A buffet remains the easiest, most relaxed way to serve a crowd. Something about the sight of a table laden with different dishes creates a feeling of abundance and celebration. Coordinating a menu for a buffet doesn't have to be overwhelming. Once you have a couple of basic buffet menus in your repertoire, you can rotate them or use variations of them.
If you have a large group, an appetizer buffet makes things easier on you and your guests. Fewer utensils are needed, and guests can simply graze as they get hungry. You can start with cold appetizers and later add hot items, or have finger foods that can be on the table for the whole event.
Forget cheese and crackers and be creative. Pick a cuisine, such as Mexican, Asian or Italian, or a type of food, such as Southern, vegetarian or Creole. Plan to have at least six items on the table, plus fresh fruit and nuts.
An Asian menu might include vegetable spring rolls, dumplings, barbecued riblets, pork or chicken satay, chicken wings with peanut sauce and an Asian cabbage slaw with raisins and almonds. Add mango slices, five-spice almonds and almond cookies, and you have a complete feast.
For a Southern buffet, try mini corn muffins with pepper jelly, fried chicken thighs, devilled eggs, sliced ham on mini cheddar biscuits, sausage puffs, watermelon or cantaloupe cubes and spicy pecans.
Feast for a Crowd
If you want to make the gathering all about the food, plan at least the following: two entrée items, such as a sliced roast chicken and glazed ham; two bread items, like potato rolls, biscuits or sweet muffins--corn, sweet potato or pumpkin; and three salads, such as potato, pasta or macaroni. Try to include one or two vegetarian dishes, for example, tabbouleh, rice salad with nuts and dried fruit, three-bean salad or chopped vegetable salad with tahini (lemon and sesame) dressing. Have at least two dessert items, such as cupcakes, cobbler or cookies, and add a healthy option like vanilla yoghurt and fruit for kids or adults who are watching calories.
Make It Elegant
For a special celebration, such as an anniversary or small wedding, you'll want a more elegant menu. A good way to go is a champagne brunch or a cold luncheon menu with light wines.
For a brunch menu, try a ham and cheese strata or potato, vegetable and cheese frittata, muffins, fresh seasonal fruit, coffee and pastries.
For a cold luncheon, try thinly sliced raisin-pumpernickel bread, unsalted sweet butter, a regional cheese platter with seasonal fruit, smoked salmon or trout and several cold salads, such as sweet-and-sour cucumber, carrot-raisin slaw or German potato salad.
Finish with a celebratory cake, chocolate-dipped strawberries or bakery cookies and coffee.