Holiday entertaining at my home is one of my favorite perks of the fall and winter seasons. But, have you ever faced the unfortunate task of cutting down your guest list because you felt you couldn’t accommodate everyone? If so, consider serving buffet style. It encourages guests to move around and talk to more people than they would sitting at the dinner table. And you won’t feel burdened by the formality of place cards and seating arrangements that could make a warm holiday gathering feel a bit stiff. Follow these eight steps for a holiday buffet experience guests will find effortless and delectable!
1. Place the main buffet table in the center of the room. Clear out your excess furniture (as much as possible), moving chairs to the outer perimeter. This allows for better flow throughout the space, as guests will have access to the food from all sides of the table. Serve drinks on a separate table or a makeshift bar at the opposite end of the room so that it does not create a bottleneck. People do tend to spend a great deal of time at the liquor station.
2. Map out your buffet table in advance. Plan your menu ahead of time and make a diagram of how you will be serving each dish. Lay out all the servingware you plan to use on your counter, labeling which foods will go in it. Do this at least one day before your event so you won’t end up without enough serving platters or utensils the day of your party.
3. Place plates at the beginning of your buffet. Don’t stack them too high as guests might knock them over. Provide as many plates and bowls as you have invitees plus a few extra. If young children will be present, provide smaller, nice-looking plates made of plastic or another unbreakable material that is easy for little fingers to manage.
4. Begin with cold foods and end with hot. Place salads and cold hors d’oeuvres at the head of the table. Room temperature hors d’oeuvres can be served next. End with your hot entrees in chafing dishes or splurge on a chef to cut the fabulous roast beef. This setup ensures your guests will be able to sit down to food that is still hot versus a plate that has gone cold as you proceed through the line. Hint: the end of your table closest to the kitchen should be where you lay out your hot foods. You’ll lessen the traffic of moving back and forth between the kitchen and the table when bringing out foods that need to be piping hot.
5. Consider placing individual bread baskets around the seating areas. If you are setting up small tables around the room, or in different areas of the house, putting particular food items, and condiments on each table would be a welcome site. Your guests will be greeted by piping hot rolls as they sit down and won’t have to get up and go through the line for seconds while their food is getting cold.
6. Grab and go. Napkins and utensils are difficult to maneuver as your guests carry their plate through the buffet line. Place forks and knives at the end of the table to assist guests from fumbling with extra items while plating their food. Wrap a complete set of utensils inside a napkin and put them in a basket. Guests can grab them with ease before taking their seat.
7. Set up a dessert buffet. To satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth, set up a small buffet table with 3-4 types of desserts. These can range from cakes and cookies to pies or chocolate-covered fruit. A dessert buffet is also a great place to keep a fresh pot of coffee or tea, tea cups, and small napkins. Don’t forget the cream, sugar, and teaspoons.
8. Get into a festive mood. It’s the holidays after all! Your party needn’t be all work and no play. Think of ways that your food and drinks can serve double duty as decor. A bright red punch with seasonal cranberries would be a beautiful centerpiece on your beverage table. Buy candles, gourds, and fruit to use as another festive decor. When it comes to the sweets, color is key. Choose a single theme like warm holiday shades or crisp winter whites when decorating or ordering your cakes and cookies. Coordinating tablecloths, napkins, and napkin rings will round out a holiday spread that your guests will remember.
For more of my holiday entertaining tips, read: Dining Etiquette: Setting a Welcome Table.