What Goes on the Holiday Buffet (and What Stays on the Table)

published Nov 14, 2014
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

How do you decide whether to spread your feast on the dinner table, or set up a separate buffet table? And does everything go on the buffet, or does some food stay on the table?

Here are my own rules for deciding when to use a buffet, and what to leave on the table.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

We’ve talked about buffets quite a bit before — how to set them up, how to create good flow at bigger events like weddings and parties.

But what about parties at home, like Thanksgiving, where you don’t necessarily have a lot of guests, but you do have a lot of food?

My own personal rule of thumb is that if I have a full table of guests (and especially if I have two tables, with a second table in another room), and if there are more than three dishes to be served, I’ll almost always opt for the buffet. It’s better than cramming a lot of dishes onto the table and crowding people as they eat. It also leaves room for candles and perhaps a centerpiece.

So what goes on the buffet? Anything big and hot.

  • Turkey – This comes first in line.
  • Salad or vegetables
  • Mashed potatoes & sweet potatoes
  • Stuffing
  • Green bean casserole
  • Rolls
  • Any other casseroles or hot dishes
(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

What Stays on the Dining Table

I don’t put everything on the buffet, however. Here’s what will always go on the dining table:

  • Plates and silverware – I always set the table for a holiday like Thanksgiving.
  • Water and wine – Always have plenty of water at the table, and don’t make guests get up to refill their wine glass.
  • Butter (and sometimes rolls) – You may refill your plate once during a big meal at home, but you (or the bread fiends at the table) will very likely reach for more than one roll! So sometimes I keep them on the table. Butter always goes on the table (why hold up the food line while people butter their bread?).
  • Cranberry sauce and gravy – I like to keep the cranberry sauce on the table, since I think of it more as a condiment or a relish than a main side dish. Same goes for gravy. It’s nice to be able to pass the gravy boat and let people serve themselves as needed.

Is this how you do Thanksgiving buffets too? Or do you arrange it differently?