Most of the time we thing of organizing a buffet dinner as a shortcut. Or better, an easy way out. A way to escape the trouble of a real dinner. An excuse to ignore the arrangement of the cutlery or guests, where you do nothing more than set out some little plates on a table and serve the poor guests a mound of cold rice salad and a couple of breadsticks.
While it is true that a so-called standing dinner allows us to get out of some of the most difficult dictates of etiquette, it is also true that some rules – few but fundamental – must nonetheless be followed when organizing a buffet dinner.
- Less is more
Let’s start from the basics, that is, the menu. There should be at least two cold dishes, two hot dishes and one vegan offering – who does not have at least one vegan friend, nowadays? – which need not make up a perfectly coherent whole but should at least not be completely unrelated to each other (grandma’s meatballs and falafel, for instance, do not go exactly go together).
- The common thread
The uniting motif or common theme: call it whatever you like, in setting up a buffet it can prove highly useful. Would you like to be inspired by iddle Eastern influences, serving a selection of mezzè like couscous salad, accompanied by mint tea? Or would you prefer to put together an American-style brunch, with hot dogs that guests can top as they like? Whatever you choose, as long as it does not slip into the realm of caricature (those of you imagining decorating a cheesecake with stars and stripes, I’m talking to you) a themed buffet dinner is always a good idea
- The law of moderation
This goes for both parties. For the invitees, who should show good manners in the quantity of food piled on their plates (no, you are not supposed to take two at the same time) or the number of times they visit the buffet; as well as the host, who should not go overboard with the number of dishes. Melius abundar quam deficere is valid up to a point: it is rude to starve your guests, but equally uncouth to go to extremes with the amount of food. See point number one.
- And dessert?
No, you can’t dodge the dessert chapter, not even with a buffet dinner. And they should be set out on their own, separate table.
- Not only food
If you have decided to organize a themed buffet, you must of course choose the drinks accordingly. What kind of wine shall the guests bring? Try to have at least a little bubbly at the beginning, easy-to-prepare cocktails and a non-alcoholic alternative. Non-drinkers, like vegans, are a necessary evil.
- Make room
You’ll need to make room for the dishes, so it would be a good idea to set up a separate table (that you clear whenever they start to pile up). The guests need room, too: they should each have a seat – or an armchair, or a place on the couch. This is not a question of mathematics, it’s simple common sense.
- First come …
There is no time of day more or less appropriate for a buffet dinner. Theoretically – since there is no specific order for the courses – you do not have to wait for late-arriving guests, you can start the ball rolling right away. To make sure that latecomers are not greeted by nothing but crumbs, however, it is good manners to wait until at least three to four guests arrive before hitting the buffet. Meanwhile, entertain on-time arrivals with some bubbly, if they deserve it. See point five.
- The materials are essential
One of the basic rules – sacred, fixed and written in stone – is that the buffet be made up of dishes that can be eaten with just a fork. Which must absolutely be real metal. Plastic is not allowed for the plates, either – they must be real tableware – or the glasses – they must be real glass – not to mention the trays and dishes. The same goes for napkins and tablecloths: no paper, only cloth. You do not want your dinner to look like a birthday party for a third grader, do you?
One of the unquestionable advantages of a buffet dinner is that it allows you to enjoy more time with your guests instead of running back and forth from the kitchen with empty plates and full plates, pasta to drain and baskets of bread that need filling. Don’t stress, concentrate on getting a good night’s rest.