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Buffet Survival Tips

April 11, 2001|MARY ELLEN RAE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

My dad grumbles any time our family talks about a buffet dinner: "Never again will I ever wait in line for food!" It brings back terrible memories of awful army food and an interminable wait to eat.

* Which brings us to Tip No. 1: Get a firm guest list and head count. Nothing will stretch your guests' wait for dinner like your having to improvise a few last-minute dishes to fill out the menu.

* The number of guests will also determine how your buffet table is set up. With fewer than 20 people, a single-sided buffet table will work fine. If the guest list increases beyond that, consider setting up the table with two equal sides. Make sure both sides get identical platters and decorations, though, or some guests will feel they are missing out on something. Even worse, they might end up walking around the whole table and slowing everyone down.

* Know your guests' eating habits. Will you be serving friends who are vegetarians or who have food allergies? I try to always have enough choices that a vegetarian guest will be able to feel pleasantly full.

Make the table beautiful but simple. You want your guests to be intrigued by the food, not the elaborate decorations. The more complicated the table, the longer people will stand there and look, and the longer the wait in line will be.

* Arrange flowers in low vases so your guests can see over the top. Keep the candles short, too. Use small votives so your guests will not accidentally set their clothing on fire.

* Place risers or upside-down plastic containers under the tablecloth to elevate the most beautiful dishes.

* Keep the hot items hot and the cold items cold. You can rent chafing dishes, or you can use bricks wrapped in foil and heated in the oven. Put a heatproof pad under each brick to protect the table, then lay the tablecloth over and put a platter directly on top. Conversely, keep your cold items in the refrigerator until service time and only plate what will be eaten in a short amount of time and replenish often.

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