How to Arrange a Casual Dinner Buffet Table

by Athena Hessong ; Updated September 28, 2017

Set up a casual buffet so guests can be on both sides.

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Items you will need

  • Dinner plates
  • Main dish
  • Side dishes
  • Condiments
  • Bread
  • Butter dish
  • Utensils
  • Basket
  • Napkins
  • Salad or dessert plates
  • Salad
  • Salad dressings
  • Dessert

A buffet table's arrangement is more practical than decorative. The arrangement of the dishes determines how long people take to get their own food. The longer it takes for each guest to fill his plate, the longer people have to wait in line. A poor arrangement stops guests at the buffet table to get several dishes from one spot or causes them to backtrack to the beginning of the table. Avoid a traffic jams in the line at your buffet, and set up the table for a successful casual dinner.

Step 1

Plan to use both sides of a long buffet table. The guests will start on their left and work their way to their right down one side of the table, turn around at the end and work from their left to their right on the back side.

Step 2

Stack the dinner plates at the left end on the front side of the buffet table. Place the main dish to the right of the plates, with the serving utensils next to the dish.

Step 3

Arrange the side dishes to the right of the main dish. Place small bowls or bottles of condiments needed for each side dish next to the dish. Do not put any serving dish behind another. There should be enough space between serving dishes so two people can stand directly in front of two adjacent dishes.

Step 4

Set the bread beside the side dishes with a butter dish next to the bread.

Step 5

Present the utensils in a decorative basket at the far right end of the table next to a stack of napkins.

Step 6

Place the salad or dessert plates on the other side of the table, opposite the basket of utensils and the napkins. Guests pick up their salad plate and get their salad or dessert from the back side of the buffet table to prevent congestion on the front side and to avoid having to use a second table, as suggested in "Business Etiquette for Dummies" by Sue Fox.

Step 7

Arrange the salad and salad dressings to the right of the salad plates (when facing the back of the table).

Step 8

Set the desserts at the far end of the back side of the buffet table.


  • Serve drinks from a separate bar to avoid backing up the line at the food buffet bar.


  • "How to Organize Just About Everything: More Than 500 Step-by-step Instructions for Everything From Organizing Your Closets to Planning a Wedding to Creating a Flawless Filing System"; Peter Walsh; 2004
  • "Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book"; "Better Homes and Gardens," et al.; 2006
  • "Good Housekeeping Step by Step Cookbook: More Than 1,000 Recipes, 1,800 Photographs. 500 Techniques"; Susan Westmoreland; 2008
  • "Business Etiquette for Dummies"; Sue Fox; 2008

Photo Credits

  • Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images