The Perfect Summer Buffet

The buffet is a casual, easy style of entertaining that seems especially well suited to summer. Guests particularly enjoy the unstructured feeling that a buffet creates. Here are some tips for hassle-free buffet entertaining:

The Food

You can have an elaborate smorgasbord of dishes or build the menu around a central dish supported by complementary dishes that don't overwhelm it.

  • Choose foods that will not suffer if eaten warm rather than hot or slightly chilled rather than cold.

  • If you're not planning to have your guests sit down at tables, don't serve foods that need to be cut with a knife. Instead, choose finger food or precut bite-sized food. Remember your guests will already have a full plate of food, a napkin and a wineglass to juggle.

  • Make a prep sheet for the meal, including all the shopping information, which day you will prepare the dish and what it will be served on. Check everything off as you go.



Centerpieces

The main centerpiece on the table is the food -- especially when it is attractively displayed and garnished with colorful, edible flowers and herb blossoms. Think of it as a still life.

  • A basket of simply arranged flowers is always welcome, but make sure it is not too tall.

  • You may want to have small vases of flowering herbs placed next to a dish that features the same herb.

  • Imagine what the colors of the various dishes will be and what type of arrangement would best complement them. Baskets of bright vegetables, such as red and golden peppers, orange and red tomatoes and different shapes of green and yellow squashes make a striking presentation.

  • Shallow bowls of freshly picked flowers floating in water along with floating candles are also very attractive.

  • Assorted shapes and sizes of seashells scattered in the center of the table and interspersed with flowers make an unusual arrangement.



The Buffet Table

An important point to keep in mind is that there is no "right" way for the table to look. It is a matter of your own personal taste and what feels right to you. Mixing and matching old and new, complementary -- not matching -- napkins and tablecloths, dishes and serving pieces will create a warm and informal atmosphere.

Plates and Silverware

  • Matching plates are not any more necessary than matching table linens. Alternate the dishes to create an interesting pattern of color.

  • If you want to invest in a set of buffet plates, I recommend large, plain white plates or clear glass ones because they adapt to any occasion and are inexpensive.

  • Paper plates are sometimes more appropriate for a casual buffet. Choose a sturdy, attractive plate that can handle a full meal.

  • Present the cutlery by wrapping it in a napkin and then tying a bow around it with either ribbon or jute. A fresh herb blossom or flower can be tucked into the bow.


Glasses

  • Mix and match whatever glasses you have on hand.

  • For a large party, you might consider renting all-purpose wineglasses. Figure that you should double the amount of guests to arrive at the correct number of glasses.

  • If you're serving champagne, use the right glasses -- champagne flutes. Buy them, rent them or use plastic ones, but the shape is essential.
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