Fabulous Buffet Design Ideas
Many catering trends come and go, but some are here to stay. Buffets, for instance, never go out of style and they are, simply put, every caterer’s bread-and-butter. In a recent survey, the International Caterer’s Association (ICA) reported that over 40% of caterers said that their most popular service style was the buffet. But because buffets have become so popular and ubiquitous, caterers have to be as creative as possible when designing their buffet tables. Even if your food is fabulous, if you don’t present it with flair and panache, it won’t get the attention it deserves. If you view the buffet as not just an efficient way to feed people but also as a great opportunity to have some fun decorating, you’ll be more likely to get the positive response and feedback you want. Just think of the food as the star of the show (but don’t tell the guest of honor) and view the table as a stage. With the right set design, lighting, backdrop, and decoration, you’ll have a sure hit on your hands!
Leveling: How to Stand Out in a Crowded Catering Field
After you’ve agreed on a menu with your client, think about how you want to display the fabulous offerings. Interesting trays, platters, bowls, and vessels will upgrade your buffet from ordinary to extraordinary. Make sure to use display items in different shapes and different heights. One of the easiest ways to create interest at your next catered buffet is to use risers and platforms of varying heights. A buffet, say many leading caterers, is more attractive and exciting if guests’ eyes are drawn to different levels. A dynamic presentation captures the imagination and, almost magically, causes guests to gravitate to the buffet table.
The best buffets are the perfect combination of height, symmetry, and color, and caterers who understand the importance of levels will use a variety of shapes, hues, and elevations to enhance their buffet tables. An old catering trick is to take a crate and turn it upside down on the table, and cover it with a cloth, that in a vibrant hue, that will catch the eye. Glass blocks or square glass vases turned up-side-down are other creative options for a more modern look.
When designing the set-up of the buffet, remember that not all guests are the same height. You will need to ensure that the platters and bowls are easily accessible even when raised up. Interesting props, accessories, and décor enhancements can make even the most modest buffet look special. The trick is finding display stands that elevate not only the food but the entire atmosphere of the event, and, when arranged creatively, will create a feast for your guests’ eyes, as well as their palates.
Connecting with your Guests
Caterers often wonder if they should go with a buffet or with food stations, but the truth is there’s no need for a “one or the other” approach. A few food stations alongside a lavish buffet can boost an event’s “wow” factor by adding a personal touch to your food service. The beauty of a food station is that having someone custom-create a dish for your guests will add a personal touch that buffets often lack. Doing away with the need for wait staff is a money-saving bonus for caterers and their clients, and is a big part of the reason that buffets are so popular. However, food stations – even just a few, which are manned by personable staff members – are a great addition to any buffet.
An exotic coffee station with a knowledgeable and friendly barista, or a cool hamburger stand with a chef flipping custom-made burgers and a full range of relishes and other accoutrements, can augment a buffet like no prop or accessory can. Sushi is another food-station option that won’t fail to impress your guests. Hiring a chef to make fresh sushi rolls for diners is fantastic but pricey, so to lower the expense without decreasing the wow factor, you can do your own station with pre-rolled sushi, rice paper rolls, or noodles in mini takeout boxes.
If you want to ratchet up the appeal of the dessert stage of your buffet, add a waffle bar complete with ice cream, bowls of fresh fruit, dollops of whipped cream and an assortment of syrups and sauces. Your guests will be thrilled and you’ll leave them with something to talk about. Combining these two types of food service – a buffet alongside a few stations – is the best of all worlds and the perfect solution for any catered event.
Buffet Lighting Trends
To make your buffet less generic, lighting can make all the difference. Great cuisine deserves great lighting, so here are a few fabulous lighting ideas to make your catered buffet look special.
The Rise of the Illuminated Backdrop
According to the Cater Source website, one of the top trends for 2018 is the increased use of the illuminated backdrop to highlight a buffet. There is no better way to accent your beautiful food display and to draw attention to the buffet table than to set up an eye-catching backdrop. Suspended above a central area, like your food-laden tables, these elaborate displays can be structures covered with thick layers of greens or flowers for a natural outdoorsy look that will bring a breath of fresh air to your indoor buffet. Alternatively, for an illuminated, romantic effect, you can hang sheer fabric panels behind the buffet area in one of the colors used in your event, to define and set off the area, and then add strings of light behind the panels to create a warm, inviting glow.
To boost the ethereal effect of a suspended, illuminated backdrop, you can also hang strings of crystal beads or flowers on transparent filament in front of back-lighted panels to give the appearance that they are floating in air, creating a dreamy and eye-catching backdrop for your food. Make sure that any hanging décor is high enough that it won’t get in the way of guests as they reach for their food and that curious children can’t get hold of it. For a range of brilliant backdrop ideas, check out the Party Ideas by a Pro website; there is really no end to the ways a caterer can be creative.
Pillars in Candle Form
Pillar candles are a wonderful way of providing accented lighting between trays, bowls and service items on a buffet table. Utilizing the same leveling concept mentioned above, place clusters of pillar candles in different sizes on raised areas to give the table a variety of heights. If you’re tired of plain old pillar candles, an article suggesting “25 Ways to Update, Decorate and Repurpose Plain Pillar Candles” will change the way you look at candles forever.
LED Fruit Tree
The latest trend in desserts involves healthier options, such as fruits. Sounds dull? No way! Your fruit station doesn’t have to be boring if you turn it into a fruit tree, and an illuminated one at that! This is a beautiful, fun idea that also showcases the lush variety of fruit on display. The addition of LED up-lighting helps to make the fruit more appealing and highlights the artistic design of this fabulous, naturally colorful food station.
Who Doesn’t Want to See Their Name in Lights
Marquee lights bring to mind the illuminated canopies that appear over the entrance to theaters announcing the star of a show. At a catered event, they can also be used to create a dazzling display and to add unparalleled star power to a buffet.
Marquee letters are spectacular and showy, and they are a popular lighting/décor trend at the moment. The dual-purpose design trend can serve as mood lighting on one hand, and as beautiful, vintage-inspired decoration on the other. Feel free to use marquee lights in a variety of ways to decorate the walls with letters that will point the way to the buffet and showcase the guest(s) of honor at the same time. This type of lighting – both elegant and fun – is particularly appropriate for a wedding-party buffet, where it can light the way to your food with style and class.
The Buffet Table as the Center of Attention
Since the buffet is the staple food-service format of every caterer, you want to create a buzz around your buffet by focusing on presentation along with your signature food. The right design will serve as a focal point in the room, drawing the attention of everyone there to your beautiful menu offerings. By highlighting the buffet area and displaying your food in the best possible way, you’ll impress your clients and everyone present, affording you and your buffet exceptional status in the catering arena.