Easy Buffet Party Planning

Last weekend I had the privilege of catering a wedding for a sweet friend of mine.  While I am not a pro, occasionally catering has become a fun hobby for me.  For this particular wedding I made the cake, and set a buffet with heavy hors d’oeuvres.  It was simple yet fairly elegant which is something most of us strive for when doing any type of entertaining.


We all like to have friends and family over in our homes, but often it can be stressful, especially when everyone is coming over to your house for dinner and you want it to be “just so perfect.”  Nothing is perfect, so the easiest thing to do is let that notion leave your head.  Your goal as a hostess is to create a memorable evening without stressing yourself out through the budget, decorating and menu!

And it really can be done!

Entertaining has nothing to do with using a lot of money to impress people, it’s about making memories for all (including yourself) to cherish and creating moments that build close and lasting relationships.  After all, the main reason we have friends and family over is to spend time with them, and they accept your invitation because they want to spend time with you!
If you are a stressed out host/hostess, you will have stressed out guests!  If you set the mood, relax, and have fun, your guests will as well.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays right around the corner (which means many of us will be opening our homes), I thought it might be a good time to share a few of my basics for hosting a little soiree in our homes. The easiest way I have found to entertain is through a buffet. Set up correctly, buffets are a classy and practical way to serve large numbers (and work well for small groups as well) at one time as well as remove any pressure from setting that perfect table!

Here are just a few ways I plan out my buffet before entertaining:

**Choose your theme.  Your imagination is your greatest gift, use it!  Host a tea, an open house, a bowl party, an Oscar night dinner, a caroling party, costume party, murder mystery dinner, or a dessert buffet.

**Determine your menu.  If you are having friends over to watch football on New Years Day, you probably don’t want a menu filled with “high maintenance” foods such as a crown roast or salmon.  A hamburger or BBQ buffet would be perfect as would heavy appetizers such as chicken wings, chips and dips.  How are you going to enjoy the games if you are constantly in the kitchen cooking food, so keep that menu simple!

A few other easy appetizer ideas are stuffed mushroom caps, lamb meatballs w/ a dip,  shrimp ceviche, Buffalo wings w/ blue cheese dip, or chicken salad.

BBQ Chicken buffet for a Roarin’ 20’s party

**Your guests really don’t care if you made all of the food, or if some (or all) of it is take-out!  If you know that you can purchase a dish that tastes better than you can make it, then do so.  Just remember to throw out the take-out containers and serve it as you are serving everything else.  And don’t forget to delegate dishes as well!  A themed “pot-luck” is really easy and a lot of fun!

**Plan your serving pieces ahead of time.  Set out and label the platters you will use a couple of days a head of time so that you aren’t racing last minute trying to find that certain platter!

**Your buffet should look full!  If your table is large, group your food together instead of spreading it out.  At the end set a cold drink or coffee bar.  Everything in one place!  Serve your food on matching or at least coordinating dishes and let it play a role in your decorating.  Mixed with candles and a few accessories, you have a decorated table.


**Keep your buffet balanced.  Don’t serve just a bevy of proteins; throw in some fruit, a vegetable (a crudite is perfect for this) and even dessert.

**Set your plates at the beginning of the buffet, leaving silverware and napkins at the end.  It keeps everyone from performing a juggling act while trying to fix their plate.  Also decide if you want a line down both sides of your buffet, or does it work better in your space to have guest make a loop.  No matter which way you set it up, make it easy to access all of the food.

Here are a few ideas for arranging your buffet:



For this last buffet I set up, I did a line down both sides. For hors d’oeuvres  I prefer to have my dishes set in a specific order:  cold items, followed by any hot entrees, salad, and then setting dessert up on a separate table.  I used my cheese platter as the centerpiece of the table.

For a dinner buffet I would set it up a little differently:

*Appetizer or soup
*Fish or soup
*Main Course(s)
*Side dishes
*Cheese and/or fruit
*Dessert (which I still to prefer in a separate location if the space is available

**If you are hosting a “come and go” event, set up different “stations” for serving foods as people mingle.  Set out appetizers in the living room, cocktails in the dining room, dessert by the fireplace …. this allows your guests to mix it up and not feel confined by the space.

**Keep your decor seasonal or simple. Top your table with a pretty tablecloth add, your food, and a few accessories.  You can’t go wrong with candles.  Scatter votives down your table, or create a display of pillar candles (both unscented of course) on a mirror.  I used my autumn pumpkins for decorating last weekend, but I have even let a cake serve as a centerpiece in the past (since it was the only dessert). 

Elevate a few platters on concealed boxes to create height and drama to your table.

See how easy it is?  Just let your imagination go and enjoy hosting a party in your home!
 Will you host friends or family in your home this holiday season?  It’s not too late to plan something, and definitely not to early to plan details of your event.  


11 thoughts on “Easy Buffet Party Planning

  1. Great tips and ideas, Jen. As I said before, I'd hire you in a minute. Love the beautiful cake in the next to last photo. Mmmmmmm the icing looks so fluffy and delish. xo


  2. These are wonderful tips Jen. All my years of entertaining I never thought to put the plates at the beginning of the line and then the utensils and napkins at the end…brilliant! Long time ago, when my niece was just a young teenager, she showed up at my home early for our Christmas dinner and saw the table set without the food yet. She whispered to her Mom and asked why I had labeled all the serving dishes and silver ware. She thought that was so funny. LOL…Now, she does the same thing. You just never know where and in what capacity you might pass on a family tradition. Have a fabulous day Jen and oh….you look fabulous dahlin!!


  3. Jen. I'm bookmarking these tips for my next party. Or pinning them.

    I do the post-it note thing, but I need to take to hear your words about not being stressed out. Because it does telegraph to your guests when you are.

    Thank you so much for sharing and for inspiring me.

    Atta Girl Amy


  4. Wonderful ideas…I really like seeing the table all organized that way and what a great tip about having a “full” table by using one end for drinks. Perfect!


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