Buffet Table Ideas
By an Award-Winning Professional Party Planner
Learn how to set up a buffet table / food station for parties, weddings, or entertaining at home
Ok so I've got to tell you...buffet tables are over. They're old fashioned, sloppy, and bring to mind those nasty 'all you can eat' restaurant spreads where the food has been sitting there all day. Nowadays, for event professionals, it's all about creating food stations.
Food stations still enable you to feed large numbers, lay on a range of different dishes—so there's something for everyone, and keep everything relaxed and informal enough so as not to kill the party mood. The difference is that you get to wow guests with the elegant and creative presentation that comes with plated dishes, and the food station becomes a focal point in the room to center all your party decorations around.
With traditional buffet tables people tend to go a bit crazy and pile on the food, working their way along the entire table and taking far more than they'll actually eat, so you always need to prepare such huge amounts—so much of which gets wasted. With food stations, everything is geared towards offering small plates, DIY options, and 'bites'—like a tasting menu—which can help keep costs down. What you find is that people pick and try a few things, then go back to mingling (rather than shuffling off to a corner to demolish a huge plate of food!), so it helps keeps the party atmosphere going.
The only downside is that you can't just plonk big bowls of food on a table—it requires a little more thought and effort. Often, you're still serving the same types of food as you would on a traditional buffet table, but you're just presenting them differently. Just follow my simple food styling and presentation tips below and you'll have everyone thinking that your party has be professionally caterered!
Now that we've looked at how to set up a buffet table, with ideas for decorating, food styling, and presentation, head over to my other page of party drink ideas for more tips and suggestions to give your party a professional look and feel.
Matt James is a professional event planner and owner of event agency Left Field Productions, which has produced events for Elton John, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kevin Spacey, Stella McCartney, David LaChapelle, John Waters, and Elvis Costello & Diana Krall. Left Field Productions has won 30 event industry awards for excellence including Production Company of the Year. Matt is the author of the book Become an Event Planner: Secrets for Getting Hired from Employers, Recruiters, and Event Professionals.