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Buffets 101 - How to set up a buffet table - Part 1

This is an example of a double buffet
This is an example of a double buffet

How you set up your buffet table for your wedding, wedding-related events, parties, holidays or at-home entertaining is going to depend on a number of factors. Is it going to be a one-sided buffet for a small group of people? Do you have a large guest list and your space can accommodate a two-sided buffet? Will you need multiple tables so that you don't have lines? Or, are you having a buffet that is going to require multiple steps such as when people may need to stop to gather the ingredients for a sandwich? All of this will play into exactly how your buffet is set up. However, here are some basics.

When you lay out your buffet, for visual interest and to maximize your buffet space, you want to create height with various objects as you'll see in the video at the end of this article. An alternative to this is to use serving pieces that come in varying heights.

For a one-sided buffet, your tallest food displays will be placed at the back of your table. For a two-sided buffet, the taller pieces will sit in the middle of your table.

Plates, of course, should be at the beginning of the buffet, followed by the salads, cold side dishes, hot entrees, hot side dishes and, finally, the bread.

Sauces should be placed directly in front of any dish that requires it. For instance, if you were serving pasta, the pasta would be at the back and the bowls of sauce, with the appropriate serving spoon, or pitchers of sauce would be placed directly in front of that or immediately to the side of the pasta.

If your dining tables are going to be pre-set with your glassware, salt and pepper shakers, napkins and flatware, your buffet table set up will end with the bread.

If it's a more casual set-up, your flatware can be placed at the end of the buffet along with your napkins preferably set as grab-and-go packets where the flatware is rolled into the napkins.  The end of the table is also where you would place the salt and pepper shakers.

To avoid congestion if you're having a cold cut buffet where guests are expected to assemble their own sandwich, try to put the condiments and fillings such as lettuce, tomato and so forth on another table. This table should be a reasonable distance away, but in sight of the main buffet. You would also, in that circumstance, make sure that your various types of bread are kept in separate baskets or on trays and that  your rolls are pre-sliced for faster and easier selection.

Drinks should always, however, be set up in another area away from the buffet. Not only will this help with your party's flow, it will also cut down on accidents as guests try to  juggle too many objects at once.

Likewise, if you're serving a green salad with multiple dressings and possibly toppings, these, too, should be placed on a separate table. Again, salad dressings served in small pitchers placed on small plates will result in less spillage than bowls with ladles.

Think of it this way, the more formal the event, the easier it should be for guests to choose their food and quickly return to their table to eat.

Desserts can be placed on the buffet table after the main dining is over and the platters and bowls have been cleared. If necessary the top linens should replaced if they've become soiled.  Or, desserts can be placed on yet another table with or near your coffee service.

In Part 2 of this series, you'll learn how to add decor to your buffet to give it greater visual appeal.