If there's one thing to know about our family, it's that we'll take any excuse to invite our loved ones over to enjoy delicious food and each other's company. While we'll always love planning a formal dinner party weeks in advance and throwing together spontaneous charcuterie boards for movie nights with friends, sometimes, we need to find a large-scale way to celebrate while keeping it casual. Serving buffet-style is almost always the solution!
From curating a buffet menu to decorating a tablescape with beautiful buffet serving dishes and tabletop accessories, we gravitate towards setting buffet tables whenever possible. But what is a buffet? What type of serving dishes are required to pull off buffet-style events? Let's answer all these questions and more so you can host a buffet your family and friends will never forget.
What Is Buffet Serving?
A buffet is a serving set up where the food is set separately from the dining table. With more room to spare at each tabletop and endless opportunities for a menu, buffet serving is perfect for larger, casual gatherings.
Sometimes, the buffet serving station is on one large table parallel to the dining room table, and other times, it's served on the kitchen counter. Every time you serve buffet-style, the menu is set up in one place in the home, allowing guests to serve themselves in an assembly line before sitting down with their plates to enjoy.
Why We Love Buffet-Style Serving
Whether we're having a fondue party, a work potluck, or a weeknight dinner party, buffet serving works perfectly for gatherings of all sizes. Buffet food can be cooked in small or large batches depending on the guest list size, minimal dinnerware dishes are required for each person, and everyone can eat however much they wish. The buffet-style setup helps us create a casual atmosphere overall, allowing us to all relax and enjoy more time together — and isn't lingering around the table with loved ones after a meal what hosting is all about?
Our family finds that hosting buffet-style gatherings, as opposed to everyday family-style affairs or sophisticated plated dinners, relieves the stress of whoever is hosting. In buffet-style, every serving dish, dinnerware item, and menu course can be set out before guests arrive. This way, you'll have more time to mingle with guests and create cherished memories without worrying about keeping food hot or checking that every course is plated correctly.
What is a buffet without tons of food? Hosting buffet-style gatherings allows us to get creative with the types of dishes and the amount of food on the table. Whether we're serving our holiday favorites during Thanksgiving or inviting our guests to bring sides and desserts in a potluck style, the food options for a buffet setting are endless. We can even prepare second and third portions of specific recipes to swap out with empty serving dishes as the night goes on.
When to Serve Buffet-Style
Certain gatherings, like engagement parties and intimate romantic dinners, work well for sit-down formal serving styles. But, whenever you're hosting a larger-than-usual guest list, be it a holiday or everyday milestone, and want to enhance an otherwise casual tone, try serving buffet-style.
Best Occasions for a Buffet Setting:
- Office parties
- Baby showers
- Graduation parties
- Easter lunch
- Birthday brunch
3 Questions to Answer When Choosing Buffet Setting Serveware
From choosing the right serveware to present your menu to unlocking your inner designer by pairing daring dish patterns together, answer these three questions to figure out what serveware you should use for your buffet setting:1. Are You Mixing or Matching Serveware?
Designing your buffet table comes down to the serveware you choose, and before your event, you have a few questions to consider. Do you want every buffet serving dish to come from one collection, or would you like to mix and match multiple designs? Look at your curated dinnerware collection to discover any bold designs and consider which dishes complement each other to pull the look of your gathering together.
Looking at your menu is the key to determining what serving dishes you'll need for your buffet setting. Do you need any warming stations for specific recipes? Do your main dishes need matching small bowls to hold garnishes or toppings? Take a look at each menu item and decide what serving dish works best in the buffet setting.3. Should You Use Seasonal Dishes for a Buffet Setting?
Feel inspired to switch out everyday dishes for festive, seasonal options throughout the year! Adding bright, colorful dishes to celebrate the season will instantly transform your buffet setting.
If you're hosting a holiday gathering, consider featuring playful and whimsical holiday designs to bring the holly-jolly atmosphere to your buffet-style party. Whether mixing in bright citrus dishes with your everyday cookware or setting out a wonderland of our Christmas in the Village designs, you can easily bring seasonal joy to your buffet setting.
5 Essential Serveware Items for a Buffet Setting
Whether you're an experienced pro or a novice hostess, having these essential serveware items on hand will prepare you for buffet serving whenever the occasion arises:1. Buffet Serving Platters
Buffet serving platters are key to setting up a buffet table. Buffet food can mean all sorts of things, and most dishes on your buffet food menu can be served on a platter. Stock up on buffet serving platters and trays of all shapes and sizes, whether you like the look of a square platter or a large handled oval platter. Just make sure the buffet serving platter can contain any juices, salad dressings, or sauces the buffet food features.
