Whether you’ve hosted a hundred parties or are just starting out, we’ll let you in on a little secret—nailing down your menu makes entertaining easy! Why do you think we love to provide our tried-and-true recipes to inspire you with fresh ideas and flavorful dishes? In the spirit of the upcoming season full of buffet-style gatherings, from tailgate parties to casual chili cook-offs, we thought we’d share our beginner’s guide for creating your own buffet menu.
But how can you determine if a party recipe will work well in a buffet setting? How do you choose serveware for party food? Let's answer all this and more in our guide to making a buffet menu.
What is Buffet Style?
Buffet style is a casual serving setup where all the party food is set in one area, and guests can serve themselves in an assembly line. Whether inviting friends and family over for a potluck or cooking every party recipe yourself, having a buffet table set up in one area to hold all your dishes is an easy way to keep things casual and organized.
Why We Enjoy Hosting Buffets
Buffet-style gatherings take a lot of pressure off the hosts. When it comes to more formal serving styles, we find that the host has to take on a lot of tasks, from the prep work to serving each individual guest. When it comes to casual gatherings, the host is able to mingle with their guests and enjoy every course—having easy buffet food for parties allows for that.
We find that serving buffet recipes for larger gatherings leaves room for the guests to take their meal into their own hands. With a table full of different tastes and courses, guests can serve themselves as much or as little as they'd like of each dish. That way, what they choose to eat is an individual experience—and they can even go back for seconds.
Best Occasions for Buffet Recipes:
3 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Buffet Recipe
Whether you're discovering new party recipes or digging through a family recipe book, ask these three questions to see if your favorite dishes work for a buffet:
1. What Temperature Does the Party Recipe Need To Be Served At?
For casual gatherings where grazing is encouraged, one of the most important considerations is the temperature at which each dish can be safely served and set out. When looking at party recipes, consider the ideal serving temperature for each.
Buffet food that can be enjoyed warm, cool, or at room temperature work best since we're counting on each guest to serve themselves. Anything that needs to be served at a super-hot or super-cold temperature should be reserved for family-style or plated serving.
Unless you have serving dishes or a special method that allows you to control each recipe's temperature, we suggest staying away from any dishes that include raw meat, seafood, or shellfish.
2. Does the Buffet Recipe Require Any Assembly?
Every recipe on your buffet table should be relatively easy for guests to serve themselves. Whether you're serving hamburgers at a backyard barbeque or a full Thanksgiving dinner, the meal should be simple enough so the guests don't need to wonder how to assemble it on their plates. Sometimes, minimal instruction or suggestions on which dips to add for the ultimate tasty experience are okay, but in general, we suggest sticking to buffet food with a straightforward assembly.
3. Can This Buffet Recipe Serve a Large Crowd?
When putting together the buffet menu for your gathering, portion options are everything. We'd hate to run out of one of our delicious dishes before everyone in the room could try it! The best buffet-style recipes can be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled to feed a large guest list.
Our Go-To Buffet Recipes
When we're curating our buffet recipes, we make sure to have a wide variety of tastes, textures, and courses. Throughout the years, we ‘ve put our favorite dishes to the test to ensure they work at a buffet-style gathering. Although we’ve created complete menus in the past, like our delicious Thai-Inspired Menu to our seasonal Spring Menu, we’ve compiled a list of a few of our successful buffet recipes to incorporate into your own buffet menu:
Sweet Chili Noodle Salad Recipe
Our Go-To Green Salad Recipe
Vegan Summer Rolls Recipe
The Great Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipes (both of them!)
Deviled Eggs Recipe
Sausage and Egg Casserole Recipe
Head-on Shrimp Recipe
Sweet and Easy Peach Cobbler
What's the Correct Order for Your Dishes on a Buffet Table?
As you come up with buffet ideas for your table, you may wonder about the best ways to order your dishes. For maximum efficiency, put a stack of plates at the starting end of the table, then order your recipes in courses: salads, appetizers, sides, and mains. Place silverware at the very end of the table so guests can grab a set before they head to their tables. With only simple steps to setting buffet tables, your event will go off without a hitch.
Pro tip: to prevent a traffic jam, find another entertaining space or table to hold the drinks and desserts. That way, when people return for the sweet, final course or to the top of their beverage, they won't get in the way of people filling up their plates.
Determining the Timing for Buffet Style Serving
The timing of buffet-style serving can vary depending on the type of gathering you host. For something more casual without a set table to sit at, like a football watch party or a child's birthday party, you can set the serving table or buffet table with all the buffet food out at the beginning, leaving it up to guests to serve themselves when and as many times as they'd like. Graze throughout the gathering and enjoy the laid-back party with your guests—just monitor the party food levels to refill when needed.
When it comes to a seated meal with a set table, you may need more coordination. As you prepare to have everyone sit at the table, set all the party food out on the buffet. Then, kick off with a warm welcome, toast, or blessing and provide brief instructions on how to serve from the buffet. Give them info if certain dishes need disclaimers, what sauces or toppings go with what dishes, and where to go to replenish food and drinks as the event goes on.
