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beautiful serving platters and serveware!
Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.
Jessica is right the serving platters and decor can really make it elegant. I went to a buffet once and the hostess used her most beautiful platters and tableware. She had a lovely tablecloth, cloth napkins and stunning utensils and glassware. Here dining room was beautifully decorated for the holidays and everyone was so impressed with how beautiful this was set up you would not even think about the fact that it was a buffet. I think it's presentation that can really make a buffet elegant.
I like to cut up/organize a few different types of edible garnish (grapes clusters, cherry tomatoes, olives, sprigs of herbs, etc) and set them aside in the fridge. As I make each platter up, I pull from the garnishes to make each item a little extra special. Because it's already cut in appropriate sizes, it really doesn't take any extra effort. Serving sparkling wine instead of champagne is also a more affordable way to make any dinner party feel elegant. I also like to make custom wine glass tags that can be put in a basket or laid out... and people can find their name and keep track of their glass all evening.
Yes to what has been said and candles, candles, candles - all sizes and shapes - from tea-lights to tapers to whatever else you have. Lighting can make everything more elegant. Greens brought in from the outside as decorations in large containers. I have a relatively small space and divide salads, entrees and desserts in different buffet areas. Especially works to have desserts have its own tables. Printed menu cards so people don't say "Do you know what this is?"
Sam is a trusted home cook.
One trick is to build up some different levels. Use some over turned pots or stacks of books for a base of different heights and cover with an oversize table cloth or fabric; set down some of your serving dishes on those stands. Don't go overboard tho..just a few 'stands' under the tablecloth work better than everything at different levels.
Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.
I agree too that beautiful platters, bowls, and serve ware are important, as is an elegant tablecloth or runner. I like to use interesting beautiful (mostly antique) vessels to hold things like silverware and napkins. You can also sprinkle small low decorations - branches, wreathes, little terrarium-like containers, wintery floral arrangements around and about. And like SKK said candles make everything feel more elegant, though you have to be careful about where you place them. And lastly, just make sure the food is laid out elegantly and thoughtfully on the platters. Plating dishes nicely can have a huge impact.
I always go for flowers. Baby orchids make anything look fabulous. Macaroni and cheese knee deep in baby orchids is awesome. Plus having prosecco or sparkling wine (or, if you're flush real champagne) already poured in champagne flutes (with maybe strawberries?) on a beautiful tray makes it totally special.
I agree with all the suggestions above: your best serving dishes & china, crystal glasses, fancy candles, and beautiful flowers. Either sparkling wine or some sort of special cocktail to start things off. And, my best little black dress! Don't stop with flowers on the table, I also put a small bouquet in the guest bathroom and around the house to make the whole place feel special. Party favors are also nice, maybe some nice home made goodies made with Food52 recipes?
I agree with the above. To add a little interest to the table stack up books in different locations at different heights under the tablecloth. When you put your platters out they are attractively displayed at different heights.