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Seven Inspiring Buffet Ideas

Buffets are a caterer's bread and butter—this service style has become an essential aspect of catering over the last several decades and is here to stay. Since many caterers serve buffet-style all the time, we decided to get new perspectives from ICA member caterers on this event staple. These seven ideas from industry experts could inspire you to rethink your buffet style and get creative in 2018.

1. Use different levels of presentation

David Meckstroth, co-owner of Tuxedos and Tennis Shoes Catering in Seattle, said, "We look for ways to build up or elevate our buffets with risers and platforms to create interest." A buffet is more captivating if customers’ eyes are drawn to different levels.

A variety of vessels, colors and elevations enhance a buffet table. Photo: BG Events and Catering

2. Visit a local market

For ingredients and even presentation inspiration, visit a local food market or produce stand. Jamie Quickert and Frankie Berberna, corporate directors of catering and culinary, respectively, for Lancer Hospitality in Minneapolis, MN, shared that they "get inspiration from the local markets and the amazing people [they] meet who are passionate about food."

3. Attend other events for inspiration

Sometimes all it takes is seeing how someone else serves buffets to be inspired. Quickert and Berberna said, "We also get inspiration from events we see and conferences we attend around the country."

4. Use different plating & vessels

This adds to both visual and menu variety. Meckstroth said, “Mixing in small plates and vessels continues to be a way to add interest to our menu offerings in addition to more standard, plattered items.”

Seasonal salad served in array of unique single serve vessels. Photo: American Metalcraft and Tasty Catering

5. Offer seasonal buffets

While you may not have the time to create a custom menu for every client, offering seasonal options for your buffet is a simple way to provide variety. Meckstroth shared that clients enjoy "seasonal selections that are flavorful and visually appealing—as well as delicious!"

6. Consider textures, heights, depth

Even changing the basic elements of a buffet—like chafers and table linens—can make a buffet more exciting. Quickert and Berberna shared that they "use an array of different heights, serving platters and textures to create interest and depth."

7. Utilize themed décor

If you'd like to make a buffet less generic, try using décor tailored to the event and buffet. "Adding floral pieces, candles/lighting, architectural/design elements, specialty linens or interesting table options are all great sources to enhance the look and feel of our tablescapes," said Meckstroth.

We hope these ideas from ICA members have sparked your buffet creativity!

Tuxedos and Tennis Shoes Catering and Lancer Hospitality are proud members of the International Caterers Association. For more information on the ICA, visit

Registration for Catersource is now open! Find new inspiration for buffets and other food presentations via our live education. Click here to view our sessions.

International Caterers Association

For motivated caterers, International Caterers Association is a resource that provides Education, encourages peer to peer Relationships and Inspires creativity while embracing all segments of the catering industry. For more information, visit