Preparing a self-service, buffet-style meal is the easiest way to cater for a large number of people, since it allows you to provide for a range of different tastes, ages, and appetites, as long as you organize the food well in advance.
Arranging a Buffet Table
For an appealing buffet, try to add variety to the appearance of dishes by varying their shapes and heights. Select food, tableware, utensils, and accessories such as napkins so that colors, textures, and shapes complement or contrast with one another, in an imaginative way.
When arranging the dishes on a buffet table, start with the plates, then side dishes, followed by the main dish, and finally vegetables and salads, with serving utensils alongside. Breads, any relishes, cutlery, and napkins are usually positioned at the end of the selection. Place decorations in the middle of the table.
• Positioning a buffet table; Leave room behind a buffet table so that you have easy access for replacing dishes.
• Taping wires; If you place the buffet table in the center of a room, make sure that all electrical wires are taped down safely to the floor.
• Grouping chairs: Make sure that there are enough chairs, and position them together in groups of three or more so that guests can sit and chat.
• Setting drinks aside; Place drinks, glasses, and cups on a separate table to avoid congestion at the buffet table.
• Leaving space on the table; Leave space between dishes on the buffet table so that guests can put down glasses or plates when serving themselves.
Keeping Foods Cold
Making a cold plate; Fill a dish with water, and freeze. Put it in a plastic bag, then place a plate on top to keep food cold. Remove chilled foods from the refrigerator just before serving. To keep food cold on the table, fill a wide dish with crushed ice, and nestle a serving dish into it.
Calculating Quantities For Buffet Foods
Use this checklist to figure quantities for buffet foods.
• Bread: A large, thinly sliced loaf has 18-20 slices. One baguette serves 10 people.
• Butter: 2 tablespoons (25 g) butler will cover seven slices of bread.
• Green salad: A large iceberg Iettuce will serve 10 people, a romaine will serve eight, and a Boston, four.
• Celebration cake: A 5-lb (2.25-kg) sheet cake can be cut into about 50 slices. Wine A small (70-cl) bottle fills six glasses; a large (1-liter) bottle, nine.
• Ice: 20 lb (10 kg) ice cools two cases (24 bottles) of wine.
Take care with the presentation of food for a buffet table in order to show off the food at its very best. If you are feeding a large number of guests, replenish serving dishes and clear away empty plates frequently so that the table always looks attractive for your guests.
Using Large Platters: Stacking sandwiches Cut sandwiches into quarters, and place them with the points upward to show the fillings.
Arranging a salad: Instead of tossing the salad in a bowl, arrange ingredients in a colorful pattern on a large, wide platter. Spoon dressing, if desired, over the salad before serving.
Making a fruit pyramid: Cut the flesh from a large pineapple, leaving the central core and leaves. Attach to a cake stand. Build up seasonal fruits around the core into a pyramid.
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Making a cake stand
If you do not have a cake stand for a buffet table, use a large plate or platter. Stand it on an upside-down sugar bowl or soufflé dish. Make sure that the plate is centered. Secure the two firmly with removable putty.
If guests are to help themselves to drinks at a buffet party, a punch is ideal, since it is easy to serve. Offering a punch is also a good way to make alcohol go further. Warm hot punches over low heat if you wish to prevent the alcohol from boiling off, and serve in heatproof cups.
Serving Cold Drinks
• Making a punch bowl: You can use any large, glass bowl as a punch bowl. Decorate the edges with frosted sugar or fruit slices, and drape edible flowers around the sides. Tie ribbon to the ladle handle to serve.
• Keeping punch chilled: To keep a fruit punch cold, and to serve it in an unusual way, cut the top off a large, round watermelon. Scoop out the flesh, and freeze the shell for 2-3 hours. Add the punch, and serve from the shell.
• Flavoring ice cubes: To chill and flavor fruit cups, freeze strawberries, maraschino cherries, or mint into ice cubes.
For an unusual way of serving a fruit cocktail, cut a slice from the top of a small melon and scoop out the flesh. Before filling, cut a hole in one side of the lid for a straw to fit through.
Serving Hot Punches
• Mulling wine: To keep mulled wine or a hot punch warm, make the drink in an electric slow-cooking crackpot placed on the buffet table.
• Floating apples: For a festive winter punch, float a few sweet apples and spices in a hot wine or ale punch. The apples will poach gently, and after an hour or so will make a delicious dessert.
• Doubling up cups: If you are serving hot punch in disposable paper or plastic cups, test the cups first to check that they are heatproof. Double up cups to make them comfortable to hold.