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Tips and Tricks for Setting Up the Thanksgiving Buffet

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Have a strategy this holiday season to build a sumptuous spread that's both inviting and efficient. Everything from utensils to condiments are accounted for in this collection of tips that will help your dinner go off without a hitch. 

  • Crowd Control - Keep drinks at a separate station, away from the buffet, to avoid a jam of diners and drinkers. Trot out desserts last, after the meal and dinner plates are cleared.
     
  • Main Dish First - Place the turkey at the start, not the center, so plates don't overfill with sides. Forget a Norman Rockwell tableau: Carve the bird in the kitchen, and bring easy-to-grab pieces to the table.
     
  • Clear a Path - Place plates at one end to mark the direction of traffic. Leave plenty of room between the table and sideboard (so poor Aunt Kathy's chair isn't wedged in the middle).
     
  • Oven to Table - Let skillets and baking dishes double as serving vessels. Place trivets on the buffet early to reserve space, and keep a clean dish towel or two nearby to guard hands from hot handles and sides.
     
  • Centerpiece in Back - While lovely, holiday centerpieces take up valuable real estate. Remove them from the buffet, or place against the wall.
     
  • Step It Up - Varying height adds visual interest and saves space. Elevate smaller dishes on cake stands, upturned baking dishes, small crates, or boxes draped with cloth
     
  • Sauces at the End - Gravy, salad dressings, cranberry sauce, and butter can cause a bottleneck if paired with their dish counterparts along the buffet. Place these toward the end.
     
  • Utensils Last - Place napkins and flatware at the end (or better yet, on the table) so guests have less to juggle as they move through the line.
     
  • Balancing Act - Guests should be able to serve themselves one-handed, as they'll have a plate in the other. Use wide spoons, tongs, and gravy boats when possible.