Turn Your Thanksgiving Buffet into a Food Display

Entertain, Holidays, Holidays, On the Table, Thanksgiving

This post comes to us courtesy of home entertaining and lifestyle blogger Jenny Steffens Hobick


Thanksgiving can take on many looks and styles. It can be a rustic and casual mid-day meal, or it can be a traditional, refined and elegant celebration of bounty.


Through the years my family has celebrated it various ways — from a seated, elegant dinner with multiple served courses to a help-yourself buffet on the kitchen island. Each style has its appeal. If you have a large group filled with children, sometimes the fetch-it-for-yourself method is the only option you have! Just because you are serving your Thanksgiving “buffet-style” doesn’t me you have to give up on having a beautiful and artfully presented meal.


A buffet style meal is probably the most familiar method for typical families on Thanksgiving. I can picture it now… it is an eclectic (okay, mis-matched) array of crock-pots, casserole dishes and the occasional silver platter that makes it out once a year.


With such a hectic day, crowded kitchen and contributions from various family members, it might seem like the only option you have. However, with minimal effort you can turn the typical kitchen buffet into one of those stunning “food displays” that seem to be the rage these days.



Most buffets start with a centerpiece in the… well, center, and have platters encircling it to create a standard ’round-about’ buffet.  It seems like a great idea, but this style of buffet does not work for two reasons:

  • It is not visually appealing; there is no ‘beauty shot’ from which to view the entire table. You want your guests to take one peek at the table and be in awe of the bounty!
  • It does not function well. These round-about buffets create a bottleneck effect of guests that are waiting in line with those that are leaving the buffet with a plate full of food. If the food display is one-sided, the traffic flow is continuous — in and out in the same direction.


Less is More 

You need less real estate for your food display than you think. You want the display to look overflowing and bountiful, not sparse and spread out. The easiest way to do this is to use a smaller table or to visually shrink your table by placing a runner toward the center, bringing your eye to the middle of the table.


Symmetry, People!

I like to design my “food displays” in a symmetrical fashion. I think about coordinating platters, cake stands and bowls that will complement each other’s size, shape and color. Create two center focal points, one high and one low. Perhaps the high center point is a big bowl of fruit (see more instructions on how I created this look) or a floral centerpiece, and the low focal point is the large platter of turkey. Build the display around these two elements, visually surrounding them by the other menu items equally on each side.


For the recipes featured in my buffet, visit the Thanksgiving Planner on my blog.


Pre-Plan Your Platters

Preset your food display the night before the big day. Consider what serving pieces will work best for each menu item, then design the table layout based on the visual appeal of the shape and color of each. By doing this the night before, you can avoid the last-minute decisions when everything is coming out of the oven. Label each platter with a post-it note so any helpers you might have in the kitchen will know what the plan is.


Pretty the Potluck

While I typically like to prepare everything myself when I am hosting a dinner party, Thanksgiving is a communal meal to which everyone enjoys contributing… whether we like it or not! This means all of the menu items are coming in all sorts of bakeware, platters and tupperware that will turn your food display into a cluttered mess.  There are a couple of ways to handle this:

  • Let your eager contributors know you are excited to be using a special set of serving pieces you’ve picked out just for the occasion and that they “don’t need to worry about bringing it on a pretty platter.” This will avoid hurt feelings when you transfer their candied yams from their platter to your own — they may have thought theirs was prettier!
  • Ask them to bring complements to the meal, and you will prepare the main items. For example, bread or rolls is a great thing to outsource to a guest. Have a basket lined with coordinating linen on each table ready to go. You can also ask guests to bring a pie for dessert; have some pretty pie plates ready to disguise any that might show up in a foil dish.


Be Thankful for Help

For us planners and entertaining visionaries out there with the dream of a perfectly displayed and served Thanksgiving meal, it is important to remember to let anyone that wants to help, help. Let the process be fun and inclusive — learn how to kindly express your vision to them, and if it doesn’t go exactly as you had envisioned, remember that it is a holiday about giving and sharing. Just be thankful that you have a bounty of love in your kitchen and in your home… even if they are all snoozing on the couch when it is time to do the dishes!


For more tips on how to plan your Thanksgiving like a caterer, visit the Thanksgiving Planner on my blog!


About the authorJenny Steffens Hobick, a home entertaining and lifestyle blogger, makes entertaining accessible and enjoyable… for the hosts and guests.  As a former caterer and party planner, Jenny shares her secrets to hosting casual and elegant parties. From table settings to recipes, her creative tips and resourceful methods inspire her readers to make Everyday Occasions special – whether it be a family style feast, elegant cocktail party or intimate dinner for two.  Jenny believes that entertaining at its best is done often, with an effortless and easy style.

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