24 DIY Buffet Tips


1. Vary the height

Just as you would vary heights with centerpieces, you should do the same with a buffet. It is more appealing to the eye and will add dimension to your set-up. Make sure to elevate the less messy dishes as you don’t want sauces to spill on your tablecloth.

You could stack books under the tablecloth to create elevation or purchase tiered serving platters such as this one. If your buffet is set against the wall, place taller items in the back.

2. Have a clear beginning

Guests should know where the buffet table starts and ends. Show them by having all plates on one end of the table. This will prevent a traffic jam. If you have a big group, pull the table away from the wall for a double-sided buffet.


3. Label each dish

This is becoming increasingly important with all the different diet restrictions today. When developing the menu, consider your vegetarian/vegan guests and any possible allergy restrictions. Label all dishes and if necessary, include any important ingredients, such as, “contains peanuts.”

This is an opportunity to show your creativity! Your labels can be as simple or as colorful as you would like to make them. Check out this mini chalkboard idea >>

...or calligraphy cards and insert them into place card holders >>

4. Take care of the tablecloth

Place small plates near each dish so that guests have a place to put serving utensils or get fancy with these spoon rests >>

5. Situate flatware for the end of the buffet

You don’t want guests fumbling with their napkins and eating utensils as they are filling their plates. Keep those at the opposite end of the table from the plates so it's the last thing they need to pick up.

6. Position strategically

Place items that you have a smaller quantity of at the end of the table near the utensils. Guests tend to fill their plates with the earlier dishes, so with your strategic placement, your food will “last longer.”

Displaying desserts >>

7. Strategically arrange the buffet table

In addition to good design, you’ll need to incorporate practical elements that control overcrowding, access for refills, and ease of use for people with disabilities. You may even consider having numerous smaller stations for the buffet rather than one area only.

8. Create an Instagram-worthy table backdrop

Start with your theme and event colors. They’ll help guide the majority of your choices. Decide what vibe you want the background to be.

Make sure to add eye-catching extras like wallpaper, garlands, streamers, or balloons that coordinate with your serving platters and dishes.

How about an enclosed tent for an outdoor buffet >>

A more formal event may benefit from a black tie tent >>

9. Before guests arrive, arrange serving platters before adding food

Setting out places for each serving platter is called staging the table. It  helps with identifying in advance if you have too many or too few dishes on the table.

10. Direct the flow of traffic

A buffet can be arranged in a few ways:

  • along just one side of the table such as when it's placed up against a wall
  • double-sided or same dishes along both sides of the buffet table for two lines to go through at once (large crowds)
  • a full circle in which a variety of food is placed around the entire table 

11. Coordinate table linens and napkins with your event theme

The best part of choosing a buffet is coordinating colors and themes. cohesive. Matching linens, napkins, and tableware can bring the whole look together for a more polished, professional event image. 

12. Use serving spoons for display

Canape spoons are great for buffets for more expensive items like sushi or caviar. 

13. Serve more cold food than hot

The golden ratio for buffets is roughly 80% cold food and 20% hot. Cold food is easier to refill and temperature control. Chafing dishes can be super helpful to maintain proper food temperature.

14. Separate drinks from food

Serving drinks at the same place as food can cause a bottleneck. It's best to showcase a separate drink station for non-alcoholic beverages and bar drinks. You could really upscale your party quickly by hiring a bartender for a few hours. 

15. Check on the bar area often

Ice seems to melt faster at parties. Make sure to check on your stash occasionally and know that you'll need to purchase way more ice than you think. It's recommended to purchase We recommend planning one to two pounds of ice per person, based on the type of event and your need for the ice, serving vs cooling. 

16. Look around the room for ways to create atmosphere

Depending on the time of year, you can use faux foliage, pinecones, flower petals, or seashells to build out your event theme throughout and around the buffet table. 

Check out seating decor >>

17. Leave space at the edge of the buffet table

After setting out all the food platter, pick up a dinner plate and walk through the steps of getting a spoonful of each dish. Make sure there's enough room at the edge of the table to set down a plate to be able to serve with the other hand. Do your best to allow at least an 8" diameter around the entire buffet for setting down a plate for serving. 

18. Two words - Jello Shooters

You may laugh at the thought, but bringing out a tray of shooters causes everyone to flashback on college. The new party trend is in syringes >>

19. Provide trash and recycling bins

The best location is near the buffet, clearly labeled which is which. You'll also make even more folks happy if you offer composting for food scraps. Again, clearly labels these bins for those that don't understand composting do's and don'ts. 

20. Choose color palettes that pop

The perfect color palette for any event, venue, or buffet table depends on your theme of course, but if you want your gorgeous buffet table to take its rightful place as the center of attention, you’ll need to save your most impressive colors for the display. Think about what feeling you’d like your guests to experience at the buffet table then choose colors and a color theme style that reflects that. 

21. Hire out for food

You don't have to be the one that cooks everything. Your town is probably know for its ham biscuits and you know the best place to buy them. Your guests will appreciate the sprinkling of your homemade goods alongside grocery store finds. The secret is to place the store-bought goods onto a beautiful serving platter. 

22. Showcase dessert time

Cake may be the traditional dessert, but it doesn't have to be! Other ideas could be a candy buffet, cake-pops, beautifully decorated store-bought cupcakes, mini chocolates arranged on a serving platter, ice cream sandwiches, or thawed cannolis from a box.

23. Present napkins in an easy-to-grab way

Napkins displayed in a tall stack are not easy to grab while juggling a plate and glass. Paper napkins are traditionally displayed in a spiral stack so guests can pinch one or two off the top without having to touch the rest of them.

If linen dinner napkins are being offered, consider rolling them with silverware and displaying in a basket.

24. If using disposables, use only high qualtiy

There’s a difference between squeaky white styrofoam (bad for the environment) and well-designed compostable plates. Treat your guests to the best possible disposables. 


Biggest Faux Pas in Buffets - not having enough plates 

  • Cocktail Party with hors d’oeuvres - one 7″ plate per person per hour
  • Buffet - two to three dinner plates per person
  • Buffet - one dessert plate per person