Next-Generation Buffets
When it comes to styles of dinner service, buffets get a bum rap.

The prevailing stereotype is that they’re somehow less classy than plated dinners, family style and stations.

But not only are buffets more practical, convivial and affordable than those other matrimonial meal plans, these days they can actually amp up the elegance with lavish, visually stunning feasts.

Here, the experts weigh in on why the buffet can be both a smart and stylish choice.

The Benefits

Buffets require significantly fewer staff to prepare and serve the food. In addition, presenting the food in big bowls and on large platters can make less look like more, and simple but artistic presentation techniques and garnishes can make inexpensive menu items look positively gourmet, says Sharon Naylor, author of more than 30 wedding books, including the new “Bridesmaid on a Budget” (Seal Press, 2010).

Take, for instance, a chafing dish of butternut squash ravioli. Naylor points out that pasta is considered a budget entrée, but by serving it in a brown-butter sauce and topping it with toasted hazelnuts, flecks of goat cheese and crispy sage, your guests will be impressed.

Another fun perk is that you may be able to present a range of options rather than just the standard salad and steak or chicken, says Linda Vu, an event specialist with Kaspars Special Events and Catering in Seattle, Wash. Ethnic spreads with numerous accompaniments usually work well and feel special.

Buffets also allow your guests the freedom to mingle more and eat when they’re ready, notes Vu.

What to Serve

While most food can look great if it’s plated well, some better buffet options include gourmet salads and sides that have vibrant color and can hold at room temperature, says Vu. For example, a triple melon salad sprinkled with spearmint, and various grilled breads surrounded by bowls of bright red romesco, deep purple olive tapenade and glistening white beans.

It’s a challenge to keep hot food in great shape when it sits in a chafing dish for a while, warns Naylor, so have your caterer recommend the proteins and starches that perform best. Garlic mashed potatoes, truffle mac-n-cheese, short ribs, pork verde and stuffed chicken breasts tend to be smart choices.

Add Flair

An easy way to lend instant visual appeal to a buffet is to use fabulous dishes, such as uber-chic, all-matching, square, white serving platters, says Naylor. Give that monochromatic display extra texture and style by incorporating different kinds of clear containers, such as vases for crudités and colorful soups served in shot glasses, says Vu.

Don’t forget to pay attention to your buffet table linens as well. All it takes is a vibrant table runner to provide a pop of contrast to all-white dishes and create cohesion with the wedding colors or theme.

A showy carving station or creative ice sculpture in the center of the table can also provide that wow factor that many couples are looking for, adds Vu, and proper lighting, as always, is imperative.

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