How To: Set up a Party Buffet

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We've been talking this month about tips and recipes for throwing a dessert party for a crowd.

Let's say you have the challenging parts out of the way: planning, shopping and cooking. All you have left to do is set up your beautiful bite-sized pastries and let people enjoy. Here is where you want to show off your desserts to the best possible advantage and let people enjoy your party to the fullest.

We've learned a few things the hard way that we try to remember now when throwing a party for a lot of people...

These things are mostly common sense, but it always helps to keep them in mind!

Serve at different heights - Use stacked plates or servers to give some height to platters, with higher things at the back of the table and lower ones at the front. This adds visual interest and helps with traffic flow.

Go in order - Never put silverware, if you're using it, at the beginning of the line or buffet. It's one more thing for people to hold as they navigate through the food selection. Always put it at the end, on a separate table if possible.

Multiples of everything - Fan out several piles of cocktail napkins or small plates; you want more than one pile so guests don't have to wait behind someone else to just reach in and snag a plate or napkin.

Keep platters filled - Nothing's worse than a picked over tray, half-empty. Use smaller platters or serving trays, and have several of them ready in the kitchen. Even though they empty faster you can yank one when half-empty and replace it right away.

Waste disposal - Huge oversight at many parties! We've stood, awkwardly, with a little plate in hand for far too long, trying to spot a trash can. Put at least one trash can under your serving table, or to the right side. Try to think like a guest and predict when and where they will end up with an empty plate or glass, and put a trash can or bin for glasses there.

Choose color carefully - If you're serving saucy things, avoid white tablecloths. But dark tablecloths show crumbs and smeared icing even more, so judge according to what you're serving.

Any others?