Pro tip: to save time and make your event go off without a hitch, set up your buffet serving dishes in menu order when setting buffet tables. Set the dishes for appetizers, soups, salads, sides, and main courses on one table, with desserts on another. This way, your food options will be clear for guests, and you can plan which buffet serving platters can go where ahead of time.2. Buffet Serving Bowls
With countless shapes and sizes, buffet serving bowls are the secret weapon when setting buffet tables. From serving a salad in a wooden salad bowl to a hot soup in a covered bowl to keep things warm, many buffet foods are best served in a bowl. Add dimension to your buffet setting and present your recipes with vibrant buffet serving bowls of all sizes and patterns3. Buffet Serving Utensils
The key to successfully hosting a buffet-style gathering is having the proper serving utensils for each dish. Every buffet food item needs a matching utensil to keep the buffet setting mess-free and prevent cross-contamination of dishes. Keep the utensil next to the corresponding buffet serving platter in a decorative spoon rest so assembly flows smoothly for your guests throughout the event.
Essential Buffet Serving Utensils:
Finding multifunctional cookware and bakeware with style and versatility makes hosting buffet-style easy! Serve your favorite mac and cheese or roasted vegetables in a casserole dish straight from oven to buffet setting. Bake a pie, apple crisps, and more tasty desserts in a white pie dish that wows when serving buffet-style. Choose from stylish cookware designs and make your job as a host easier by showing off stunning options at your buffet-style table.
Our small bowls are perfect for setting dips and garnishes on your buffet setting. Cheeses, chopped green onions, olives, herbs, spices, fresh chopped cilantro—the list goes on. Just remember to set out a suitable small bowl for the corresponding dish so your guests know how to best make their plate.
Mix and match our designs, whether you set out a complete buffet serving bowl set or use small bowls as stunning accents of colors and patterns. Pair our Crew Collection and Signature White small bowls to create an effortlessly stylish look on your buffet setting. You can even accessorize with our matching serveware.
Where Does Dinnerware Go When Serving Buffet-Style?
After you set your serving dishes, select the necessary amount of dinner plates and place them at the beginning of your buffet setting. As guests line up, they start the process by taking a plate and walking along the buffet table to curate their plates.
Where Do Napkins Go in a Buffet Setting?
When serving buffet-style, you don't set each individual table setting—but where do the napkins go? For more casual gatherings where guests can sit anywhere around the home, set the cloth napkins with the dinner plates at the start of the table. If you're trying to enhance a fancier table setting, you can take the time to set out napkins as a place setting, so all guests have to do is bring their plates to the table.
Pro tip: Keep cocktail napkins next to the drink station so your friends and family can easily grab them as they fill up on your favorite cocktails and wine.
What Serveware is Needed On a Buffet Bar Table?
The bar area should be kept separate from your food table in an effort to keep the plate filling as streamlined as possible. Guests can return to the bar area for refills throughout the event without cluttering the main line. Set out your favorite white pitcher to serve cocktails and non-alcoholic options like our Grilled Lemonade. Any tongs or spoons for extra garnishes, like maraschino cherries or sprigs of mint, add a nice touch and keep your loved ones coming back for more.
Keeping Buffet Food Hot or Cold
Since guests typically graze and serve themselves at these types of gatherings, room-temperature, warm, or cool buffet food is ideal when it comes to buffet-style. But if you'd like to keep your buffet food at a certain temperature, we suggest a few methods.
Hot buffet food, like soup or a hearty stew, can be kept warm with beautiful chafing dishes or served directly from your cookware on top of a Sterno. We've even taken our buffet setting to the next level by creating a stand with bricks to hide the Sterno in the center. For buffet food items meant to be chilled, use the double bowl method — just fill a larger bowl with ice, nestle a smaller bowl on top, and put your recipe in that.
Pro tip: since buffet food tends to sit out for a few hours at a gathering, we recommend you avoid serving raw seafood, uncured meats, or items that need to be extremely chilled at your buffet.
5 Stylish Tips for Setting Up a Buffet Table
We love to take any opportunity we can find to add a stylized, personalized touch to our buffet tables:
- Arrange your menu strategically by placing different sizes and shapes of dishes, pans, and pots around each other for a not-so-traditional look. Remember to place dishes, plates, and bowls next to each other for the same meal—but try to vary sizes and shapes across the buffet table, if you can!
- If you have the space, place your drinks, glasses, and bar garnishes at a separate table for an extra organized and elevated look. Put your themed signature cocktails and non-alcoholic versions in your favorite glassware to wow your guests.
- Set up a different table for desserts to keep things organized. Feature your baked goods, ice cream, and more on cake stands and serve in your favorite elevated dinnerware.
- Make sure to label the food. Whether printed-out labels or handwritten, adding labels to your buffet dishes adds a personal touch and notes any allergens for guests' safety.
- Bring in a pop of color and seasonal flowers with vases of flowers or garlands placed throughout the buffet table to break up the formation of dishes and add a delightful element to the tablescape—this is also a simple and effective way to pull together a holiday buffet!
Setting up a stylish buffet table can seem daunting to even the most experienced host—but you’ve got this! With a tasty array of buffet foods and your favorite serveware designs, guests will cherish the time spent with friends and family around the dinner table above all else.
Whether you’re hosting for the holidays or celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime milestone, stocking up on essential buffet serveware is a must for effortless entertaining.