grocery store or stop by the local craft store for faux gourds and squash that can be reused in your decor year after year. A quick shot with spray paint turned these white and gold — perfectly in line with the table's elegant aesthetic.

Contain Yourself

Place silverware and rolled-up linen napkins at the end of the buffet so guests aren't juggling too many things as they go through the line. For an inexpensive way to beautifully display utensils, paint basic canning jars in a color to coordinate with your decor scheme. Before painting, remove the silver hardware, then once the paint has dried, reattach it for a sophisticated "mixed metals" look.

Opt for Fuss-Free Florals

Incorporate autumnal branches in your floral arrangements. This centerpiece was created using lemon geranium, cranberry viburnum, oat grass, hops and green wheat in a simple ceramic vase for a look that's organic, seasonal and simple.

Light It Up

Add ambiance with an eclectic collection of mismatched brass candlesticks. These can be found inexpensively at any thrift store or antique shop. When topped with a flickering taper candle, they add height, warmth and vintage charm to your holiday buffet.

All in the Details

You've spent all day cooking a masterpiece, proudly let guests know what they have to look forward to by labeling each dish on the buffet with a pretty menu card. I'm sharing the ones I made for my buffet with the simple downloadable template attached below. Just print onto card stock, cut out, then fill in the name of each item. Fold along the marked lines to create a tent shape that stands up on its own, and display in front of each serving dish on the buffet.

Barrels of Fun

To keep things from getting too congested around the buffet, I like to set up a separate beverage station where guests can pour and replenish their own drinks. For this meal, I continued my rustic-elegant scheme by rolling a wood wine barrel into the corner of the dining room to serve as a temporary bar.

Piping Hot

Nothing puts guests in the holiday spirit like aromatic, piping hot apple cider. On the drinks table, set out a pitcher of cider with lots of pretty teacups and mugs so guests can help themselves. Add cinnamon stir sticks for a spicy taste of fall.

All Hail the Turkey

Let's face it: The turkey is the culinary star of the show. Though in the past I've tried techniques from frying to brining, this year I chose to stick to tradition by roasting a whole fresh turkey, infusing it with citrus and herbal flavors. Served on a simple white platter atop a bed of lemon slices, sage and thyme, I elevated the bird on my cheese box levels to become the beautiful focal point at the center of the buffet.

The Good Stuff

When it comes to Thanksgiving, stuffing is always one of the most eagerly anticipated dishes. This recipe is especially delicious with seasonal favorites like cornbread, dried fruit and flavorful herbs. My rule of thumb when making stuffing: Prepare for guests to come back for seconds — and always make enough for those day-after turkey sandwiches.

'Tis the Season

Butternut squash is a quintessential fall dish that tops most people's Thanksgiving must-have lists. My version is roasted with fresh sage and pumpkin seeds until golden and caramelized. It perfumes the entire house with its sweet aroma while cooking, and looks beautiful served in a simple white serving bowl.

Eat Your Veggies

Brussels sprouts may not have the best reputation, but when prepared my way, they're always the first item to disappear from the Thanksgiving table. This maple-glazed version with thyme is my family's favorite and has been known to convert just about any guest to a true sprouts fan.

Seasonal Sweetness

Put a new spin on tradition and trade in standard pumpkin pie for this layered, seasonal confection. These pumpkin parfaits are light yet decadent and look beautiful served in mismatched vintage stemware. An added perk? They can be prepared the night before and kept in the refrigerator until time to serve. When guests are ready for dessert, place them on a buffet with spoons at the ready.

Let Them Eat Turkey

Everyone knows that one of the best things about Thanksgiving is enjoying the leftovers days after the feast. This year, share the wealth by turning leftovers into prettily-packaged favors for each guest to tote home. Simply print this template onto full-sheet labels from the office supply store, then cut out and adhere to take-away boxes for guests to fill with all their favorites from the meal.

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