Buffet Tips

Get a firm guest list and head count. Nothing will stretch your guests' wait for dinner like your having to improvise a few last-minute dishes to fill out the menu.

The number of guests will also determine how your buffet table is set up. With fewer than 20 people, a single-sided buffet table will work fine. If the guest list increases beyond that, consider setting up the table with two equal sides. Make sure both sides get identical platters and decorations, though, or some guests will feel they are missing out on something. Even worse, they might end up walking around the whole table and slowing everyone down.
Know your guests' eating habits. Will you be serving friends who are vegetarians or who have food allergies? I try to always have enough choices that a vegetarian guest will be able to feel pleasantly full.
Make the table beautiful but simple. You want your guests to be intrigued by the food, not the elaborate decorations. The more complicated the table, the longer people will stand there and look, and the longer the wait in line will be.

Arrange flowers in low vases so your guests can see over the top. Keep the candles short, too. Use small votives so your guests will not accidentally set their clothing on fire.

Place risers or upside-down plastic containers under the tablecloth to elevate the most beautiful dishes.

Keep the hot items hot and the cold items cold. You can rent chafing dishes, or you can use bricks wrapped in foil and heated in the oven. Put a heatproof pad under each brick to protect the table, then lay the tablecloth over and put a platter directly on top. Conversely, keep your cold items in the refrigerator until service time and only plate what will be eaten in a short amount of time and replenish often.

Regulate how much is consumed by "tricks" buffet hosts have used for years:

Precut cheeses and desserts. Have cheeses at a separate station. It will give the impression of more food and will isolate an expensive item from the main traffic area.

Smaller plates mean more trips to the buffet, which means people - especially women - will be inclined to eat less. Smaller wine glasses will stretch your bar stock.

Arrange platters so that it doesn't appear the food is overflowing. People will still be able to get what they want, of course, but they'll naturally hold back if they think the people coming behind them my be shortchanged.

Arrange the buffet from main entrée to desserts. That keeps people from loading up on one heavy item, only to find when they get to the end there's something else from that category they'd like an equal amount of. And, because the entrée is what you should have the most of, you want it at the beginning of the line; people don't always make it to the end.

Arrange and serve food on several small platters rather than on one large platter. Keep the rest of the food hot in the oven or cold in the refrigerator until serving time. This way foods will be held at safe temperatures for a longer time. Always replace empty platters rather than adding fresh food to a dish that already had food on it. Remember - many people's hands may have taken food from the dish, which was also sitting at room temperature for awhile.

Food should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Keep track of how long the foods have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything after two hours. If the buffet is held outside and the outside temperature is above 85 degrees F., then the holding time is reduced to one hour.

Leftovers from the buffet - discard any foods that sat for two hours or more on the buffet table. Other leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen in containers.

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