A buffet is a way of serving food where the food items are displayed on tables or sideboards, and the guests serve themselves by picking the food items from this. Buffet system makes serving food easy, especially for a large number of people. The staff required is also less, hence it’s hassle free and cost effective to serve in this manner. It is a common system used for large number of guests at hotels, parties, wedding or New Year celebrations, etc. Sideboards, which are waist level pieces of furniture with flat top to display food and cabinets or drawers for storing items, are also called buffet. Originally considered an informal style of dining, as people serve themselves, it is now popular in all types of parties. It is also popular in parties and get-togethers organized at home, as it requires less monitoring and space on the part of the host, and is simpler to organize. The buffet recipes are chosen according to the event or festival being celebrated. For example, buffet recipes for Passover contain Paschal Lamb, while Christmas buffet recipes contain a range of rich foods and desserts.
The buffet system finds its origin in a Swedish way of consuming alcoholic beverages. Here the beverages were laid on a ‘smorgasbord’ table where men and women gathered before dinner, usually in a separate room, for drinks. It was very popular in the early 18th Century, and evolved into the present day buffet system in the beginning of the 19th century. The Smörgåsbord table got international fame after the 1939 New York World’s exhibition, where the Swedes showcased their food culture along with it.
Buffet was a term meaning a French sideboard for where food was served. With time it has begun to indicate this self-service system of serving food. It became popular in the English language in the second half of the 19th Century.
The Australian chain Sizzler serves a large number of guests with seafood, salads and desserts in buffet style.
The Russian food chain MooMoo serves all its food buffet-style.
In Japan, a buffet is known as a Viking.
Types of Buffets
Buffet system can have different variations at different places.
The most commonly used buffets have food items in fixed quantities displayed on tables or sideboards. The guests pick their plates, and walk along the tables, picking and choosing buffet recipes of their choice, in the desired quantities. This method can be seen in caffetarias, hotels, parties, etc. The charges are usually calculated on a flat per head rate, and customers are allowed to eat as much as they wish. This is also called all-you-can-eat buffet.
One variant of the above system allows the guest to choose and pay for only the items he or she picks.
Another system found in a Dim sum house has a host of food items displayed on a wheeled trolley, which goes around the restaurant, allowing the customers to pick and choose what they want.
One system found often in supermarkets is a salad bar, where the customers pick and choose what they like and then pay as per the weight of each salad item chosen.
Another system has staff at the buffet table, and the staff served a portion of each item to the diner as they bring their plates along. This style is more commonly found in meetings, conferences, etc. where the guests are not the ones paying for the meal.
Smorgasbord is a Swedish version of the buffet system, prevalent during festive occasions.
Advantages of Buffet System
- Hassle free way of serving a large number of people at one time
- Cost effective way of serving food, as the staff requirement is minimal
- Guests have a greater choice of choosing from buffet recipes, picking and closely inspecting food before taking it.
- Guests can carry out conversations more smoothly, allowing the freedom to anyone for moving out for picking more food, without interrupting the others.
- Requires lesser space, furniture and other paraphernalia for serving food.
How to set up a Buffet at Home
For setting up a buffet at home, one should take care of the space considerations. The room in which it has to be organized should have enough space for the table, away from the rest of the furniture, so as to avoid spillage and damage. Generally two buffet tables are sufficient, and it is a good idea to have the tables wide enough to lay the food in two rows, allowing the guests to serve from both sides. The food should be displayed in logical order- plates and spoons first, then salads and starters, followed by main course and finally desserts. One should try to have the beverages on a separate table far away from the food items, so as to avoid spillage.
When choosing buffet recipes one should be realistic about the amount one can spend, the quantity of food to be prepared, and the time which will be consumed in preparation if the dish is made at home.
Some buffets may have a theme to them, like Chinese, Greek, Thai, etc. and the buffet recipes are to be chosen accordingly. Buffet recipes should be well planned, along with what has to be arranged from where, the guest list as well as the preparation time, so that the hosts can carry out the get together in a relaxed way, because relaxed hosts or hostesses mean happy and relaxed guests. Outside caterers also home deliver food items for such parties from a menu containing a range of buffet recipes. They send food in their own serving dishes, and may also arrange for professional staff to serve the food if the customer so desires.
Buffet tables, cabinets and sideboards are available in the market in a variety of sizes and styles. It may come in antique, all wood, traditional or contemporary styles. The size can be chosen according to one’s need. One should purchase furniture that matches one’s style and home décor. Home buffet tables can alternately be used as dessert table or for party drinks. The drawers can be used for the purpose of storing small items, such as silverware, napkin rings, or placemats. These tables can also additionally have cabinets, which serve any extra storage needs, like storing an extra set of entertaining dishes or glasses. Buffet tables are a very functional addition to one’s dining room or living room.