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Setting up a beautiful holiday buffet

Whether your space is large or small, feeding a crowd can be challenging. If you’re tired of bumping elbows and yelling “pass the salt,” a holiday buffet is the perfect solution for your next get-together. We’ve got five tips to help you pull it off!


Choose your menu

Choose your menu

Just like accessory items can be coordinated, menu items can do the same. Traditional holiday meals include items like turkey, ham and a roast, along with vegetables, fruits and breads. While most holiday foods are neutral in color, others offer vibrant hues that actually enhance your display. For a Christmas-themed event, serve red punch in a glass pitcher and use green vegetables, like cucumbers, asparagus and celery, to fit within your red and green theme. For menu items that don’t fit within your theme, use a matching dish set to make their colors less noticeable on the table.


Create a backdrop

Create a backdrop

Defining your buffet area enhances your entertaining decor and sends visual cues to your guests, helping them to identify the layout and traffic flow of your arrangement. Creating an intriguing backdrop will turn your holiday buffet into an instant focal point. It doesn’t need to be complex or over-the-top. In fact, a simple backdrop often makes the most impact!

For an inexpensive holiday backdrop, use scrap paper from your office to cut out snowflake shapes, and then tape them in cascading formations on the wall behind your buffet table. Or, use an old picture frame to hang ornaments or to house a holiday image.


Lay the foundation

Lay the foundation

With any aspect of design, a solid foundation sets the tone for the finished product. When it comes to your table arrangement, your foundation will be built from the linens and serving pieces you choose. Start by determining the impact you would like these pieces to have. If you would like your table to be bold and vibrant, select brightly colored table linens, and serve food items in dishes of contrasting colors. Or, for a subtle and elegant look, use a white tablecloth and white serving dishes for a tone-on-tone look.

For a thrifty yet impressive table display, use what you’ve got around the house. Turn last year’s holiday wrapping paper into a table runner, or bundle clean white sheets beneath small Christmas trees to imitate snow. Think outside of the box, and don’t be afraid to use non-traditional items in creative ways.


Group like items

Group like items

Once the foundation is in place, you can begin setting your table. Though a buffet-style setup may feel thrown together, a certain level of organization is required. For efficient traffic flow, arrange like items together, starting with appetizers, transitioning to the main course, then side dishes, desserts and finally drinks. Grouping similar items together allows guests to make quick decisions about what menu items they would like to taste, which keeps the line moving steadily.


Create food stations

1—Hit repeat

With holiday feasts, it might not be possible to fit each menu item within the buffet setting. But, don’t fret if you run out of space! Simply break your menu items into smaller food stations to accommodate the entire spread. Use a large table for the main menu items, such as appetizers, side dishes and entrees, and then create separate vignettes for desserts and drinks.

Dividing your food stations may allow for more creativity with your menu. Individualized stations for drinks and desserts provide space for build-your-own options that allow each guest to customize their selections. For example, use beverages like punch, tea and lemonade as a foundation, and then display garnishes like lemons, limes and berries in small bowls near the glasses. For desserts, fill small dishes with various types of sprinkles, toppings and embellishments. Your guests will enjoy the personalized touch and may even compete to design the best cupcake!

More holiday entertaining ideas

Holiday entertaining survival guide
Creative ways to keep treats chilled
5 Tips for stress-free entertaining

Photo credits: Kelli Uhrich,

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