12 Tips for Arranging the Perfect Buffet Table

Whether the occassion's Thanksgiving, a Friday night potluck with friends or Sunday brunch, serving your food "buffet-style" is the easiest way to feed a large group. Here are our best tips for arranging the table for a presentation that's stylish and streamlined and gets your party moving!

Position the table away from the main eating area: This ensures people will move around and mingle, two keys to a great party. It also helps to control the crowd that usually congregates around food and drink.
Start the buffet with plates and end it with cutlery and napkins This leaves hands free to hold plates without worries about dropping things! Offer utensils in jars, saving valuable table space, keeping things neat and making them easier to grab. I like to roll everything up -- cutlery and napkins -- into one easy package to pick up.
Think of how the food will be eaten. In the case of Thanksgiving, that would mean arranging the gravy and the cranberry sauce after the turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing.
Intersperse old faithfuls amongst new dishes: People tend to congregate around the most popular dishes. Spreading them out means there won't be a mob at one end of the table. Plus people will be more likely to try new things.
Leave the middle of the table for a pretty centerpiece: It's attractive and festive plus it keeps the platters of food towards the outsides of the table where they're easier to reach and cuts down on people reaching over one thing to get at something else. The less chance there is of dropping the potato salad into the meatloaf, the longer your buffet table will look appetizing!
Leave salad dressing off the salad: Not only does it wilt the salad, I've found that most people like to put on their own.
Put a drinks station in a separate area Whether it's mixed drinks or coffee and tea, it's neater as well as being another way to get people circling.
For potlucks, it's nice to label the stuff people brought: People love to hear accolades for what they contributed. This lets you know who made those fabulous cookies. Give them a compliment and maybe they'll share the recipe!
Leave plenty of room around the main course: This is the one place everyone will want to get to.
Stacks can be visually appealing: Especially for small items like cookies, muffins and canapes, use tiered cake plates to put these items in easy reach.
Present food in easy to grab portions or with serving utensils that can be manuvered with one hand: A ladle with a pour spout for the gravy or an easy to use gravy boat, a long shallow spoon to dig mashed potatoes out of a bowl, tongs to grab a serving of salad, bread and pies cut into slices. If people have to use two hands or cut a slice for themselves, this slows down the line. Plus it keeps the table looking nicer longer, a boon for the host or hostess.
Don't put everything out at once: If you're also serving dessert buffet-style, wait to put out the goodies until after the main meal has been eaten. This allow people to rest and digest between courses, while giving you, the host, control over the rhythm of the party.

Image: Abigail Stone

7 Comments