Creative Buffet Table Decorating Ideas:
Have a Ball with Your Buffet!
With some of the fun and creative buffet table decorating ideas you'll find here, your beautiful buffet table will wow your guests just as much as your beautiful food does!
Sure, how everything tastes is the most important element of hosting a buffet dinner. But having so many items together on one table really gives you a chance to create something wonderfully different with your decorating. When you add in table accessories like napkins, silverware, and plates, along with garnishes and serving bowls, you have a chance like no other to play with color, shape, and texture. So have fun with it!
My 10 Favorite Buffet Table Decorating Ideas
This page is dedicated completely to buffet table decorating ideas, including lots of photos of buffet tables that are decorated beautifully. But you'll also find great tips for buffet tables at my buffet recipes page, including:
You'll also find tons more ideas for centerpieces, table setting, decorating, and more at Table Decorating Central!
1. Go Understated
While explosions of color and tons of different foods spilling out of their bowls can look fun and festive, the one thing this sort of buffet table doesn't highlight is... the food!
An understated display like the one here is the best way to really draw your guests' attention to the food itself, and is an especially good option if you've invested a bit of money in your ingredients. Leave a little space between different food elements on the display tray, as in the buffet table photo here, and garnish with a light hand.
This is also a good buffet table decorating idea for large tables, or multiple buffet tables with a lot of space. That way, you can create various themed displays built around different kinds of foods-- a cheese display, a shellfish display, a tartlet display... you get the picture.
2. Have Fun with Accessories
Sure, when you're putting together a buffet table for the holidays or any special occasion, your focus is going to be on decorating with FOOD. But there are lots of other items on a buffet table... and you don't want to pass up the opportunity to decorate with them, too!
From stacks of multi-colored plates with bright, folded napkins peeking out the sides, to a colorful wheel of silverware-and-napkin packets (as pictured in the buffet table here), to bright bowls of condiments, have fun with your accessory display as well as your food!
This way, every little element of your menu becomes a party table decoration.
3. Present Foods in New Ways
You don't need to cover your table with confetti and helium balloons in order to create something fun to look at. The best buffet table decorating ideas are the ones that simply display your menu in a new an innovative way.
Would you normally leave out a bowl of cold soup and let your guests serve their own? Instead, set out a tray of cold soup in shot-glasses, complete with garnishes. Create small bites for guests to take one-by-one and savor --like with the Chinese spoons pictured here-- rather than large trays overflowing with food. This not only works better to highlight the food itself, it also draws the eye, restricts over-serving a bit, and looks gorgeously elegant.
4. Decorate with a Theme
The party table decorations that are really the most fun to look at are the ones that revolve around a theme. There are tons of themes out there that you can use not only to lead your menu, but also to draw buffet table decorating ideas from! Whether you've already chosen a theme for your party or your menu will give
the party its theme, let that inspiration spill over into your decoration.
For instance, doing a cowboy grill theme? Cover the buffet tables in red and white gingham and place serving dishes in inverted cowboy hats. Doing a Hawaiian theme? Replace your serving bowls with braided leaves (like you'll see in one of the photos below.)
Or for a tropical theme, add tons of tropical flowers and place your serving dishes atop bowls of tropical blue water, as pictured here.
5. Create Controlled Chaos
These days, too much nice-and-neat can seem a little old fashioned! One of my favorite buffet table decorating ideas is to create a little controlled chaos on the table.
Planning to put together a fruit tray? Grab everything you can at the store and place it --some whole, some sliced, some in wedges-- on the tray in a totally disorganized and haphazard way-- beautiful randomness! Let the color of the fruit do the work, not you.
You can even apply this theme to an entire buffet able, like the one pictured below. There are no neat, orderly rows of crackers or bread slices... bowls and serving dishes aren't arranged in an orderly way... and somehow the result is gorgeous chaos. Fun, effortless, casual, and strangely elegant.
6. Clean Lines and Levels
This is almost the polar opposite of the party table decoration described above. For this party table decorating idea, you use even-sized trays and beautifully arranged food to create something like art. Alternating between flat trays and trays set up on a higher level, this simple display really draws the eye to the food.
Another element to this buffet table decoration is the white-on-white. Especially when your menu has lots of bright colors and different textures, like the one in the photo here, the white tray on a white cloth really helps the food to "pop." Add a few brightly colored napkins and plates, and you have a fun, modern display that's all about the food.
7. Create Beautiful Themed Trays
If you have the space and the time, one of my favorite buffet table decorating ideas is to create not dishes, but themed trays. That is, instead of making a big bowl of tomato and mozzarella salad, create a tray allowing your guests to create their own salads, complete with a bowl of dressing and sliced tomatoes.
Or put your cured meats and cheeses together into a beautiful tray with whole wedges of cheese, sliced cheese, sliced meats, fruit, and olives. There are lots of different foods you can do this for, and creating flat trays full of color makes for a much more impressive buffet table than, say, a bowl of salad.
Take your food trays horizontal (trays) instead of vertical (bowls) and watch how the colors really come to life on your table.
8. Two Buffet Tables in One
On my other buffet pages
you'll see I talk a lot about the importance of levels when planning a buffet table. You'll want some items up a bit higher, some lower. This not only makes practical sense and allows your guests to reach everything easily, it also looks great!
This is an idea for adding levels to a buffet table that I really love. Instead of using, say, an upturned bucket placed under a table cloth, place one whole table on top of another! Here, a very low coffee table is placed upon the actual buffet table, creating two distinct levels for displaying and serving food. A practical idea that looks really great!
9. Add Surprising Garnishes
This is another case where you don't want to be too nice and neat with your buffet table decoration. Instead, you want to play with color, use a little chaos, and have fun with it!
Just because a certain item traditionally comes with a certain garnish doesn't mean you've got to stick to that rule like glue. Instead, add bright colors to otherwise-boring trays by using bright fruit and vegetable garnishes, as pictured. Didn't ever think to add bunches of deep purple grapes to a tray of shrimp? I don't blame you. But it looks great! Thing outside the box for your party table decorations and garnishes, and the result can be a lot of fun.
10. Eschew Traditional Serving Dishes
Who needs a plain white tray or that tall white salad bowl? Sometimes, great buffet table decorating ideas are about doing something totally unexpected. In this case, skip your normal serving dishes and replace them with something special.
Your options are really unlimited. You can stick with a theme and replace your serving dishes with braided leaves, like pictured. Or you can use non-traditional serving dishes like shot glasses, Chinese spoons, martini glasses, even muffin pans and vases. Cardboard popcorn containers, Chinese takeout boxes, even pages from the newspaper can also be fun (and cheap!) Or create your own serving dishes out of fruits and vegetables... have fun with it!
There's no reason in the world why your buffet table should be boring... with a few good buffet table decorating ideas, you can let the food do the decorating for you!
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