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The Best Way to Set Up an Outdoor Buffet

Backyard entertaining gets even easier when you let guests help themselves. Here's how to avoid bottlenecks at your next buffet.

Photography by: John Kernick

It’s hard to time everything perfectly when you’re feeding a crowd. That’s why we love serving meals buffet-style, especially if we’re entertaining outdoors and don’t want to keep running in and out of the kitchen. Follow our tips for setting up an outdoor buffet, and you’ll be the host that's cool as a cucumber this summer.



1. Location, Location, Location!

Thoughtful placement will keep the food fresh and your guests well-fed. Set the table close to the house, but not so near that people can’t easily move around it. Have everyone start at one end, letting them serve themselves from both sides. Position platters where they can be refilled easily: grilled foods close to the grill, and cold salads near the door to the house. Lay napkin-wrapped silverware at the end, and stack plates at the head of the table.

Photography by: SIMON WATSON

2. Set up a separate drink station.

Prevent a bottleneck or spills on the buffet by serving drinks in a different area. Arrange beer, wine, and batched cocktails with plenty of ice and garnishes. Check out our Sangria, Summer Punch, and Cooler Recipes for refreshing ideas, or if you’re serving brunch, a Bloody Mary bar is always a crowd-pleaser.


3. Rest cold salads on ice.

We love summer weather, but not if the heat makes our salad limp and lukewarm. Keep flavors fresh and greens crisp by placing the salad bowl over ice. Or take it to the next level and make decorative ice bowls by freezing edible flowers, herbs, or citrus slices. We’ve also got summer salad ideas galore.


4. Put condiments on both sides of the buffet.

Avoid having your guests wait for the ketchup or mayo by setting condiments in two easy-to-access places. If you really want to impress, serve homemade condiments.

Photography by: Lauren Tamaki

5. Set out tongs so guests can snap up food with one hand.

Nothing slows down a buffet line like having to put your plate and glass down on the table in order to serve yourself using a spoon and fork. The solution? Tongs for each dish!