Food & Entertaining - Tabletop Ideas

Make your next group gathering one to remember with easy tips for organizing a beautiful buffet.

Dinner banquets in the Middle Ages were highly theatrical events -- food was sometimes brought in by a procession of servants with flaming torches accompanied by blaring trumpets. By the 19th century, the banquet had evolved into a buffet meal laid out on a sideboard (buffet means "sideboard" in French); people would help themselves, taking food back to the table to eat. Today, buffet entertaining offers a graceful combination of food and decoration. Knowing how to arrange a buffet table that presents your holiday foods beautifully and allows guests to serve themselves easily is the key to a successful buffet gathering.

Setting the table
The beauty of the buffet table is that it can be set up for any meal, including brunch and desserts, and any size of gathering. However, success depends on an efficient set-up. Here are some suggestions.

• Make traffic flow easily: for more than 20 guests, set up the table so people can serve themselves from both sides. For effortless self-service, place plates at one end of the table and napkins and cutlery at the other.

• For visual interest, vary the height and shape of objects on the table. Use a selection of tureens, platters and cake stands; stack plates high and display a centrepiece. Don't be afraid to use a tall centrepiece. Unlike at a seated dinner, you don't have to worry about a centrepiece impeding conversation.

• When possible, serve food that doesn't require a knife, only a fork or spoon.

• For a casual buffet, group flatware in baskets, urns, pails or glass jars. For an elegant touch, roll individual sets of cutlery in napkins and tie with festive red or gold ribbon.

• It's always a good idea to use hot plates to keep food warm, or serve hot food in small dishes that can be replenished often.

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