Ah, summer time, the season of the backyard barbecue and potluck. It’s fun, it’s relatively easy and laid back… a nice way to enjoy friends and family. However, easy and simple is NOT synonymous with sloppy and thrown together.
It doesn’t matter if it is at a BBQ, a potluck or Thanksgiving dinner, there is a right way and a wrong way to set up a buffet table.
Here is a great example of What Not To Do:
My wonderful and funny friend Connie at The Young and the Relentless recently attended a potluck party in her old hometown.
This was not a spur of the moment get together…
This was planned…
This should have been better organized…
In her own words:
These photos are courtesy of Connie. The numbers and commentary are courtesy of me.
1. Really? A roll of paper towels? Not only is that tacky, but how are you expecting your guests to balance a plate in one hand and tear off a sheet of paper towel with the other hand? Is it an octopus party? How many hands do you think your guests have?
2. Salt & Pepper on the buffet… because your guests should know by sight if the food is seasoned to their liking.
3. The lid is still on this…. Can I have some? Maybe it isn’t for us… Should I take the lid off and try to cut myself a slice…? Never mind. There is nothing to cut it with or serve it with anyway. Besides, I am already having trouble with the paper towels.
4. Is this….? Yep. It’s trash. On the buffet table.
5. This looks like a plate of sliced strawberries and kiwi fruit… Should I just use my fingers, or…? Is the container of plastic forks what I’m supposed to use…?
6. Should I use my fingers for the greasy burger patties too…?
7. More trash? Or is this one of the side dishes…? Hard to tell.
But wait! There’s more!
1. Clearly it is a bad idea to have Costco-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner near the buffet. Then again, perhaps guests will need a shower after going through a buffet line, sans serving utensils…
2. Once you take the foil off of your casserole and the groceries out of the bag, the foil and bag should not be left on the buffet. Move them. Put them over by the shampoo at least.
3. This looks like a sheet cake. With nothing to cut it or serve it with.
4.Trash and sunglasses….
5. Ugly bowl, empty glass, bad windbreaker on a guy leaning on the buffet table.
6. This is a giant vat o’ salsa, with a spaghetti server (with holes) used to serve said salsa.
7. The lid to the ugly bowl, taking up prime real estate on the buffet table.
8 & 9. I’m pretty sure crappy wine coolers are supposed to be served cold, and I know they’re not supposed to be plopped down on the buffet table in the cardboard carrying case they came in.
10. More fresh cut fruit with no serving pieces. (I’m off to take that shower now….)
How to set up a buffet table: Keep these 5 things in mind when it comes to setting up a buffet:
1. Ease of use – What was difficult for you the last time you went through a buffet line?
Leave a little space so that your guests can set down their plate if necessary. It’s very likely that people navigating the buffet line will have a drink in their hand, or they will need to spread a condiment, etc. Leave a little room for your guests to set their drink down, while they hold a plate in one hand and serve themselves with the other. If you’re serving burgers, make sure that you have enough space for guests to set their plates down while they spread condiments/assemble their burgers. Think about what you would need or want, and make it happen.
Don’t throw condiments all over the table. Put them near the dish they’re most likely to be used with. Why put silverware at the beginning of the line? Your guests don’t need to juggle that too. Put silverware at the end of the buffet so that it is the last thing they grab on their way to their seats. Have a serving utensil for everything on the table. Don’t stick beverages or desserts in the middle of the buffet, etc.
3. Traffic Flow – Make it easy and obvious.
Have an “entrance” and an “exit” The line starts here… grab a plate… help yourself… here’s your silverware… off you go… Enjoy! Try to have a separate dessert table and an area for drinks. If that isn’t possible, at the very least, designate specific spots for them on the table.
A good example of ease of use, practicality and traffic flow:
4. Presentation – It’s not critical, but it is definitely important.
You have paper plates and want to use them? Fine! I am all for paper plates and plastic forks, but that doesn’t mean you serve food out of cardboard boxes, throw lids on the table, make people pick up little pieces of melon with their bare hands, and in general have your guests pick through a mish-mash of food that was clearly thrown together.
5. Hospitality – Make your guests feel welcome and cared for.
No one wants to be the guest who has to cut the first slice of a whole cake on a buffet. Pre-cut any desserts that are like that. And for goodness sake, make sure that you take them out of their carrying containers! It takes just a tiny bit of effort to put cookies or a cake on a nice plate. (I think food tastes better that way too…)
No one wants to be the guest to open a sealed container or have to deal with where to put wrappings or lids.
No one wants to wonder where they put their plate when they’re finished. Make sure your guests know where they can toss their paper plates (And make sure the trashcan isn’t too far away, but that it isn’t too close to the festivities either. ew.)
No one wants to have to search for a glass or silverware or salt & pepper, etc. Put these things out and make sure they’re readily available. (And for that matter, make sure there are clean hand towels and plenty of toilet paper in your bathrooms….)
With a little thought and common sense planning, even the simplest and most casual of get-togethers can make your guests feel welcome and comfortable. And really, isn’t that what hospitality really means?