How to Set Up a Buffet Table

Are you stumped every time you go to arrange your buffet table? 
Keep these tips handy so you are ready to go this holiday season!

We host lots of “buffet parties.” The kind where people want to take a fork and just circle the table over and over! Hehehe. A “buffet party” is not only great for giving parties or showers, but it’s also perfect for the holiday dinners! You, the host, prepares the main dish and a couple sides. Then, each guests brings something special to them. Having your buffet table prepared for each dish is an easy way for guests to know where their dish should go in the “line-up” as well as saving you time in rearranging later.

This tip list is meant for actual cocktail parties, in which small bites are presented. But! Use these same tips for actual dinner parties requiring a buffet line!

The first thing I do is write my dishes down on to post-it notes. That way I can label each platter I choose, but before then, I can arrange the food in an appealing manor, before actually doing it! (Did that make ANY sense??)

Here are a few tips for choosing 
a buffet menu for a cocktail party:
1. Keep it simple!
2. Choose 6-8 items, nothing too fancy, and nothing that requires more than one hand.

3. When choosing proteins, go for a fish, a meat/poultry, and a vegetarian option. (Hummus is always a great option!)

4. I know it may seem lame, but everyone REALLY does love a veggie and fruit tray. These should be staples on any buffet line.
5. Arrange the table with hot foods first, ending with cold. However, it is best to choose items that can be served room temperature, so you don’t have to deal with chaffing dishes and iced platters…

I like to add all the serving pieces I may need to the post-it. That way, if others arrive early to help, they know exactly what needs to go with it.

For the Chicken Satay, I needed a bowl for the sauce and a spoon. This post it was then placed on the platter that was used for serving.

Start with a blank table cloth. Be sure it is pressed well, and even on the table. You don’t want to add all your decorations, then find out your cloth is off by a few inches on one side….

Now, add your decorations. I love using a long, clean line down the center of the table. One larger arrangement with a table runner keeps it uncluttered.

Candles always, always add elegance to any table. This runner was a twig runner, and very wobbly. Add in the evergreen branches also lining the table, and the candles could have been very hazardous. To avoid any issues, I used taller votive candle holders than normal. Making sure no wick was close to the top, or close to anything that could catch fire. I have done that, many times…

Now arrange your platters around. While using height can add a great aesthetic to your table, if it cannot be properly stabilized, you don’t want to risk someone accidentally knocking a platter off….. If I want to add height, I will use odd serving pieces such as a cake platter for bread, or a tea tray full of veggies and fruit. This weekend, I kept it simple and didn’t go out of the ordinary.

Set the plates and napkins at one end, being careful not to stack too tall. Also, arranging your napkins square, diamond, square, diamond helps your guests pick them up with one hand.

Add your food labels, and you are ready! Well, after you put the food in their coordinating dishes…

Do you have any tips for arranging a buffet table?

Similar Posts


  1. Great tips. I tend to put all the bowls/dishes I think I will use out ahead of time, but I can also be so last minute and frantic, lol! #HomeMattersParty

Comments are closed.