You see them on Pinterest or in magazines at the grocery store checkout: the immaculately decorated tables with equally impressive, elegant morsels of food. It’s the exact sort of thing you’d like for your upcoming big event, if only you had the budget or time to devote to the task.

On the other hand, maybe those perfectly decorated tables aren’t realistic. After all, they won’t stay neat and tidy very long, especially when a large group of people will flock the food table.

Whether you’re preparing for a wedding or a corporate event, you can have elegant, professional-looking serving presentation. Here are some tips and ideas you may want to consider:

Be Bold in Displaying the Food

The food is to be the focal point of the serving table. Besides having a variety of food options, make the food stand out by setting each dish up of the table at different heights. Food that is elevated draws attention and makes the presentation look more interesting.

buffet with food at different levels

Have Food Stations

Whether it’s a casual build-your-own sandwich or a festive build-your-own taco bar, food stations where guests can assemble their own meal is a popular and well-liked trend that will likely continue. With food stations, more and more options are coming out so you’re not limited to sandwiches, burgers and tacos. In fact, there are dessert bars where guests can make their own ice cream creations and carving stations where guests can select their own sides to go along with their slice of meat.

fun table setting with buffet style food

Small, Bite-Sized Snacks and Desserts

Hors d’oeuvres have undergone a facelift that is pleasing to even the pickiest of eaters. Appetizers now no longer are limited to veggie and fruit trays, cheese, crackers and lunchmeat. Now, hors d’oeuvres are small-sized versions of your favorite comfort food meals including sliders, sandwiches, soup shooters and salads.

serving food in small portions

Along the same lines are desserts. Gone are the cake, ice cream, pie, brownie and cookies. In are bite-sized pieces of goodness such as pie or mouse shooters, cake pops and cupcakes.

Separate the Food and Drinks

The drinks should have their own table, preferably away from the food tables. You want to limit congestion. If you’re serving coffee, know that people will mingle and take time doctoring their coffee to their liking.

Strategically Place Napkins, Plates and Utensils

The food line will go smoother when you have multiple stacks of napkins, plates and utensils. Napkins should be laid out in a way to provide for quick grabbing and be placed throughout the food table so guests who forgot their napkin or need another one can quickly swoop in and get one without holding up the line.

setting an elegant table

Plates should be placed at the beginning of the food table and the utensils be placed at the end to keep the flow of the line moving.

Don’t Forget the Trash

Have plenty of trash cans available and make them readily visible.

Be Strategic in Food Placement

Besides stacking food at different heights, try putting the cheapest, most abundant food items at the front of the food table and the most expensive, scarcest food items at the end of the food table. People have the tendency to grab and munch on the first few food items they see. Organizing the food in this fashion will help you get rid of the cheap food and make the expensive, hard to get food items last longer over the course of the event.

Tablecloths Are Optional

Sure, tablecloths help serving tables look elegant and more professional, but there is a trend toward using table settings and centerpieces instead. This creates a more casual, home-like atmosphere so your guest can feel more relaxed and comfortable.

Of course, the decision is yours and, in some instances, tablecloths may be more appropriate.

A special event is a chance to have fun as well as show-off your creativity and hospitality skills. Besides making the presentation impeccable, making sure the flow of the food and drink stations go smoothly will help your guests have a more enjoyable time.

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