How to plan a buffet
How to plan a buffet from starters to desserts
Buffets are a great choice for DIY moms throwing a party or couples pulling together their wedding on a budget. They open up the menu to more food options so you can accommodate different diets. They also present a few logistical challenges. Planning one is all about the timing and details.
How to plan a buffet menu
Before you can plan a meal, you need to know approximately how many people you’re feeding. It’s always a good idea to overestimate this number. Better to have too much that too little! Since some will take more food than they’ll finish, factor in an extra portion of each dish for every five people.
The type of event your hosting will provide a lot of guidance when selecting dishes for your menu. For instance, guests at a wedding will most likely bring the food back to their seats where they’ll have the silverware needed for pasta and tough meats. On the other hand, if you’re throwing a backyard barbeque where the majority of guests will be standing, stick with easy fork foods and bite-sized meats.
Food allergies are becoming more and more common so it’s important to plan a few dishes that won’t have any meat products, dairy, wheat or nuts. People who are highly sensitive will be concerned about potential cross-contamination if, say, someone accidentally sticks a serving spoon with cream on it in the salad. Avoid this by setting theses dishes on a separate table.
The rules of thumb for how to plan a buffet are basically the same whether the party is casual or fancy: choose the guest of honor’s favorite foods, as well as some classics, and dress them up with fresh herbs. Potato salad, pasta salad, fruit salad and coleslaw are a few usual suspects, as well as macaroni and cheese, cold cuts, lasagna, barbeque chicken and burgers and hotdogs. For guests with diet restrictions, foods like lentil burgers (gluten-free), baked potatoes, garden salad and quinoa offer a satisfying and nutritious meal.
Choose food with a variety of textures and flavors. Set of serving utensils for each dish and appoint someone to help replenish!
How to plan a buffet logistics
The main consideration is traffic patterns to avoid long lines or mass confusion. The table’s location should be in a spot where people can serve themselves from both sides. If possible, keep the tables away from the main party area.
Arrange the food table so guests can easily make their way through without backtracking. Plates, napkins and forks should all be available at the beginning. Food is typically laid out with salads first, then the main courses, then sides and breads. The dessert table can be separate or at the very end.
Keep the beverage table separate if at all possible. People will likely want to refill several times without getting in the way of hungry folks in the food line. A simple way to arrange drinks is hot on one side – coffee and tea – and cold on the other – soft drinks, punch, lemonade and water. Keep the bar separate if children will be at your event.
Last minute tips
Fill your serving bowls to the point of almost overflowing. This cuts down on the amount of refilling, and gives guests the impression there’s plenty to go around, which there is.
Set food out at the last minute, but make it all the day before the party. Leaving chores to the day of a party will create stress when you should be getting ready to celebrate. Whether you're throwing a wedding reception or birthday jamboree, turning on the oven last minute is no fun.
Buffets are an easier, more affordable way to feed a large group of people. Recruit some helping hands on food prep days, and don't fret once people start eating. Stir the hot dishes on occasion, replenish when bowls run low and don't forget to enjoy a plate yourself.