3 Tips for Keeping Party Food Fresh at the Buffet Table
The secret to a successful buffet is understanding how to keep your buffet food fresh after setting it out. Luckily, there are a few tips and tricks to keep party food at its prime on the buffet table:
1. Serve Buffet Food at the Intended Temperature
When researching buffet food for parties, it's important to note if you can reliably serve it at the temperature it was meant to be enjoyed. If a certain party food requires keeping warm, like soup or a stew, consider investing in a pretty chafing dish. Serving something cold? Bring on the ice!
For hot buffet recipes prepared in a pot, like chili or chowder, a great method is to serve directly from the pot with a Sterno underneath. Take your buffet tablescape to the next level and create a cool presentation with a stand made from bricks to hide the Sterno in the center. Just watch out for flammable materials and stir your delicious party recipe periodically.
One of our go-to moves for buffet recipes that need to be kept cold is the double-bowl method. Fill a larger bowl with ice cubes and nestle a smaller bowl inside. Make sure the ice cubes touch as much surface area as possible to keep your party food inside the bowl chilled for guests to enjoy.2. Keep Your Buffet Table Out of the Sun
We enjoy backyard buffets for countless occasions, but it's important to consider the placement of your buffet table to keep your party food fresh. When you set up a buffet table in an outdoor entertaining space, you need to place it somewhere with lots of shade. Different dishes, from ice cream to fruit, don't keep well in the sun, and the heat could spoil your hard work! Utilize umbrellas, a veranda, or trees to protect your buffet recipes from the weather.3. Maintain Party Food Presentation
Presentation is everything when it comes to a memorable buffet table. Bring your food in separate containers and plates to control the presentation and keep your buffet recipes looking beautiful. Then, assemble the dish yourself when you arrive at the party. Just remember to pack the essential garnishes, like fresh herbs or whole ingredients, to add a visual impact to your party food when on the table.
Since buffet recipes are made in large batches, you may need multiple serving dishes or platters prepared beforehand. Split these larger portioned recipes into smaller containers to make the swap easy when one starts running low. This way, your guests will always have a new and delicious portion to dig into.
Pro tip: If your party food requires little prep, or you'd rather do it at home, you can use clear cling wrap or aluminum foil to control the presentation.
Buffet Serving Essentials
Whether you're hosting a potluck or a birthday dinner, every buffet table needs a combination of these dinnerware and serveware essentials. Take prized items from your curated collection to show off your buffet menu ideas—just make sure you have multiple of each of these, so you're ready for anything:
Find Endless Serving Dish Options
Serving dishes, such as platters, bowls, boards, and trays, are the star of the show when setting the buffet table. When brainstorming buffet menu ideas, consider the size and shape of serving dishes you'll need at the gathering. Experiment using a coordinating set of serveware or mix and match your favorite serving dishes to elevate your buffet food.
Some buffet recipes can be made and set out in the same serving dish. Bake a delicious casserole in the Signature White Ruffle Casserole dish or your world-famous apple pie in the Signature White Ruffle Pie Dish.
Other party foods will need to be made in the kitchen and then carefully presented on a serving platter or in a serving bowl. Now's your chance to get creative! Arrange your appetizers, mains, and more on serving platters like the Signature White Ruffle Skinny Tray for a linear look. Transfer your dish to the Deco Gold Scallop Covered Bowl for party recipes that need to be covered.
Don't Forget the Small Bowls
Make assembling a plate even easier for guests by setting out small bowls with the garnishes and sauces next to their corresponding buffet recipe. The Signature White Ruffle Dipping Bowl is a small, subtle dish perfect for holding garnishes, toppings, and other fun extras.
Find Corresponding Serving Utensils
Serving utensils may seem like an obvious entertaining essential, but having a few different options and styles is helpful so you're prepared to serve any kind of party recipe. Tongs, serving forks, and salad utensils, like the Iris Blue Drop Mango Wood Salad Server Set, are all a must. Every individual dish needs its own serving utensil to avoid cross-contamination, so make sure you have plenty to go around.
Pitchers for the Perfect Pour
Pitchers are the easiest way to make and serve large batches of a drink to keep at the buffet table, whether making a delicious cocktail in the Signature White Ruffle Pitcher or serving ice water in the cool Iris Blue Drop Pedestal Pitcher. Keep an extra batch or pitcher in the kitchen so you're ready to replace the empty one as the gathering goes on.
Stay Organized with Spoon Rests
Often overlooked, we've found that spoon rests are one of the most valuable items on a buffet table. Remember to add multiples to your collection by placing a spoon rest next to each serving dish, ensuring your serving utensils have a home. This practice will keep your utensils with their corresponding buffet recipe and keep the table clean throughout the event.
With a few simple considerations and the right dinnerware, you can curate your very own buffet menu. Use our go-to party recipes as inspiration, invite your loved ones, set your beautiful buffet table, and enjoy an unforgettable gathering together.