How to Set a Cocktail Buffet

Has your guest list outgrown your dining table but you must serve dinner? A cocktail buffet is a smart alternative.

  • Serve cocktails for an hour, then dinner and dessert. Utilize different rooms for each movement. It will keep the night lively.
  • Avoid an embarrassing line of guests with plates as if at the trough. Discreetly announce dinner to the guest of honor and those nearby. Everyone can eat at their own pace.
  • Serve wine in stemless glasses which are less likely to tip over when guests are balancing plates. If you are precious with rugs and upholstery, do not serve red wine.
  • Set the table in this order: stacks of plates, main dish, side dishes, bread, large dinner napkins, fork.
  • The menu should be easily consumed with only a fork and keep at a  warm temperature.
  • One dish meals work well for cocktail buffets; shrimp curry & Jasmine rice,  grits & grillades or shepherd’s pie. Pizza delivery with generous heaps of shaved truffles & herbed salad are a spirited surprise on dressy china.
  • Use vintage French “lapkins” which are very large and can cover your lamp (link here).
  • Create a dazzling focal point in the middle of the table with dramatic scale and twinkling candlelight.
  • Guests take their plates and perch around the house. Make sure you have plenty of stools and side chairs to move around. Move the dining chairs into the largest room and group around upholstery.
  • Servers circulate with water and wine,  keeping glasses full.
  • Make sure guests have eaten dinner before clearing the food. I don’t like food to sit out for more than an hour and a half.
  • Make dessert an entertaining event. Pass something silly like ice cream sandwiches on silver trays or offer ladies a chocolate jeweled necklaces (dessert served on the neck…oh la la) with strawberries.
  • If someone spills, pretend you don’t care and start a game of Would you Rather