How to set up finger food buffet table

Planning a finger food buffet? Whether it’s for a small gathering or a large party, setting up the table can be daunting. From incorporating how to create a grazing table to the right table runners, this step-by-step guide tackles everything you need to create an elegant and chic finger food buffet table your guests will love!

What are the factors to consider before setting up your buffet table?

When planning a finger food buffet table, you should consider a few factors. Here are some factors you need to take into account to create the best buffet table for your event:

The size of the table

What is the shape and size of the table you’re using? You’ll need to take this into account when planning your buffet display. If you’re using a rectangular table, you’ll want to create symmetry with your food displays.

For example, you can place two platters of finger sandwiches at either end of the table and then fill in the middle with other items. For a round table, you can create a central focal point with your food display.

For example, you can place a large platter of sushi or grazing platter in the center of the table and then fill in the rest of the space with other smaller food.

The number of guests

How many guests will be attending your event? This is an important factor to consider when planning your buffet, as you’ll need to ensure there’s enough food for everyone.

You can use a rough estimate of two pieces of finger food per person. For example, if you’re expecting 20 guests, you’ll need 40 pieces of finger food.

The time of day

Is your event during the day or evening? If it’s during the day, you might want to serve lighter fare such as finger sandwiches and fruit platters.

Whereas, you can get away with serving heartier items such as mini quiches and chicken skewers if it’s an evening event.

The theme of the event

Is there a particular theme or style you’re going for with your event? This can influence the type of food you serve.

For example, if you’re having a beach-themed party, you might want to serve seafood finger foods such as shrimp cocktail and crab cakes.

Or, if you’re having a winter-themed party, you might want to serve hearty comfort foods such as mini meatloaves and mac and cheese bites.

Now that you’ve considered all the factors, it’s time to start planning your buffet table!

The menu

Most importantly, you’ll need to decide what food you will serve. This will be based on the factors we discussed earlier, such as the time of day, number of guests, and event theme.

Some finger food ideas include:

  • Finger sandwiches
  • A grazing platter
  • Mini quiches
  • Fruit platter
  • Vegetable crudites with dip
  • Chicken skewers
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Crab cakes
  • Mini meatloaves
  • Mac and cheese bites
  • Cupcakes 

Setting up the table: What you’ll need

To make the entire process as smooth and easy as possible, it’s important to have all the supplies you need before setting up the table. Here’s a list of items you’ll need to create a beautiful and functional buffet table:

  • A large table or two smaller tables arranged together
  • Platters and bowls of various sizes
  • A large tablecloth or runner
  • Table decorations (e.g., vases, flowers, candles)
  • Finger food platters and serving utensils
  • Small plates, napkins, and utensils
  • Drinks and glasses
  • Chafing dishes and Sterno fuel (If you’re serving hot finger foods)

How to set up a finger food buffet table: 5 Easy steps

Now that you have all the necessary supplies, it’s time to start setting up the table! Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to set up a finger food buffet table:

1. Set up and arrange the table(s)

As we mentioned, you’ll need to decide on the size and shape of the table (or tables) you’re using. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to set up the table (or tables).

If you’re using one large table, center it in the room where the event will be taking place.

If you’re using two smaller tables, arrange them together in the shape of a square or rectangle. Think about symmetry when arranging the tables.

For example, you can place two small round tables side-by-side and then cover them with a large rectangular tablecloth. Or, you can arrange two smaller rectangular tables to create one large rectangle.

Tip: If you’re using two smaller tables, secure them together, so they don’t move around during the event.

2. Cover the table(s) with a tablecloth or runner

After you’ve set up the table (or tables), it’s time to cover them with a tablecloth or table runner. This will add color and pattern to the buffet table and also help protect the surface of the table.

If you’re using one large table, choose a rectangular tablecloth that is large enough to drape over the edges.

For two smaller tables, choose a tablecloth or large runner to drape over both tables. Again, think about symmetry when choosing a pattern or design. Depending on the size of the tables, you might be able to use one large tablecloth or two smaller ones.

Tip: Choose a color or pattern that coordinates with the event’s theme and other decorations.

If you’re using a patterned tablecloth, choose solid-colored plates, napkins, and utensils to avoid overwhelming the table with too much pattern.

For a solid-colored tablecloth, you can add interest to the table with patterned plates, napkins, and utensils. Check out these table decorating ideas for inspiration! 

3. Add platters, bowls, and serving utensils

Now that the table is covered, it’s time to add the food! Begin by placing platters and bowls of various sizes on the table.

Arrange the food in groups so guests can easily find what they’re looking for. For example, you can place all the hot foods in one area, all the cold foods in another area, and desserts like Easter cupcakes in another.

Add serving utensils once you’ve placed all the food on the table. Place forks, knives, and spoons next to each dish so guests can easily serve themselves. For hot foods, place tongs next to each dish.

Tip: Put napkins next to each dish so guests can easily grab one when they’re finished serving themselves.

If you’re using chafing dishes, place them on a heat-resistant surface. We also recommend using Sterno fuel to keep the food warm. This is optional, but it’s a good idea if you’re serving hot finger foods.

4. Place the finishing touches on the table.

Now it’s time to add the finishing touches! Begin by placing vases of flowers, candles, or other decorations around the table. You can add place cards, name tags, or other signs to help guests find their way around the table.

Tip: Use small signs or labels to identify each dish. This is especially helpful if you’re serving a lot of food or if some of the dishes are similar in appearance.

If you’re using chafing dishes, light the Sterno fuel before guests arrive. This will keep the food warm throughout the event.

And that’s it! Your finger food buffet table is now complete. All that’s left to do is enjoy the party!

Final Thoughts

We hope you found this step-by-step guide helpful. Setting up a finger food buffet table is easy once you know what to do. Just follow the steps we’ve outlined above, and you’ll have everything set up in no time!

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