Building a better buffet...

Discussion in 'Holiday Cooking' started by AuntJamelle, Sep 22, 2016.

  1. AuntJamelle

    AuntJamelle Well-Known Member

    It occurred to my yesterday that I need to give some thought to the art of buffet design. I "cater" food at my company for staff meetings and such on a regular basis (feeding about 25 people at a time) and we have our Christmas dinner party this year as well that will be a large group.

    I've been looking around on YouTube a bit for ideas and didn't find too much I didn't already know. Unless I want to learn the art of table skirting! THAT would be a learning curve but maybe someday!

    In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to share ideas on how everyone sets up buffets. What makes them flow better? How do you organize the items? How do you introduce different levels? Tips/tricks for keeping food hot or cold for longer periods of time?

    Anything and everything, including any inspirational links or pictures we want to throw at each other!

  2. AuntJamelle

    AuntJamelle Well-Known Member

    Here are some of my GO TO buffet strategies:

    Plates first – then food – then silverware and napkins at the end. This allows people to avoid juggling silverware and napkins while they are filling their plates.

    Leave room at the edges of the buffet table for people to set down their plates as needed.

    Small dishes or plates in front of each crockpot or other item where people may set serving utensil down on the table – saves a mess on the buffet surface.

    Remove all crockpot lids just before “serving” so folks don’t have to either hold it or try to find a place to set it – they’re usually dripping with condensation too which is always fun.

    If adding levels, higher items towards the back, medium and table level items towards the front.

    Other thoughts:

    Another situation I often have are those parties at our home where it’s really just a bunch of appetizers and everyone grazes all night long.

    We have a large kitchen island with bar stool seating on one long side. Everyone always gathers around that island, ignoring the table for 12 that is a few feet away! Lol

    This year for our dinner party we are going the appetizer bonanza route again (last year I made main dish too and it was hardly touched!) and I’m trying to plan the best way to arrange everything so it can be reached, best ways to keep things hot or cold and also anything I can do to make it look pretty!

    I have a warming tray, electric, that has a smooth flat metal surface. I think if I turn it to its lowest setting I could keep appetizers warm on it as they come out of the oven. I have a large butcher block cutting board and I’m going to see if the warming tray will fit on top of that. Then I can put it more towards the center of the island – it will be a bit higher up because of being on the cutting board – and then other items can be grouped around it.

    I found a vertical style 3-tier plate rack at a garage sale this spring and I was thinking that would be perfect to hold cold or room temp appetizers. I’d chill the plates where appropriate and then fill them up right before people arrive.

    I’d also like to add to my collection of Armetale! I love that you can cook and serve hot foods in/on their pieces or chill the same pieces and use to keep foods cold! Here is a link to the one piece I have – a wedding gift.

    I’m also trying to think of different ways to use serving pieces. Like using my trifle bowl for salads instead of just trifle! Or using my glass cannisters with glass lids for holding fruit salad. And so on…
  3. Ahorsesoul

    Ahorsesoul Santa's Elves

    I also find that having both sides of the buffet open is nice if you have the room.
  4. Minta

    Minta Administrator Staff Member

    Stoneware retains heats so if you have any stoneware baking dishes or pizza stone dish, heat them up in the oven and then place on table to help keep food warm. I have a couple of dip bowls where the ice goes into the bottom bowl and the dip goes into the top bowl. The flexible ice packs are great for placing under dishes to help keep food chilled.

    I like to keep the drink station separate from the food station but still nearby.
  5. MinnieCo

    MinnieCo Well-Known Member

    I never considered a warming plate till this summer when I seen one being used. DUH...why didn't I think of that. I always think of crockpot food for buffet tables, but not an actual warming plate. It may go on my purchase list. Thanks for that summary above AuntJamelle
  6. luludou

    luludou Well-Known Member

  7. missjane

    missjane Well-Known Member

    Create different heights to place serving dishes on by stacking books, turning boxes or even large baskets or pots upside down and cover them with fabric or tablecloths.

    I have served soups on a buffet in vintage crocks. Put the crocks in the oven to get them hot. Then, fill with hot soup. It stays warm for a long time.

