I remember potluck dinners from when I was a kid. I’m not sure if people do them as much anymore, but I used to love making my way down the long row of mismatched card tables, looking at all the different dishes arranged one after the other like a row of little soldiers. At the time, I had no idea that this sort of lineup would play such an important role in my future. But when you’re party planner, food is a large portion of your life. Even though I may not personally make the food, since that’s not a service my company provides, the task often falls upon me and my staff to make the buffet look pretty.


With that in mind, I give you a few pointers that can add to the beauty of your display without too much trouble.

An example of a lovely buffet table from sophie's world

1. Plate placement: It’s important to set the plates at the end of the table where you want people to begin the line. Silverware and napkins can actually go at the other end if you like, or better yet, set at the dining tables so that guests do not have to balance their plate and utensils while serving themselves. If your buffet is double-sided (meaning you want guests to walk down either side of the table) make sure there are plates on both sides. Hopefully, plate placement should discourage folks from attacking the buffet from the wrong end, and thus eliminate any collisions!

Vegetables and salads on the buffet table from sophie's world

2. How to set the food: The main thing to keep in mind when setting up a display is to think logically about the food placement. Make sure that you keep salads with salads, side dishes with side dishes, and entrees with entrees. If you mix up your buffet willy nilly, people won’t know their choices, and someone might be disappointed to find out there is macaroni and cheese further down the table when they’ve already loaded up on pasta salad from the other end. I always think it’s best to set your food in the way you would serve it at the table. So, it should pretty much go: bread, soups/chili, salads, entrees, side dishes (or side dishes then entrees, that one is sort of up to you).

Using levels to make your presentation better|sophie-world.com

3. Levels: A simple way to create a captivating buffet is to raise some of the items above others. This is a simple trick that can make a big difference. The best part about it is that almost anything can become a riser, as long as the top of the item is flat, the bottom of the item sits securely on the table, the surface area on the top is large enough to accommodate whatever platter or dish you are displaying, and that the item is sturdy enough to support the weight of the food. Some suggestions for levels: wooden fruit boxes (such as those little boxes oranges come in), large books, bricks, clean paint cans, cooking pots, storage containers (like Tupperware), sturdy shoe boxes, even a large-based flower pot can work. You will want to cover the item with a matching/contrasting fabric such as a napkin, so that you don’t see the actual level itself.

Use colors to perk up the room|sophie-world.com

Poof up fabric to add flair to your table|sophie-world.com

4. Fabric: This is an old catering trick called “clouding.” Clouding is when you simply take an extra table cloth (or two) and then bunch and scrunch the fabric on the top of your table. It creates a pretty, fluffy sort of look around the base of the platters. If you are going to add levels, you would add those on top of the clouding, with additional fabric. The main thing to remember is not to use too much fabric -- it’s there to accent the food, not hide it.

Use props on your table for extra flair|sophie-world.com

5. Props: As a kid’s party planner, I love props! Thematic accent pieces, like a wheel of fortune at a carnival party, or a piñata for a Mexican fiesta, can really add a bit of color and fun to a bland buffet. Just make sure that the items don’t overpower the table or get in the way of the food. A simple accent like curly, colored ribbons are great sprinkled when on the table. Just make sure they are kept away from anything flammable!

Allow the food to shine on the buffet|sophie-world.com

The main thing to remember when setting a buffet is to allow the food to shine. You want to be careful not to make food difficult or dangerous to reach (so don’t place a giant 36-inch platter on two overturned flower pots -- that’s just a recipe for disaster!). Always use common sense when it come to setting your buffet, because really, the star to the show is the food. The rest is just dressing!

A Mexican buffet table from sophie's world