March 5, 2012

Putting the "Style" Back into Buffet Style

     Hospitable ministry women sacrifice their time to meet the needs of others. (see Philippians 2:4) They give clear directions to their house. These women greet guest warmly. And in the North, they take the family's  down-filled parkas and ski equipment out of the coat closet to make room for guests' outerwear.
     One way for women to minister to larger groups is with food served buffet style. Once the basics are set, this can be a simple way of showing hospitality. There are some special considerations for buffet style that will help the host put the guests and their needs first.

     Basics: My number one rule for hospitality is "Let them see your dust." However, the buffet surface and the serving dishes should be sparkling clean. Some people are especially squeamish when they see dirt or pet hair near their food.  Make sure your guest bathroom is looking its best, too.
     Leave enough space between the serving dishes and the edge of the table or countertop so that guests can set their plates down while serving themselves. Provide one serving spoon per dish to avoid cross contamination. Put silverware and napkins last so that the balancing act is easier.  If there is enough room, place the drinks in a separate location. Provide a chair for everyone.
     Bonuses: Enclose silverware in napkin packets and place the bundles in a decorative basket at the end of the buffet. For an informal student gathering, buy large floor pillows to expand the seating options. Offer trays or side tables to set drinks on.

Safety First
     Basics: Observe basic food safety rules. Both hot and cold foods should not stand at room temperature more than two hours. Put a bed of ice under cold foods. Keep hot food hot in slow cookers or an oven. Place heavy and/or hot dishes back from the edge of the table to reduce the risk of injury. 
     Bonuses: Food can be divided into smaller serving dishes so that when the one on the buffet has been emptied or has been sitting out too long, it can be replaced by a new dish from the oven or refrigerator. Be aware of food allergies and try to prepare at least one dish that is dairy, gluten and nut free.

     Basics: The goal is to spend time with your guests and not your pots and pans. As a college student once said to his mom when he came home for semester break, "I didn't come here to see you cook." Keep the menu simple. Not everything has to be homemade or worthy of a cooking show. If a guest volunteers to bring something, let her. Sturdy disposable plates and flatware work well.
     Make it as easy as possible for your guests to get their food, which speeds up the line. When serving hamburgers or hot dogs (Yes, this section is about simplicity.), put them in the buns and put the buns on a platter. Buy all the toppings (ketchup, mustard, relish, mayonnaise) in squeeze bottles. 
     Bonuses: If you are an environmentalist, short on money or like the aesthetic of real plates and silverware, follow your instincts and use china plates and metal forks. Unless this is a casual outside affair and there are no energetic children involved, avoid messy foods like sloppy Joes and thin caramel sauce.  Believe me, you will thank me when it is time to clean up.
     When serving your guests buffet style, as in other forms of hospitality, focus on meeting their needs. With some practice in the basics, you, too, can put style into buffet style.

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