The Etiquette Scholar blog answering you dining etiquette questions.
There are three advantages to a buffet dinner.
- You can accommodate more guests than your diningroom table will seat.
- Lack of service is no handicap.
- A buffet dinner is more is informal and relaxed.
decorating the buffet table
Set your buffet table as formally or informally as you like.
setting the buffet table
Use only necessary and useful objects.
If you have enough space place the table in the center of the room so that two lines of guests may serve themselves on both sides of the table at once.
- Divide each dish into two platters, and mirror them on either side of the table.
- First divide the main course into two parts, and place one platter or casserole at each end of the table.
- Plates are set in two stacks beside each platter, and napkins and silver neatly arranged next to each set of plates.
- Place twin dishes of vegetables, salads, bread and butter, and sauces and condiments on both sides of the table.
If the table is set against the wall, place your plates and main dish at the end that makes for the best flow of traffic.
the buffet menu
The food at a buffet should be easy to manage with fork alone and doesn't need to be eaten immediately.
If you are serving hot food, using an electric hot plate or tray is recommended.
Place beverages and glasses on a separate sideboard or nearby table, if possible. If you are having a seated buffet, place water glasses on the tables and fill them before the guests sit down.
Wineglasses should also be at the guests' places, but should never be filled in advance. The host (or a server) passes the wine when everyone is seated, or an opened bottle of wine can be placed on each table, to be poured by the person nearest to it.
If coffee is on the sideboard, guests may serve themselves at any time. Or the host or hostess can take a tray set with cups, a coffeepot, cream, and sugar into the living room to serve after dinner.
Coasters should be provided so that glasses are not put directly on tabletops. When there are no individual stands or tables and guests must put their glasses beside them on the floor, it is wise to use iced-tea glasses or highball glasses because they are steadier than goblets.
serving the meal
Once guests have served themselves, they simply take their plates and sit wherever the hosts have designated guests to sit. Ideally, there should be enough room for every guest to be able to sit down, hold a plate, or set a glass down on the nearest table.
Avoid accidents and make your guests more comfortable by placing a small table (the folding kind that fit in a rack are ideal and easy to store) near each chair, or at least by any chair that is not within easy reach of a coffee or side table.
At some buffets, guests may be seated at the dining table and/or at small tables set up for the occasion. Since the guests need not carry silver, napkins, or glasses with them, space is saved on the buffet table.
Guests serve themselves as at all buffets, going for second helpings, and removing their empty plates unless there is a server to do so.
If small tables have been placed around the room, they are removed after the meal to provide space for conversational groups or any planned activities. This arrangement is, of course, dependent on your having enough space so that tables are neither crowded nor in the way.
clearing away used dishes
- A friend or two may assist in taking used dishes to a convenient table or sideboard.
- From there, the used dishes can be carried to the kitchen unobtrusively.
- At a very informal buffet, guests may carry their empty plates to the kitchen.
- Mike Lininger, Editor, Etiquette Scholar
If you find any typographical errors, inaccuracies, or inconsistencies, or if you just have something to add, please email us.