What is Buffets? Origin, Types, Equipment

  • Post last modified:23 February 2023
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What is Buffets? Origin, Types, Equipment


The word buffet comes from a French word which means “sideboard.” A buffet fis a system of serving meals in which food is placed in a public area where the diners generally serve themselves. Buffets are offered at various places including hotels, restaurants and many social events. Buffet restaurants normally offer all-you-can-eat (AYCE) food for a set price.

Buffets usually have some hot dishes, so the term cold buffet has been developed to describe formats lacking hot food. Hot or cold buffets usually involve dishware and utensils, but a finger buffet is an array of foods that are designed to be small and easily consumed only by hand, including cupcakes, slices of pizza, foods on cocktail sticks, etc.

The essential feature of the various buffet formats is that the diners can directly view the food and immediately select which dishes they wish to consume, and usually also can decide how much food they take. Buffets are effective for serving large numbers of people at once, and are often seen in institutional settings, such as business conventions or large parties.


The buffet table originates from the brännvinsbord (Swedish schnapps, or shot of alcoholic beverage) table from the middle of 16th century. This custom had its prime during the early 18th century, and was developed into the more modern buffet around the beginning of 19th century. The smörgåsbord buffet did not increase in popularity until the expansion of the railroads throughout Europe.

The smörgåsbord table was originally a meal where guests gathered before dinner for a pre-dinner drink, and was not part of the formal dinner that followed. The smörgåsbord buffet was often held in separate rooms for men and women before the dinner was served. Smörgåsbord became internationally known as “smorgasbord” at the 1939 New York World’s Fair exhibition, as the Swedes had to invent a new way of showcasing the best of Swedish food to large numbers of visitors.

While the possession of gold and silver has been a measure of solvency of a regime, the display of it, in the form of plates and vessels, is more a political act and a gesture of conspicuous consumption. The 16th-century French term buffet applied both to the display itself and to the furniture on which it was mounted, often draped with rich textiles, but more often as the century advanced the word described an elaborately carved cupboard surmounted by tiers of shelves.

In England such a buffet was called a court cupboard. Prodigal displays of plate were probably first revived at the fashionable court of Burgundy and adopted in France. The Baroque displays of silver and gold that were affected by Louis XIV of France were immortalized in paintings by Alexandre-François Desportes and others, before Louis’ plate and his silver furniture had to be sent to the mint to pay for the wars at the end of his reign.[citation needed]

During the 18th century more subtle demonstrations of wealth were preferred. The buffet was revived in England and France at the end of the century, when new ideals of privacy made a modicum of self-service at breakfast-time appealing, even among those who could have had a footman servant behind each chair.

In The Cabinet Dictionary of 1803, Thomas Sheraton presented a neoclassical design and observed that “a buffet may, with some propriety, be restored to modern use, and prove ornamental to a modern breakfastroom, answering as the china cabinet/repository of a tea equipage”. Flower arrangements should be suitably placed so they do not hamper the service or obstruct the path.

Water stations, coffee/tea stations, sweet stations and dessert stations should be so placed that no overcrowding at one place takes at one place. There should be provision for keeping dirty plates so they can be conveniently removed without disturbing the set-up or atmosphere. This should preferably be near the service door. These days, buffets have replaced formal dinners except at formal banquets.

Types of Buffet

A buffet literally means ‘side board’. The food is displayed in such a manner that it has a visual appeal and also so that guests can help themselves to the dishes. This type of service is popular for reception and cocktail parties. It is particularly suitable for establishments where service is limited and a large number of guests are to be catered to. It can be hot or cold or both.

The food display as well as the serviceware enhance the appearance ofthe table and act as attention getters (see Figure C8). To supplement showpieces, ice carvings, vegetable and fruit carvings and flower arrangements add to the decor ofthe buffet. A chef carving meat or slicing a fish or making omelettes will have added eye appeal. The buffet service saves on time. The various kinds of buffet are described as follows:

Sit-down buffet

The food display remains the same but the cover layout is on the tables. Guests collect food and go to the table to eat. However, wine, water, tea or coffee is served on the table by the stewards. This type of service is partly formal and partly informal.

Standing or fork buffet

In this case, no covers are laid on the table as no tables are provided for eating. However, a few chairs are provided for ladies and the elderly. As the name suggests, the guests eat while standing and only a fork is used. In this type of service, care should be taken with the planning of the menu so that the items can be eaten only with a fork.