    People like to know what foods are, so make food labels...I have done this many ways. I've made small banners, tent style cards, or bought very small picture frames from the Dollar Tree and printed out names of food and put it into the frames to sit in front of the food. Use small chalkboards to make food labels.

    Use scrap slabs of marble for keeping foods hot...many places that sell marble will have them. Heat them in the oven or in warm water. They can even be placed on top of votive candles to be kept warm (a professional caterer from a nearby town told me that trick).

    Use trumpet style and other style vases to serve from...dips, crackers, sauces. They are tall and look elegant.
    Use cake stands for more than just cakes. There are so many styles and sizes from which to choose! I've even stacked them.

    Instead of having one buffet table, create "stations" of like food groupings. And I agree to put the beverage station near, but away from the buffet table.

    They aren't that pretty if you just buy the plain ones like are available almost anywhere, even though they are prettier than crock pots, IMHO, but invest in one or two small chafing dishes. You'll be glad you did! I'm not talking about the aluminum foil ones you get from Walmart!

    Think outside the box for serving pieces. I've found some beautiful pieces in the garden department at Walmart and Lowe's to use as risers or bases for serving trays and baskets I use for bread. However, I never use anything from the garden department that comes into direct contact with food. I always line the baskets with napkins. I've put silverware into small galvanized buckets lined with napkins.

    Watch for inexpensive fabric to use to cover tables or as a topper over a buffet tablecloth. It creates texture and depth, and helps preserve your tablecloths.

    And I love the Armetale, too! On a side note, we have a store that often has it for 60-70% off! My favorite is the Flutes and Pearls pattern.

    Happy buffeting, everyone!
  8. AuntJamelle

    AuntJamelle Well-Known Member

    Bumping this one! I've reviewed it and it already gave me a couple of ideas for this year. Great tips, Jane! I'm definitely going to make food labels this year for our dinner party. Will save me constantly answering folks who are asking what things are :)

    I've also been reminded that I have a pretty silver chafing dish, a small one, that I can use to keep appetizers warm. Just need to add a small Sterno can to my Master Holiday Shopping list!

    I also like the idea of stacking cake plates - I have a clear glass one that is standard size and I have a smaller one that is painted in bright red and green that I could put on top of that :) Should look really pretty!

    Something new I'm going to try this year is to switch up how I serve my cheeseball. Instead of having one big one that folks have to serve themselves from, I'm going to make the standard recipe amount bu roll them into little mini cheeseballs. Then I'll roll those in either the brown sugar bacon pieces/toasted pecan bits or just in parsley. Then to make serving even easier, I'll buy a bag of those little mini pretzel sticks and stick one in each mini cheeseball before chilling.

    Also, I'm going to make meatballs in the crockpot - right before the party I think I will transfer them from the crock to a shallow serving dish set on the warming tray with a little container of toothpicks set right there to make it easier for people to serve themselves once again. No crockpot lid to juggle!
  9. Doodlebug

    Doodlebug Well-Known Member

    This is great!! I love the idea of the silverware being placed at the end of the buffet. Also about warming up the stoneware to put hot foods on.
  10. jollykelly

    jollykelly Active Member

    I love this! All these years I have been doing the silverware and napkins all wrong. I watched others, and myself, juggle my silverware, put in my pockets etc, down the entire line when I should have just set it up at the end.
  11. Miss JoDee

    Miss JoDee Well-Known Member

    We set the table and then get a plate from the table and load up. Usually have small plates near the deserts. The drinks are at the end we go back for those. If people are not using the table then maybe setting it will encourage them to use it.
  12. sweetpumkinpye

    sweetpumkinpye Well-Known Member

    This is a great thread.
    My mum and I do a buffet Christmas dinner every year, it is what we prefer and what works best for us.
    We bring in a small fold up table for at the end of the buffet for things such as the condiments, bread rolls etc. It frees up room on the actual buffet. I like the idea of raising dishes up on upturned baskets etc to give height to the buffet.
  13. housewife2

    housewife2 Well-Known Member

    great ideas tfs

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