Friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. Between now and the new year, all of these people often come together in a dizzying array of social obligations. When you're the busy host, enjoying a social event can be a daunting challenge, especially if you're providing food. How do you find the time to greet guests when the bruschetta needs to be served and the roast beef is ready to be plated?
One of the easiest ways to provide a delicious repast, enjoy your guests, and have the time to celebrate your occasion is to lay out a buffet and let your guests serve themselves. With some care and attention to menu and presentation, a buffet can provide a welcoming, elegant focal point of your event. Here are 10 tips to providing a bountiful, stylish buffet:
1. Plan your menu carefully
According to Helena Darling of Helena Darling Catering, carefully planning your menu ahead of time can save lots of headaches later. Choose hot foods that won't turn into a congealed mess with extended warming, and cold food that won't wilt or melt.
2. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.
Platon Mantheakis, catering manager at the Jacksonville Inn, has catered buffets from "the mountaintop to the seaside" in Europe, Africa and the United States. He maintains that the first rule of a successful buffet is to pay close attention to food safety, recommending that hot food stay above 145 degrees and cold food lower than 38 degrees. To keep food hot, you can use a stovetop or chafing dish, but for cold foods an ice bath should suffice.
3. Provide small plates.
Mantheakis recommends staying away from large plates, since people's eyes are often bigger than their stomachs. "People can always go back for more," he explains, and smaller portions mean less wasted food. After all, the goal is to have your guests feeling satisfied, not stuffed.
4.Make sure there are lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
As Mantheakis notes, you want your guests to feel like they've had a "nice, comfortable meal with good, nutritious food."
5. Keep like foods together — salads with salads, entrees with entrees, etc. That way your guests won't regret filling their plate with tabbouleh when they see the orange-spinach salad later.
6. Consider setting up multiple stations.
If you have the space, put the beverages in one part of the room and the desserts in another. People won't have to stand in line just to refill their coffee or grab a crème brulée, and it will keep your guests circulating, giving your event more liveliness and energy.
7. Make sure every dish has its own serving utensils.
Don't make your guests search for a spoon or spatula. They'll feel more comfortable helping themselves, and you avoid the possibility of cross-contamination. Mantheakis notes that the serving utensils needn't be anything fancy. If you don't have enough on hand, it's fine to run to a party store and get plastic tongs and servers.
8. Keep your buffet visually interesting.
Darling recommends setting different dishes at varying heights to avoid monotony and make your buffet look more enticing. If you don't have cake stands or similar serving dishes, Darling recommends turning a sturdy serving bowl upside down and covering it with a pretty cloth or napkin. Voila, a tall serving dish!
9. Fill in the blanks.
Darling also recommends filling the blank spaces between dishes with visually enticing decorations — pretty flowers, branches, etc. She particularly likes using fresh rosemary sprigs from the garden, since they're both beautiful and aromatic.
10. Sit back and enjoy!
With enough planning, the only thing you'll have to worry about during the party is, possibly, refilling some dishes. Don't worry about endlessly fixing and fiddling with a buffet — enjoy your guests and the moment instead!