If you’re opting for a buffet-style meal this Thanksgiving, be it formal or casual, there are rules to keep in mind when setting up the table. Chuck Kerber, executive chef at Allegheny HYP Club in Pittsburgh, says the turkey, sides and desserts should be arranged in a particular order so that feasters don’t hold up the line while piling their plates, and each dish, which has been painstakingly prepared, gets to stand out. Here are his tips:
1. One-sided or round buffet-table style. Always think of the flow of people. You want a continuous flow, in and out in the same direction, and a one-sided display will cater to that. A round buffet table would also work well, as long as everyone moves in a clockwise manner.
2. Allow the food to shine. Have seasonal decorations strategically placed on the buffet table but select small ones and try to keep them to a minimum. Although people increasingly create their own complex holiday centerpieces and want to show them off, the food is still the star of the show.
3. Start with plates and silverware. Set the plates and linen-wrapped silverware at the beginning of the buffet table before placing the food. The plates should be clean and shiny, and the forks, spoons and knives should be kept together.
4. Turkey is the main attraction. The first food item after silverware and plates should be the turkey. You might want to show off your beautifully cooked bird to your guests, but keep the photo-op in the kitchen because the turkey should already be carved before being placed on the table because you don’t want to interrupt the flow of people by having them cut the meat and then serve themselves.
5. Sides are second. The turkey should be followed by the dressing (or stuffing if it’s inside the bird), potatoes (mashed, smashed, scalloped or baked), green beans, corn, cornbread, Brussels sprouts, salads, beets, greens (creamed, collard or kale), roasted vegetables and casseroles (sweet potato, squash, corn, green beans, cheesy grits or turnip).
6. At the end. Place the gravy and cranberry sauce at the end so that you can top the meat and whatever else you want with them at one time without holding up the line. The rolls and butter have a better chance of not being wasted if they are placed as the last items as people would place them on a loaded plate only if they intend to eat them. The bread, butter, gravy and cranberry sauce can also be taken to the dining table so the diners can help themselves to seconds. You can even place a fruit salad, which works well as a palate cleanser before diving into desserts.
7. Segregate desserts. Stack the dessert plates, forks and napkins on one end of the table. Then set up traditional desserts such as pumpkin, pecan and apple pies. They should be followed by specialty cakes such as cheesecake, tiramisu or German chocolate cake. Finally place the light pick-me-ups such as nut and poppy seed rolls, cookies and brownies.