There’s no one way to set a buffet table, though “there should be a flow and balance, so that guests don’t feel like they’re in a cafeteria line,” says Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies ($22, amazon.com). Place a stack of plates at one end of the buffet table so that guests pick them up first. Choose plates with some heft (avoid flimsy paper ones) and a substantial lip: Food will be less likely to slide off. Use the Buffet Flow Chart as a guide when entertaining large groups.
The food comes next. Arrange it at various heights so that guests can see and reach everything with ease. Shallow bowls and basic platters are the most user-friendly choices.
Roll silverware inside napkins, secure them with a bit of twine, and pile them toward the end of the buffet, which “cuts down on the balancing act,” says Tara Guérard, an event planner in Charleston, South Carolina. Use sleek flatware, as more decorative styles are often too bulky to roll up neatly.
Position drinks and easy-to-grip stackable tumblers at the end of the buffet table.