Serving a buffet-style dinner this Super Bowl Sunday?  What seems like an easy dinner party idea can be quite an excercise in logic and organization! Buffet–style serving, especially to a large crowd, can put you at risk of buffet gridlock or other food-serving chaos. So here’s a compilation of the best tips I could find to keep the buffet line moving… and guests coming back for more next year!

1. For a buffet party over eight people, lay food out on both sides of the table, rather than along a one-sided sideboard. For a buffet party over 18 people, repeat the same food dishes on both sides of the table. Remove the chairs around the buffet table so traffic flows easily.

2. Serve drinks in a separate area – a cart, separate table or sideboard will keep drink traffic out of the food lanes. Group bottles of soda or cocktails together with glasses, an ice bucket, small napkins and a bowl of lemons or limes.

3. Better yet, allocate or hire someone to serve drinks. It could be a child or a neighborhood friend. People will have to get up less often and it’s really rather hospitable! Your party will be talked about for weeks!

4. Serve drinks, or make them available, right when guests arrive. It’ll put less pressure on guests to balance plates and glasses in the buffet line.

5. Use large plates and oversized napkins. Avoid flimsy paper plates unless they’re hefty, hearty and able to withstand weight and moisture, at the same time. A large napkin that completely covers the lap (when open) will be appreciated.

6. Avoid serving food that requires a knife; buffet food should really be spoon-friendly or fork-friendly only. Even if you’re not weak at the knees, It can be precarious to balance a plate on them while performing food feats with a dangerous weapon.

7. Place clean plates and cold items at the beginning of the line, hot entries last. Place silverware and napkins at the end of the buffet, rather than at the beginning.

8. Roll a napkin around a fork and spoon, so they’re one item to carry.

9. Use a hot plate or warming tray to keep hot things hot. Buffet-warmers have become a hot item, meaning they’re also more affordable than ever. They also have a polished, restaurant quality!

10. Avoid food that requires time or talent to get from serving dish to plate. A block of cheese can be a thing of beauty, but cutting off a piece with one hand is quite a feat. If using cheese blocks, pre-cut part of the block. And pre-cutting smaller branches of grapes will avoid guests walking off with half of them, without wanting to!

11. Poke a toothpick into items that are tough to pick up, or to pick up without touching everything around them. Or invest in a few small tongs for biscuits or hand-picked items. In an age of killer flus, everyone will thank you.  

13. Label food or ingredients that aren’t easily recognizable, including food with nuts or a choice of sauces or dressings. Better yet, label everything with a folding card or a flag. It’s restaurant-like and helpful. Plus, there’s nothing worse then when people have to smell something to see if they want to eat it. Except, maybe, a guest being rushed to the hospital at halftime on account of a food allergy you didn’t know about.

14. Serve desert, tea and coffee on a tray or rolling cart you can bring to your guests. Once guests are settled in place, sometimes it’s an effort for them to get up again (… and risk losing their prime seat location!).

15. Create an abundant-looking table.  Avoid unforutnate gaps by taking the leaf out of the table, grouping food at one end, drinks at the other, or placing a large floral or food display arrangement at the center or end of the table. Also, vary the height of items on the table. Add a large centerpiece, or place some serving plates higher than others. (An easy way to do this is to pile books under select plates, then cover the entire table with a tablecloth).

A few final ideas…

Lay out out the serving table plan ahead of time, even the night before. Place post-it notes where things will go; it’ll be one less thing to think about on the day of the party… and help out those who want to help you in the mad rush right before dinner is served.

If, or when, you’re in the market for new dining room furniture, consider a buffet or sideboard rather than a china cabinet. They’re versatile if you like buffet-style eating and make a great place to serve drinks. Also, look for one with a marble top; they’re plentiful these days and perfect for buffet parties – they can handle heat and are easy  to clean!

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