Finger buffet

This type of buffet usually serves only snacks which are dry and of bid size portions. Figure C9 shows one such buffet. While planning buffet, attention should be given to any bottlenecks, ease for replenishment, placing of dirty plates, placement of cutlery, plates and napkins, water station, beverage station, dessert station, etc. Cold and hot dishes should be kept separately.

Time to time, as the need be, dishes should be replenished from the kitchen. The pans should never be left empty. Timely clearance of dirty plates is of utmost importance.

Buffet Equipment

Depending on the type ofbufiet, whether indoors or outdoors, the following equipment are parts of the layout:

  • Buffet tables: They come in various shapes and sizes; however, the rectangle and round tables are more common. Half moon type is suited for comers.

  • Chafing dishes: These may be round, square or rectangle and of various sizes; they may have separate lids or domed type.

  • Tea/coffee urns: This avoids too many pots and thermoses.

  • Carving blocks: These are used to carve big joints and birds with the help of carving knife and carving fork.

  • Barbecue equipment: These are used for outdoor catering and can comprise of grills, tandoor and spit roast.

  • Beverage dispenser: It will dispense aerated soft beverages.

  • Cutting boards and knife: It can be of wooden or plastic and used for cutting bread slices and cheese.

  • Baskets: These can be decorative or plain cane used to keep breads, wine and other such items.

  • Cake stands: It is used to display wedding or birthday cakes and thereafter cutting of cake. It will be tiered to accommodate plates and cutlery. A decorative knife for cutting the cake is also placed alongside.

  • Display carts and cases: They can be refrigerated or heated to dispense a variety of ice creams or hot items. These can also be a movable trolley.

  • Flambe trolley: In case flambe items are to be served then a flambe trolley is a part of equipment. It has built-in gas burner with working top.

  • Floral accessories: To accommodate flower arrangements and other dry foliage.

  • Food warmers: They are used to keep tea and coffee pots hot. They are electrically operated and provide heat from below.

  • Ladles: Different sizes are used to dispense foods.

  • Menu display: Tent cards or menu stands are used to display the names of the dishes.

  • Decorative blocks: These are used to elevate food to different layers for eye appeal.

  • Punch bowls: These are of different sizes and shapes to make and dispense fruit and liquor punches.

  • Relish dishes: These are partitioned dishes of different sizes and shapes used for pickles chutney and other such items.

  • Soup tureens: These are used to dispense hot soups and are electrically heated.

  • Tongs: These are used to serve foods, which are dry.

  • Trash bins: These are used to collect waste and trash.

  • Trays and salvers: These are used for carrying dishes and dirty.

Preparing Buffet-Style Meals

We have eaten from buffets. Sometimes, we struggle with how get a small sample of everything on our plates and sometimes we struggle with how to serve enough to fill everyone’s plates. The following are a few points to prepare for buffet style meals:

  • Use small plates and let people come back several times. If you serve large plates, they will try to fill them. If you use small plates, they will get filled. Some people will come back for seconds. Some will not.

  • Place the silverware and napkins at the far end of the buffet. It is very difficult to carry a plate, silverware and a napkin while trying to place food on your plate. If guests can pick up their silverware and napkins at the end, they will be able to better put the food on their plates.

  • Place desserts on a separate table. An overcrowded buffet table is not appetizing. If you have space, put your main food on one table, your beverages on a second table and your desserts on a third table.

  • If you have guests with any type of dietary restrictions coming, consider placing small cards next to each item. Perhaps one dish has peanut oil in it. Your card can say ‘contains peanut oil’ so that anyone with an allergy to peanuts will pass on this dish. If you know someone does not eat dairy, and your dish contains cheese, your card can say ‘contains cheese’ or ‘dairy product’.

  • Have a garbage can very handy so that guests can throw out their plates and start over with a clean plate when they come back for second helping.

  • Make ice ahead of time. Some people really like ice in their drinks. Put tongs in the ice bucket. This will discourage folks from using their lingers.

  • Put serving utensils in every dish. There is nothing worse than someone taking a fork from their mouth and using that fork to serve themselves from your buffet table. If you are serving fruits, either put a fork or coloured toothpicks out, again so that your guests are not using their meal silverware or fingers to pick up the fruits. Buffets are a lot of fun to serve. Your guests will enjoy their meal more with the above points for the buffet table.

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