5 Reasons to Serve Buffet-Style

November  4, 2014

Imagine yourself on Thanksgiving morning: You’ve got dishes on the stove, rolls in the oven, and a table to set. As dinnertime looms, you’re trying to remember which cousin likes dark meat and which one likes white, who hates Brussels sprouts, which of your nieces is vegan, and how to serve the gravy. Whew! You probably need a glass of wine.

To ensure maximum happiness all around, consider serving your meal buffet-style. Here are five reasons why:

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1. No plating. When you’ve spent the better part of a day cooking, you don’t need an extra task to worry about. At a buffet, everyone can serve themselves, so you’re free to tend to the last-minute details in the kitchen. 

2. No waiting. At a buffet-style meal, guests can get up and refill whenever they like. You don’t have to pass dishes around the table all night, and no one has to wait for seconds.

3. More room for wine! Just kidding! (Kind of). Setting up a buffet on a side table or in the kitchen frees up space on the table for your centerpiece, place settings, and drinks of all kinds. No more overcrowded holiday tables!

4. Personalized meals. With allergies and general likes and dislikes to contend with, Thanksgiving can be a minefield for a host. It’s nearly impossible to plan a single three-course holiday meal to please an entire crowd. A buffet allows you to serve a variety of dishes that might not otherwise fit together. A vegetarian can double up on sides and skip turkey, a vegan can bypass the creamed corn, and so on. This is particularly useful when it comes to dessert: No shouting of individual pie requests -- just set out your pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and whipped cream and let them at it.

5. No duplicates. A meal for a crowd usually spans a large table or multiple tables, which often means duplicates of every dish; this is both more time-consuming to prep and requires you to own lots of serving dishes. For a buffet, you can set out one of everything and not worry about anyone missing out. 

Buffet or not, Thanksgiving is a lot of work. Here are some tips to keep yourself calm in the kitchen -- and at the end of the night, give thanks for family members who are willing to wash the dishes.

We want to know how to you serve your Thanksgiving meal! In a buffet? Family-style on the table? Individually plated? 

Photos by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • AntoniaJames
  • aargersi
  • Posie (Harwood) Brien
    Posie (Harwood) Brien
I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.


AntoniaJames November 5, 2014
I grew up in a family of eight where every dinner, 365 days a year, was served buffet style (complete with heating elements and chafing dishes to keep each dish warm). It's so practical for all the reasons mentioned above. Although I typically serve what would have to be described as a very small crowd on Thanksgiving, we still serve buffet style. So much easier! I cannot imagine doing it any other way. Dessert is not brought out until after dinner. My pickles, chutneys and mostardas -- nearly all in jewel-tones -- sit on the dinner table in pretty cut glass and crystal dishes, becoming themselves part of the "decoration." (Ask anyone who has seen my house and they'll confirm that I "don't decorate." I do a lot of things, but decorating has always been rather low on my list of priorities. An atmosphere of fun and affection + a spread of beautiful, fragrant food + a few candles on silver candlestick + a classically set table -- that works really well here. Cheers! ;o)
aargersi November 4, 2014
YES to buffet style and multiple tables (including coffee tables and the one out back on nice days, and the bar) - we serve 25 - 30 in a not large house, and our dining table seats 8. Buffet all the way, and semi pot-luck as well. Also, we do a "blessing basket" (drop one off on the way in, take one on the way out) since getting everyone to sit still and be quiet for grace is impossible, then we put the food out and it's a free for all - eat what you want, when you want - it works out just fine!
Posie (. November 4, 2014
I love the blessing basket idea! That's such a nice tradition for a boisterous crowd.