Table Setting 101: How To Lay A Buffet

Be all set for Noche Buena with these tablescape ideas

Original Article: Margie Alcabao

Whether you're prepping for Christmas, celebrating a birthday or hosting a casual Friday night potluck, chances are, you'll be setting up a buffet—after all, it's the best way to feed a large group without hassle. To help you avoid unwanted mishaps and serving pitfalls, we've listed down banquet basics that can help you run a smooth party:

Plates: Stack on the leftmost edge of the buffet table. If you don’t have enough plates of one set, bring out another set and stack separately.

Rice and pasta: In Filipino gatherings, guests normally choose between rice or pasta, or have both—these are usually the first dishes on the buffet table.

Napkins and utensils: Place these essentials on the far end of the table for easy access. If you have the time, place these directly on the dinner tables as it’s more convenient for the guests. 

Side dishes: Since it isn't part of the main course, this dish comes last on a buffet table. Prepare these in easy-to-spoon portions to help guests get seconds much faster. 

Main dishes: Depending on your budget and the number of guests you're expecting, prepare one beef or pork; two chicken; and three seafood viands for variety. Arrange them in this order since the meat is usually the central dish. 

RL Tips

  • Make traffic flow. Leave enough room beside the buffet table for movement. 
  • Serve warm. Use serving platters with covers or chafing dishes. Remember to set space on the table for the lids.
  • Make labels. Write out the names of the dishes to avoid confusion.
  • Count your guests. A typical buffet table can usually accommodate 50 to 60 people—any more would require a supporting area.

1. Soup and salad station: Set up a separate table for the soups and salads. These dishes require separate bowls and plates aside from the dinner plate so guests will have an easier time getting what they want and bringing these to their table before going back for the main course. 

2. Dessert corner: Serve a colorful array of desserts for a lively display and place these on platters of different shapes and heights. If you don’t have a cake stand, try placing a box underneath the tablecloth to elevate a flat cake plate. Place the coffee and tea service here, too, since either is usually taken with dessert.

3. Beverage bar: Set bottles or cans of soda and  alcoholic drinks, a pitcher of water, and an ice bucket with ice. Bring out tongs for the ice and bottle openers if necessary, too. 

Illustrations by Gio Oliva, based on orginal drawings by Mikke Gallardo. 

Read the original article ("How To Lay A Buffet") in the December 2004 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App. Log on to for more details.

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