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Concepts and Themes in Buffet Design

Concepts and Themes in Buffet Design

A raw bar adds an impressive touch to buffet seafood service. (photo by CIA)

Culinary Institute of America

A buffet may center on a particular meal period, special occasion, holiday, or ethnic presentation. The event’s theme is typically the starting point for developing a plan for the buffet itself. Another fundamental decision is a menu that is developed around a theme.

The season, weather, and the guests’ comfort and expectations hold together the theme. They have a direct impact upon the specific dishes selected for the buffet as well as the ways they are presented. When a buffet is part of a special event or celebration, the food should set the mood and enhance the occasion without overshadowing the occasion itself.

When the concept or theme is maintained throughout the buffet presentation, guests can easily recognize it as the concept or theme. At each stage of buffet work, from the development of the menu through replenishing the platters during the event, the theme or concept guides you to the best choice for the particular situation.

Buffets are integral to many special events. The event could be a personal or family occasion, such as a wedding, birthday, anniversary, christening, or bar mitzvah. It may have a seasonal or holiday celebration, such as New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day, or Thanksgiving. Cities, states, countries, and continents all can be used as inspiration to develop regional and ethnic menus for a buffet that will highlight a variety of flavors. Buffets can be part of a fundraiser or a gala, or part of an opening reception for a new business, product, or exhibit at a gallery. Buffets are a part of many meetings, conferences, conventions, and similar corporate events. Buffets that are planned around a special event such as a fundraiser, gala, or wedding are generally planned with the client and must be tailored to their needs and budget.

A featured-concept buffet is designed to attract guests to the restaurant. Examples include Sunday brunches, pasta, or seafood buffets as well as “quick service” breakfast or lunch menus. The chef chooses foods for these buffets that have wide appeal and that work to improve the operation’s bottom line. One popular example of a “featured-concept” buffet is the ubiquitous breakfast buffet. Operations that regularly present breakfast bars include hotels, motels, resorts, casinos, and restaurants. A smaller version of a breakfast buffet might include muffins, croissant and Danish, fresh fruit, bagels, toast and jam, coffee, orange juice, and milk and cereal. This type of breakfast buffet, when featured at a hotel or motel, may be included in the price of the hotel stay in order to give the customer a “value-added” experience.

A menu from a more extensive breakfast buffet might include several action stations such as a carving station for hams, roasts, and lox, an omelet station that creates omelets to order, or a crêpe station making filled crêpes. These stations would be in operation where a person is alongside an extensive buffet that would include many breakfast items such as scrambled eggs, bacon, waffles, hash browns, quiche, and the above-mentioned muffins, bagels, toast, and fruit.

1. Menu Development for Buffets
2. The Menu
3. Price Range
4. Meeting and Exceeding Expectations
5. Action Stations

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