how to set an inviting buffet table title graphic

One of the most practical ways to entertain in our homes is with a welcoming buffet table generously laid with all sorts of delectable dishes and tasty bites for everyone to enjoy.  It’s casual entertaining at it’s best!  Whether it’s the holidays or a dinner party with friends, brunch, a shower or potluck, a well-planned buffet can be a visual feast that offers guests extra opportunities to visit while freeing hosts and hostesses up to visit as well.


Let “functional & inviting” lead the way!

By just keeping a few simple ideas in mind, we can throw together a successful buffet no matter the occasion.  Here are just a few tips for making any buffet beautiful, practical and easy for your guests to enjoy.

Overhead of set buffet table with spaces between the dishes


What’s the best place for a buffet?

  • Think about how your guests will move in and out of the room where the buffet will be and around the buffet itself.  It’s important that the movement feel natural and not cramped.  Avoid creating areas where guests might get “bottlenecked” or where traffic might have to cross back over itself.
  • Use a table where guests can walk around all sides.  This keeps the traffic flowing.
  • Some prime spots for buffets are the kitchen bar or island, breakfast nooks, dining rooms.  However, with a folding table and table cloth, you could set up your buffet outside, on a porch or patio!


Planning the dishes for the buffet table

Setting Up Your Buffet

  • A well-planned buffet is a successful buffet!  One of the most important steps is to gather all of the dishes and serving utensils you intend to use to serve your food.  Think of varying heights and shapes.  Use pedestals and layer dishes in trays or on platters to create visual interest.  Make sure you have everything you need before you get started.
  • Lay your empty dishes out on your buffet table in a “dry run” of how you will use them.  Does everything work together?  Are the sizes and heights spread out and balanced around the table? Is there plenty of room around each dish in case a guest has to put her plate down in order to fill it or make adjustments?
  • I like to keep all my serving dishes the same color (if I can) so that nothing takes away from the food.


The buffet table filled with food according to the diagram

Consider how Guests will fill their plates

  • Whether we’re hosting a potluck or a party, the order in which we place the food on the table is important.  If a meal is being served, think logically of how guests would want to fill/build their plates.  The main dish, or protein, should come first (already carved), then starches & accompanying gravies, vegetables, casseroles, lastly fruit.
  • If salad is being served as a “course,”  it should appear first on the buffet.
  • You can keep condiments close to what they should be paired with, at the end of the line or on the tables where your guests will eat!
  • Pro Tip:  Plates should be placed at the beginning of the buffet, but utensils & napkins should be at the end of the line or on the table where guests will sit.  Not having to hold utensils eliminates awkward juggling acts as guests move through the buffet and serve themselves. 


Follow Southern Discourse on Pinterest

Let the food be the star on your buffet table

Let the Food be the Star

  • Keep centerpieces low and small.  Your guests are there for the food.  Let it be the star instead!  When they enter the room, the beautiful spread should be the first thing they see.
  • If you do use flowers as a centerpiece, use ones that aren’t highly scented so that the flowers don’t interfere with the delicious food.
  • Since the food is the star, go the extra mile with garnishes or serving pieces.  It’s worth it to make the dishes look extra special!


Small trays and saucers hold serving spoons to keep your buffet clean.

Keep the buffet clean & Neat

  • Little plates, trays and saucers should be placed next to each dish to hold serving spoons.  If you’re using linens on your buffet, this is a lifesaver! 
  • If something is spilled, just step in as the host or hostess for a quick clean up. 
  • Make sure no lids, foil or plastic coverings are in sight when service begins.  


Layering pedestals and dishes creates varying heights on your buffet.

Drinks & Desserts

Consider placing drinks and desserts on tables separate from the food, but not in a location that interferes with the main buffet line.  You can also have the drinks iced, poured and placed at your guests’ place setting, using your drink stations/tables as a “self serve” refill station only. This will keep your traffic moving freely.  


Full buffet photo

A family-style buffet is always so welcoming.  Guests generally enjoy serving themselves, getting a little more of their favorites, coming back for those dishes that were overlooked…  Not to mention, the excitement and anticipation it builds to see all those delicious dishes just waiting to be spooned up and tried.  And being free to enjoy your guests when they arrive is worth it all.  There’s not a better way to share a meal with your family and friends!


Pin it to your Pinterest Board

How to set an inviting and functional buffet table for parties & holidays. Tips and ideas for making your buffet beautiful & practical.