Holiday Entertaining: Thanksgiving Buffet Tips

Turning Thanksgiving dinner into a buffet-style extravaganza is a surefire way to ease tension when you’re home (and hosting) for the holidays, especially when the meal itself takes days to prepare. Spend less time cleaning and more time eating – and let guests fill up on as many waistband-stretching helpings as they please – with these self-serve tips.

Location, location, location.
Be creative with your table placement. If you have both a kitchen and dining room, it’s easy to create separate zones for serving and eating. If not, you can host the buffet on a wooden sideboard, a dresser, a desk – or even a door propped up on sawhorses and covered with a floor-length tablecloth. Just try to keep the table away from the wall so guests can access it from all sides, and set up the décor and serving dishes the night before.

Define your color palette and style it seasonally.
Floral arrangements need not apply. Instead, take cues from seasonal bounty and style the table with gourds, grapevines, or crab apple branches. You can also place clustered vignettes (try any combination of rose hips, artichokes, beets, eggplants, mini pumpkins, and sweet peppers) between your serving dishes for a dazzling, colorful spread. If you’re craving candles, choose the flameless variety – no one wants a side of smoking sleeves with their sweet potatoes.

To create additional serving space, stack vintage wooden cheese boxes or bricks wrapped in cloth napkins, then place your platters and décor on different heights to spur visual interest and increase functionality. Just keep it classy, not cluttered, and make sure everything is stable. You can even move décor to baskets on the floor, mantel, or side tables to make more room for the all-important food.

Spread with love – and logic.
Start with dinner plates at the head of the buffet table, and position linens and silverware (festively rolled with a napkin ring and secured in a drinking glass) at the end, so guests don’t have to juggle everything while serving themselves.

Begin the food lineup with cooler dishes such as bread and salad, then follow with warm sides. Turkey and gravy (for the sake of dousing everything on your plate in one go) should be close to the end. Salt and pepper can be placed at the very end or on guests’ tables, and having separate areas for drinks and dessert can help reduce congestion.

When everyone is stuffed and on the verge of slipping into a tryptophan coma, offer up some take-home boxes with stick-on labels (like these printable ones from HGTV) so you’re not defrosting turkey for dinner through New Year’s. Your guests (and their bellies) will be forever grateful. And hey, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?

By Jess Huckins, Staff Writer

What’s your favorite holiday serving tip? Share it in the comments below or tweet us at @ruelala.

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November 21, 2012