A lunch buffet is an informal, low-stress and often economical way to feed a large group of family or friends, whether the occasion is a birthday or anniversary celebration, a baby shower or your turn to host the monthly book club meeting. Many lunch buffet items can be purchased in bulk at wholesale chains like Costco or Smart & Final, prepared in advance and displayed on platters. Table runners with coordinated paper plates, cups and plastic utensils make decorating -- and clean-up -- easy.
Take a page from restaurants by creating your own salad bar. Place large bowls of mixed greens at either end of the table to avoid a long queue. Fill smaller bowls with cheeses, meats, chopped onions, mushrooms, chopped hard-cooked eggs, tomatoes, crumbled bacon, bay shrimp, shaved carrots, sliced cucumbers, garbanzo beans and croutons. Put out a variety of salad dressings as well as salt and pepper. Include sliced sourdough bread and butter.
For a sandwich bar buffet, use baskets to hold a variety of breads such as white, whole wheat, rye and croissants. Put out mayonnaise, an assortment of mustards and horseradish. Offer your lunch guests a variety of sliced cheeses, deli meats like ham, salami, smoked turkey and roast beef, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, tuna fish and egg salad. Supplement the fare with bulk purchases of potato salad, macaroni salad, chips and some spicy dip mixes.
Stuffed Potato Bar
The russet potatoes for this type of buffet can be baked in the morning, cut in half and scooped out. After warming a blended mixture of potato pulp, butter and heavy cream on the stove top, use a large chafing dish for guests to fill their own potato skins and embellish with grated cheese, onion, bacon bits, sliced mushrooms, broccoli, bay shrimp or a sour cream dip.
The only cooking prep for a taco bar buffet is browning and seasoning whatever meat you are using. This can be done as early as the day before, stored in the refrigerator and then reheated in the oven or microwave prior to transferring it to a chafing dish for the party. Use premade taco shells or wrap a stack of flour tortillas in aluminum foil and lightly warm in the oven. Put out bowls of grated cheeses, lettuce, chopped tomatoes and onions, chopped black olives, diced jalapenos and plenty of sour cream.