Regardless the theme for your next buffet or picnic-Mexican, Italian, or all-American BBQ-the schematic, or layout, of tables and food is especially important.

Setting Up the Buffet Table...Any flat surface-a desk, a coffee table, a piano top, a card table, a kitchen counter, or a patio table-can be used to set out a buffet meal…but allow yourself at least five linear feet of surface space.
If this much space isn’t available, use three or four smaller tables—one for tableware, another for the main course, a third for dessert, and a fourth for beverages.

The placement of the buffet table is determined by the dimensions of the room. Position the buffet table in the center in a large room to allow for service from both sides or both ends of the table and reduce congestion in the room….against the wall Ia small room to allow space for the flow of traffic.

Set any dining room chairs against the wall. 

Setting Out the Table(s)...Do not make people pick up anything else-forks, knives, spoons, or cups-at the beginning of the line that they will have to juggle while scooping or picking up food during their voyage down the buffet table. That’s just rude.

If using “real” dinner plates, stack them in groups of eight…higher stacks of plates make your buffet almost seem like a cafeteria.

Setting Out the Food…If you can, arrange the food in stations…

  • Plates, and Forks
  • Main Dish
  • Side Dish
  • Dessert
  • Beverages

Put most plentiful or cheapest types of food at the beginning. Push the scarcest or most expensive to the end. 

Arrange food in groups of related temperatures, such as hot foods together.

Allow enough room beside each dish for guests to rest their dinner plate while they help themselves to food that requires two utensils to serve, for example, a tossed salad…as well as the serving utensils near the food they are to be used for, and any sauces and condiments that accompany a given dish.

At the exit end of the table, lay the flatware and napkins. Set flatware in a row on the table, if space permits. When flatware is placed in a stacked position, the top utensil is difficult to remove.

Set paper napkins with the seam facing outwards. This will help guests pick them up from the table easier.

Setting Up the Beverages…Place coffee, any desserts, cups, saucers, dessert plates, and flatware on a separate table from the food. This will make it easy for guests to refill their drinks, without pressing through the buffet line. Placing the beverage station at a distance from the food table will help guests spread more evenly throughout a large space.  

Setting Up for Success…Do a final “walk-through” before guests arrive, imagining yourself as a guest who is going through the buffet line to fill her plate. Make sure that there’s enough room for people to get through and that the traffic flow makes sense…and that the buffet is as organized as possible.


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