It describes a large selection of foods, hot and cold, placed out on a table for guests to view and select from. A Buffet gives people a lot of choice, letting them actually see food before deciding to have it. This serving technique, which does away with table service, is ideal for feeding large numbers of people informally. It can be used both socially, and commercially.
You pick up a plate, and walk past the array of foods being offered.
If there are servers dishing out the food, it is called a “staffed buffet.” This is more common at catered events, as it gives a buffet a more formal touch, and also helps to control the food costs which will likely have been agreed upon in advance per head. Even unstaffed buffets, though, f something such as roast beef is being served, will usually have one staff person at the “beef station” to carve the beef.
At some commercial buffets, the food is already dished up in fixed portions: you take small plates and bowls of foods, and put them on a tray that you carry or push along on rollers. At others, like the sushi bar at Harvey Nichols in London, the plated food (covered with transparent covers) rolls by where you are sitting at a counter, and you take off what you wish.
If the buffet is “all you can eat”, there is a set fee which you pay at the table at the end of eating. You can return to the food serving stations as often as you wish. Dim Sum at Chinese restaurants is similar, except they continuously wheel the buffet to you on carts.
Cafeteria-style service is actually buffet style. You pay at the end of the food serving stations. At some, your plate is weighed at the end of the serving line, and you pay by weight of food you have taken.
Casinos in America put on extravagant buffets every day.
A smörgåsbord is a Swedish buffet; it means literally a (board) or table of sandwiches.
Home buffets let you bypass the requirement for “formal seating.” And because all the food is placed up at once, the host or hostess is free up for other chores. As a side bonus, a buffet allows for the display of a home’s best serving dishes and utensils.
Ideally, arrange the setup of your buffet table so that people can serve themselves from both sides of the table.
It is best to place cutlery and napkins at the end, so that people don’t have to carry them while also trying to serve themselves. It is a good idea to roll all the cutlery a guest will need up in a napkin, so they only have one thing to carry away with them. If guests aren’t going to have anywhere to properly sit with their plate, then don’t serve foods that totally require a knife to eat them with.
Right before the cutlery, offer rolls, condiments, butter, etc.
At home, desserts and coffee can be served on a separate table, or put out when the savouries have been cleared from the buffet table. Put beverages away from the food, to create different traffic streams and avoid a traffic jam.
For food safety reasons, as well as to keep food appealing, keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold. Use crock pots, chafing dishes, warming trays, etc to warm food. Cold foods can be put in bowls or on plates of ice.
It is a good idea when replenishing food to set it out in clean dishes, rather than topping up serving dishes already out. It will look better, minus leftover crumbs and wilted lettuce leaves and, after all, someone might have sneezed on the platter.
The term “Buffet” comes from France. Buffet originally referred to, and still does in a furniture sense, a sideboard from which food was served and on which expensive serving dishes were displayed. It later came to mean the style of serving as well.
At the start of the 1800s, the serving style became popular in grand homes in England for breakfast. It allowed more privacy at breakfast because fewer staff were needed in the room to server.
Pullman introduced its “Buffet Cars” in the early 1880s.
At a restaurant, having a buffet split up into different stations serving different foods, which is called a “scatter buffet”, was pioneered by HomeTown Buffet.
It’s not entirely clear who introduced the first commercial “all you can eat” buffet. Some say it was a Herb Macdonald in 1946. But there’s confusion as to whether he introduced it at an unnamed hotel in Minneapolis, or whether he was from Minneapolis and introduced it at the El Rancho Hotel in Las Vegas. Alternatively, some credit it to Beldon Katleman (1914 – 1988), owner of the same El Rancho Hotel, in 1947. In this version, he called it “Midnight Chuck Wagon Buffet” and it was all you can eat for one dollar.
The first all you can eat” buffet in the UK was introduced in 1990 at Big Lukes in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Literature & Lore
“THE salt mines of Poland, it is stated are the most beautiful and on the largest scale in the world. Visitors walk over four miles in the long open galleries, and there are many that have not been entered for years. These galleries undermine a whole town, and are places of popular amusement, where bands play, balls are given, and refreshment on any scale may be had at the buffet.” — Defiance Democrat. Defiance, Ohio. 22 February 1873. Page 1.
“HORSESHOE HOTEL, 264, 265, 266, 267, Tottenham Court Road. Now Open. Horseshoe Buffet, Horseshoe Oyster Bars, Horseshoe Private Sitting Rooms.” — Advertisement in Anglo American Times. London, England. 7 January 1876. Page 27.
“Buffet-style entertaining is replacing sit-down dinner.” — Clementine Paddleford in a 1956 memo to William I. Nichols, managing editor of This Week Magazine. As quoted in Alexander, Kelly and Cynthia Harris. “Hometown Appetites.” New York: Gotham Books. 2008. Page 188.