Buffet style service is one of the most common ways to serve a meal at any event, especially for larger groups. This arrangement allows guests to pick and choose from a variety of food options, and even offers the opportunity for seconds (and thirds if there is enough left over), leaving everyone satisfied.
The History of the Buffet Table
The idea of a buffet table is thought to have originated as far back as the 19th century, when a lighter “supper” was served late at night during grand balls – long after the main course had been served. These late-night meals were often served in a “buffet” style, since not all guests would indulge in the late night snack, and allowed those who did want to eat to do so at their leisure.
Types of Buffet Tables
It is safe to say that pretty much anything goes when it comes to the style of buffet service; they can range from very simple to very elaborate. A traditional buffet often consists of long tables, end to end, with plates and silverware at one end and people in a line. In some cases, there are servers on one side of the buffet tables, while some are self-serve, and may be one or two-sided. While these sorts of buffets are still fairly common, it is not what we typically see at more upscale events.
What we see more of today (especially at upscale events and weddings) are “station buffets”; these buffets often have staff behind them to serve, but not always. Instead of a typical buffet, which has an entire meal on one long table, the stations usually have one type of food. There may be a carving station with ham, turkey, and/or roast beef, or a sushi station, or a taco station (which would probably be self-serve), a salad station, a dessert station, a make your own sundae station, a beverage station, etc. (We’ve even seen a baked potato station where you can load a baked potato with all sorts of toppings).
For outdoor events, there is often a grilling station where people can get something right off of the grill. With station buffets, people are encouraged to “graze”, typically starting at one station, then moving on to other stations. Some people go to one station at a time while others may get food from several stations before they sit down to eat; this is the great thing about buffet stations – there are no rules!
Station buffets are nice for a number of reasons; there typically are not any long lines, and people can choose the sort of food they want in the order in which they want it. The station buffets are spread out around the event space, which encourages people to get up and move throughout the space; it’s very casual and informal.
Unlike a traditional buffet, station buffets often use a variety of shapes and sizes of tables. We often see a large round table set up as an antipasto table, or a salad station. A carving station or a sushi station may be set up using banquet tables in a “U” shape or an “L” shape, or possibly a combination of serpentine tables (1/4 round) and banquet tables.
Why Choose a Buffet Table for Your Event?
Buffet tables are a convenient and efficient method of serving food to a large number of guests. Because all guests are offered the same selection, large quantities of each dish can be prepared in advance. Buffet style service eliminates the extra work of receiving meal selections, and making sure the right meal arrives to the correct person during the event.
In terms of cost, there often isn’t much difference in cost between a seated (served) dinner and a buffet. The served dinner usually requires more staff, however, the buffet style dinner requires more food, as you can’t know in advance how much of any one dish you are going to need. As a result, you need to prepare more of everything so you don’t run out.
How to Set Up Buffet Service
Now that you’ve chosen a buffet style service, it’s time to consider how you’ll set it up.
- Consider ease of use. The easier your tables are to navigate, the more efficiently your guests will move through them. As you set up the tables, consider the foods that will be served. Make sure there will be space for guests to put their plates down as needed along the way. Be sure all containers have been opened and serving utensils are obvious – and be sure to pre-cut meats, desserts, and anything else that may require it. In most cases, guests should not have to pickup silverware or napkins at the buffet stations; usually the only thing they need to pickup at the buffet is a plate, and sometimes, a fork; the size and style of the plates, and the forks, may vary at each station, based on the type of food on that station. In some cases, the silverware will be at each place at the dinner tables, along with a napkin.
- Get organized. When setting up a traditional buffet, be practical about where you place items on the buffet. Plates and silverware should be at the beginning along with salads and appetizers. Sides and the main course should follow, and then desserts should come last. In fact, we suggest having a separate dessert or cookie table, especially if dessert will be enjoyed at a later time. Condiments should either be placed near the foods they accompany, or at the end where guests can dress their foods as they wish.
- Make it presentable. Décor can go a long way in making your table look put together. Beautiful linens and centerpiece(s) will add interest, while chafing dishes will keep food warm. Heat lamps, soup kettles, and coordinating serving utensils are both functional and add a professional element to your buffet table.
Looking for some buffet table inspiration? Check out our gallery, here.