Do you know how to create a professional looking buffet table?
Having a buffet table at your gathering is a wonderful way for your friends and family to serve themselves. A buffet is often a casual affair but is also used at large events because there will be too much food to place on the table for guests to pass. It is much easier to create a professional-looking buffet table than you realize.
If you are like me (until I learned differently); you set up the food in a long line on a table. There isn’t any visual interest. No “wow” factor. Just a line of food. Boring!
Interestingly – we “eat” with our eyes first. I know that might sound funny, but when we are presented with food, we first look at it and immediately make a judgment if it looks good or not. Hence, we eat with our eyes first.
When you create a buffet table, keep that in mind. You want to make it visually appealing to your guests. It will make the food more attractive, and it will impress the socks off them!
Step-by-step instructions for creating a professional-looking buffet…
First: Location for the Buffet Table
Decide on the location of the food buffet (I suggest having the drinks in a different location – more on that later). Will it be your kitchen island, will it be a folding table you have placed against a wall, will it be outside, or will it be U-shaped? If you will be using multiple tables, make sure they are all the same height. You don’t want anything to straddle an uneven surface.
When planning the location of your buffet, also think about the flow of your guests. Where they will start and where they will finish. You want them to finish in the direction of where they will be sitting. You don’t want them to have to double back to find their chair.
Second: Buffet Table Base layer
Cover your table or countertop with a base layer: a tablecloth, or fabric, that will hang down the sides. This will hide the table legs or island cabinets, and it will aid in bringing visual interest to your buffet. Note: if your table will be against the wall, you don’t need the fabric to go down the back. Just have it cover the tabletop and let it hang all the way down the front.
Once you have determined the location and added the base layer, the key is to add visual interest. This is key! You will do it by adding height to the buffet table. Find some sturdy boxes, crates, or even a stack of books. It doesn’t matter what they look like, as long as they are sturdy and stable. Now arrange them on your table or countertop. Depending on the length of your table; either start low and have the highest point in the middle and then drop down on the other side or start low and have various areas that are higher. Always start and end low.
Fourth: Primary Layer
You have created a variety of heights on your table, but all those boxes and crates look horrible! You aren’t going to impress your guests that way. You need to cover them. This is your primary layer. You will want to use a large (or multiple, depending on the length of your buffet) tablecloth or piece(s) of fabric. What you choose needs to be easy to drape, not stiff. Your intent is to hide those boxes and books. The fabric will need to be flexible.
Your primary layer is often smaller than the table itself. You are not covering the table, you are covering your height pieces. This is where some of the fun comes in. You can choose to have the primary layer the same color as your base layer, or a different color. It’s up to you!
Some ideas for your buffet’s primary layer:
- Go to the fabric store and purchase a flowy polyester fabric. Find a solid or print that will coordinate with your theme.
- Fabric stores can be overwhelming if you’ve never been in one. If you need help, ask a sales associate. They are a wealth of information and will take you to the right section. You don’t need expensive fabric, so don’t spend much. Measure the length of your table and add about 3 feet (1 yard). That is how much fabric you will want.
- Buy a twin size flat sheet. This might sound crazy, but after it is washed, the fabric is easy to drape and place over your height pieces. Plus, you can tuck in the hem, if needed. NO joke; I have done this. I’m all about spending as little money as necessary. Bonus: you can use it later as a bedsheet! That’s a win-win!
- A throw blanket. Not one of those thick, huge ones. Use one (or more) of the thin, small ones. These too are flexible and can drape well. Just make sure it is machine washable and goes with your theme.
Take your selected primary layer and add it in such a way that it covers your boxes, crates, and books. Tuck it in, and let it bunch in areas. You don’t want the weight of the fabric to pull and hang straight down. That won’t look good. Now take a step back and look at what you have done. Do you see it coming together? I bet you do! Take a minute to adjust the height arrangements and readjust the primary layer until you are satisfied with the overall look.
Fifth: Accent/Top layer
If you are happy with how the base and primary layers look, don’t feel obligated to add an accent layer. It’s up to you. That is the beauty of this – it is up to you – it is YOUR creation!
The accent layer uses even smaller pieces of fabric. It can help tie your theme together. Let’s say you are doing a color theme of white and yellow. Your base layer is white and your primary layer is yellow. Maybe adding a top layer of a yellow and white print brings it all together. Or maybe you used white for both your base and primary layer. The top layer adds the “pop” of yellow to your buffet presentation.
The accent/top layer goes over your height sections, and maybe some of the flat areas. It is up to you. Here are a few ideas for your accent layer:
- Cloth napkins (solid and/or printed)
- Scarves (yep, I have used my own scarves for an accent layer)
- Smaller fabric pieces – ½ to 1 yard. These are great to find at your local craft or fabric store because you won’t need much, and you can cut them to fit. If the frayed edges bother you, just tuck them under. No need to sew!
Sixth: Buffet Table Decorations
When you create your buffet table, add as many or as few table decorations as you want. Again – it’s up to you. If you choose to add flowers, I would suggest ones that don’t have a scent. You want your guests to smell the food, not the flowers. You also want to make sure the flowers don’t hang directly over the food, so nothing accidentally falls into a dish.
Final: Serving Pieces/Utensils
The final step to creating your buffet table is to place a stack of empty plates where you want your guests to start. Then lay out the food from appetizers, to entrees, to desserts. Or from cold to hot dishes. Make sure you have small plates available to rest the serving utensils. You don’t want your guest placing them on the fabric.
At the end of the buffet, place the utensils and napkins, so your guest can take them to their seat. *Tip; have the utensils facing down, not up. People don’t want to use a fork that someone else has touched. Plus, facing down makes them easier to grab.
Fini! Your buffet is now complete. Step back and admire your handiwork. Great job!
*Additional Buffet Tips
- Have small note cards and markers available to identify the different food dishes. If your guests are contributing to the meal, and if anyone has allergies, everyone will find it extremely helpful.
- Have the drinks separate from the buffet table. It prevents your guests from bumping into each other.
- Make sure it is obvious where the alcoholic vs non-alcoholic drinks are located, and that they are clearly labeled. Your guests will appreciate it, and no one will need to ask.
- If you will have a lot of appetizers and entrees, consider a separate location for desserts.
Do you want to know what mistakes to avoid on your buffet? Then check out the 9 Biggest Mistakes Setting a Buffet Table.
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