During the holidays almost all of us have an occasion to entertain, whether it is at work or in our personal lives. It’s a lot of fun to make these seasonal events extra special. But since it is such a busy time, we also need to make them as simple and easy as possible.

One of the best ways to do both is to serve the food buffet-style. It is easy to be successful with a buffet. A self-service table is less labor intensive, and easier to show off with flair and pizzazz.

A buffet can add excitement to a party or event, especially during the holidays when it can be decorated with lots of seasonal accents. Your customers or friends and family will enjoy a buffet because it gives them choices on what to eat. A successful holiday buffet will generate positive P.R. for the foodservice department and thus increase staff morale.

By following a few basic guide­lines you can lift your function to the four-star level and make the holiday sparkle.

  1. When planning a buffet, write up a detailed plan and check-list to ensure that nothing is missed. The plan should include:
  • The theme and color scheme of the event
  • Decorating needs
  • What needs to be ordered, by whom and when
  • Production schedule
  • Staffing schedule
  • Event timing
  • Room arrangement
  • Clean-up plans
  • Costs
  • Contact person

2. It is very important to use a two-sided buffet table to minimize “standing-in-line” time. Situate the buffet table so that there is room to easily walk down both sides. Arrange the tabletop so that the food is easily accessible from both sides. Also, don’t forget that the decorations will be seen from all directions, so they should be arranged accordingly.

3. Color-coordinate your linens, flowers and decorations.

  • Of course, the best colors for the holidays are red, green and white. But lately, other colors such as gold, silver, and deep purple and burgundy have emerged as holiday colors. It is fun to experiment and be creative with the color scheme.
  • Use fanned linen napkins to fill in the gaps on the table.
  • Always put a skirt around the table.
  • The tablecloth should be one color, the napkins and skirt another color.

4. Use mirrored cubes, fans and trays to add depth, magnify colors and create varying heights on the table. Mirrors always add a touch of elegance.

5. An easy way to create various levels is to arrange sturdy boxes of different heights on the table. Then cover and hide them with tablecloths or other large pieces of pretty fabric.

6. Decorate the table with inexpensive, abundant seasonal elements such as fruits, nuts, pinecones, and evergreens. The holiday season affords many wonderful decorating options. Take stock of the materials around you, both inside and out. Often the most dramatic holiday decorations can be made from everyday objects such as candles, ribbons, miniature lights and holiday ornaments.

7. Use a big entree plate, 11 inches or larger. The idea is for the guests to choose a little of everything, instead of going back over and over again.

8. Offer at least two entrees. This way you’re sure to have something to please everyone. To keep expenses down, make entree portions halfsize, since many will choose both. Having two entrees also makes the buffet seem more sumptuous.

9. Whenever possible, feature one food in a special way. For example, use a carving station, or a Caesar salad station, or a bananas flambé station, etc. This is food theatrics, and adds excitement to the buffet. In addition, it gives the foodservice personnel a chance to show off.

10. This seems obvious, but don’t use your “back of the house” serving and cooking utensils. Dull, beat-up serving utensils can ruin the looks of your buffet table, making it tacky and unprofessional. Invest in some attractive serving utensils. It will be money well spent.

11. Dessert ends the meal, so it should be memorable. It is an area where you can really shine and show off.

  • Try setting up a separate dessert table with an assortment of pretty cakes, cookies and pastries. A dessert table can be a spectacular and make the event a holiday highlight for your guests.
  • Be sure and pre-cut the desserts so that it is easy for your customers to serve themselves. One idea is to cut the desserts in small, bite-sized pieces, or slices. People can try several without having to take big portions which are often wasted.

12. It can be exciting to have a “dessert only” event, where you can set up an entire dessert buffet. This always brings “oohs” and “ahs” from guests, and is a lot of fun to do.