How to arrange my food on a buffet table

Updated February 21, 2017

Arranging your buffet table efficiently reduces the chance of a long wait for food and messy accidents. It also allows you to arrange the table(s) with style. For best results, complete a dry run of your buffet arrangement a day before the actual event. Place empty dishes in the place they will take on your table and pair them with appropriate serving utensils.

Set up separate drink, appetizer, and desert stations. This routes traffic to several areas rather than one central line. It also gives guests a chance to fill their glass or plate and set it down at their table before returning to the main buffet line.

Place glasses, an ice bucket or dispenser, napkins and beverage garnishes -- lemon wedges, olives or cherries -- on the drink table. Set appropriate glasses next to their respective drink, i.e. wine glasses next to wine, champagne flutes next to the bubbly. Place an elegant label in front of mix and speciality drinks. Place a small wastebasket next to the table.

Set toothpicks, napkins, small plates and food trays on the appetizer table. Display food on cake stands and decorative trays. Place all dinnerware before the food, so guests have plates in hand when they need them. Use an elegant, but washable, tablecloth. Place any tall flower arrangements or other decorative pieces in the back. Arrange cheese spreads and similar food items on cutting boards or in bowls. Use this layout for the desert station as well.

Place the main table at the centre of the room for access on both sides. This shortens the buffet line.

Place dinnerware and utensils at the beginning of the line. Wrap utensils in napkins so guests don't forget these important items and have to return to the line.

Arrange food by course along the table. Place salads and cold dishes first, in one general area. Place any chilled items over ice. Keep cold for safety and taste. Follow these dishes with main courses, then side dishes.

Place elegant labels in front of each dish. List any notable ingredients, such as nuts or meat. Your vegetarians and guests allergic to nuts will appreciate your effort.

Decorate your table with flowers, candles and other centrepieces. Make sure that your decorative items are not easily tipped over.

Things You'll Need

  • Tablecloth (optional)
  • Serving dishes
  • Plates
  • Cups or glasses
  • Utensils
  • Napkins
  • Condiments
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