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How to set up a buffet table

A buffet setting requires planning with regard to layout and easy access for your guests

Set up a buffet for any type of party and at any time of day. Breakfasts and brunches, lunches and afternoon teas, and appetizers or dinners. All you need are a few tables and a layout that makes the food easily accessible for your guests.

Traffic flow and a food pattern are essential to the success of a buffet line. Decor is secondary, but should always present a welcome approach from any direction.

When planning your buffet layout, keep in mind:

-how you want your guests to travel from one food item to the next
-how to keep the accessway clear from kitchen to tables
-how to keep beverage traffic separated from food traffic
-how you will handle ongoing cleanup that is unobtrusive for your guests

No hard and fast rules exist for setting up a casual buffet. Here are a few ideas that may help in planning.

If possible, keep beverage and bar service in a separate room. Keep a path open to the kitchen as well for extra ice and glasses.

Open tables are more inviting as guests can access various foods without having to start at the beginning. You can accomplish this by placing tables out in the middle of a room and selectively setting up a few side tables - for coffee and desserts - against the walls.

Fresh plates should be easily accessible at the starting point. Utensils and dinner napkins can be out of the way on a secondary table.

To create a structured path, place meats first followed by hot and cold vegetables and salads. Avoid leafy greens and opt instead for fruit salads; a molded salad is preferred. Condiments and relish trays are next, followed by bread baskets or platters and butter. The butter should be applied at the buffet table as you want to avoid foods that require your guests to use knives. Set up several butter dishes with extra butter knives so your guests will not be caught unprepared once they sit down. Again, allow extra elbowroom for people to perform their tasks.

If you are setting out dollar rolls and sandwich meats, keep the necessary condiments in one place, but leave plenty of prep room. If, for instance, you have a carved brisket for sandwiches, keep these accompaniments on a separate table with the rolls first, then the condiments, then the fillings. Those electing to create sandwiches - with all the trimmings - won't hold up the rest of the guests.

If you're having appetizers first, they should be in place before your guests arrive. If you have ample room and plenty of seating, place them in strategic places around the house where your guests will congregate. Bowls of nuts and small plates filled with finger foods can fit into small spaces and will encourage nibbling. Always have plenty of cocktail napkins available.

Give your guests about an hour to mingle before setting up the buffet. In the meantime, as you visit and pass through the crowd, carry your own hors d'oeuvre tray and encourage people to partake. Once you have made one round, you can set it down while you continue to mingle.

Encourage everyone to enjoy second helpings; serving plates should never look depleted.

Set out extra salt and pepper shakers at various locations where your guests will land with their food.

Enlist one or two friends for minor assistance. Ask them ahead of time and make sure they're comfortable in the dual role of helper and guest. Prepare a small gift as a thank you and either deliver it ahead of time or wait until the other guests have departed.

Set up an area where guests can leave behind their used appetizer and dinner plates. You'll have dessert plates and fresh forks set out so your guests will know to select a fresh plate.

For special celebrations, you may wish to provide a takeaway thank you gift for each guest. These, too, should be on a separate table near the exit point. Keep them stashed in a basket or on a large serving tray until time to set them out.

With these ideas, you should be able to throw together a great buffet table and still have plenty of time to enjoy the terrific food right alongside your guests.



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