Outdoor Buffet Tips and Ideas

Get a look that wows for your outdoor buffet with our tips for arranging and decorating your table with servingware and other accents -- you'll have the perfect party spread in no time at all!

By Holly D'Anna


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Outdoor buffet table
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Utilize Open Space

    Create more space for party guests to serve themselves at your outdoor buffet by keeping all table sides open. The buffet will feel less crowded and you'll be able to fill the whole table, keeping everything within easy reach.

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Add Height to Your Buffet

    Make your buffet table appear larger and more visually appealing by adding height. Here, we used a tall bouquet of flowers, a fruit-infused water pitcher, and a tiered cupcake display to add height in different places on the outdoor buffet table.

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Add Color with Food

    Don't fret about trying to create the perfect outdoor buffet display with servingware, napkins, and decorations in the right hues -- let your food do the work. A platter of brightly colored fruits and veggies, such as tomatoes, carrots, lemons, and leafy lettuce, doubles as a bright buffet decoration.

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Use Clear Drink Pitchers

    Show off fancy party drinks, such as fruit-infused water or lemonade, in clear pitchers. Party guests will immediately see their drink options, and the fruit and herbs in the pitchers will add pops of color to your outdoor buffet table spread.

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Label Each Dish

    If you're hosting an outdoor potluck, label each dish on the buffet spread as soon as it arrives. Guests -- especially ones with dietary restrictions -- will appreciate knowing what each dish is. If you have various sauces and garnishes for each dish, make sure you label those as well.

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Create a Themed Outdoor Buffet

    Stick with a simple decorating theme to create a cohesive outdoor buffet spread. Here, we used garden elements, such as large pots and birdbaths, for servingware and stashed silverware in a small ceramic pot secured to a wrought-iron frame adorned with wildflowers.

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Label Individual Drink Glasses

    For a smaller outdoor buffet, decorate clear glasses with paper drink labels for each party guest. To get the look as shown here, use pinking shears to cut a band of patterned oilcloth to fit around each glass. Glue or sew a white oilcloth rectangle to the center of the band, then adhere the ends of the band together to fit around the glass. You can write each guest's name on the glass beforehand, or provide permanent markers on the drink tray so they can do their own.

    Editor's Tip: The oilcloth band should easily slip over the narrower bottom of a glass and slide upward until it stays snugly in place.

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Wrap Individual Servings

    Add pops of color -- and decrease the need for paper plates -- by using brightly colored cloth napkins to wrap individual sandwiches on an outdoor buffet tray. Party guests can grab their sandwiches and napkins all at once.

    Editor's Tip: If you're serving different types of sandwiches, wrap them in different colored napkins to signify each selection.

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Serve Food in Simple Containers

    For a polished, put-together look on your outdoor buffet table, skip serving outdoor food staples, such as potato chips, in their original packaging. Instead, line galvanized pails with napkins, but keep the original bags nearby so you can refill as needed.

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Organize Silverware

    Keep silverware organized on an outdoor buffet spread in labeled clear plastic containers. To make the labels shown here, cut out thin circles of cork and carefully attach paper labels using a thumbtack. Attach the cork circles to the plastic containers with thin adhesive strips. A quicker alternative: decorate large mailing labels with a colored pen and adhere to the plastic containers.

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