Actually setting up your soiree requires more calculation than you might think, and who better to tell you how to throw a party like a pro than Early Show's celebrity event planner, Colin Cowie?
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- Balance is key for great presentation, so before you actually put the food out, put out each empty dish that you're planning to use and place a sticky note on it saying what that item is going to be. This way, you can organize and set up your buffet table the day before.
- The way you set up the plates and flatware can give consistency to your party. One idea for a semi-casual party is to stack ten plates and put a tray of knives on one side and the forks on the other side, resting on napkins. A very casual way would be to have a pile of plates and just roll the napkins together with the knives and forks inside. The formal way is to do it in a decorative way, with a ribbon around the napkin.
- At the end of the buffet is where the glasses should go. People set up cups with the flatware sometimes, but that is not good because guests end up having to carry their glasses as they serve their dinner. Instead, put your glasses at the end of the table. You can put the bread first or last.
- Show at least five components on the table. Cowie says it is very important to offer a balanced meal. So you need to have a protein, a vegetable, a carbohydrate, a starch, a salad, and, of course, the bread.
- Place the cold items first (like salads) because you don't want your guests to serve themselves the hot food first and then have it get cold while they get the rest of their meal from the buffet table. It's much nicer to get hot food at the end because it stays hot when you eat it.
- It is best to pre-dress the salads for your guests. Cowie recommends putting the salad dressing in a squeegee bottle, so you can drizzle out the exact amount you want. He also always keeps a damp paper towel on the salad (or even vegetables dishes) to keep it moist until it's served.
- Cowie says all your ingredients on the plate should tell a story. He says, "I find people, left to their own devices, put anything on the buffet. And then there's also this vulture syndrome that it won't be there later, so everyone feels they have to load their plates. I'm very specific about what I put on the buffet. Another rule I have is that I never put fish in a broth as part of a buffet, because the broth will contaminate everything else on your plate."
- If your party is outdoors, make sure you have candles on the table, so the food stays clear of bugs. Of course, it is best to have covers to protect the food.