Buffets rule! A love letter to the big party spread
Take a paper plate and form an orderly queue, says food writer Sue Quinn. Christmas is here, so it’s time to put outdated snobbery aside and embrace the great coming-together at the festive buffet…
It’s the Marmite of all food-serving setups, variously sneered at and revered. But for me, there’s no question – buffets are brilliant.
Why? Well, let’s start with the boring-but-practical aspects. Big social occasions like Christmas often mean feeding everyone from grandpas to toddlers to neighbours you barely know. People with different dietary requirements, people from different cultures, people who are annoyingly fussy… You’ll never please them all by serving the same meal. And as for individually plating up each one – well, let’s not even go there.
But, I hear you complain, it’s such a hotchpotch affair… Well, exactly – that’s the beauty of it! Bowls of crisps sit happily next to pots of curry alongside sausage rolls and bunches of grapes. It’s a merry mashup of goodies. And a bonus: all that distracting abundance allows you to get away with shortcuts. No one will notice the houmous was shop-bought and spooned into a pretty bowl.
For guests, a buffet is liberating. Sprouts haters needn’t offend the cook by leaving them – they can simply bypass the brassicas and head straight for the roasties. Someone fancies crisps dipped in cranberry sauce? They can go unjudged. And if a picky eater loves gravy on their roasties but can’t stand it touching the meat? The buffet can facilitate. It gives children the chance to choose their own food adventure too (although I’d keep an eye on them – there’s adventurous and there’s a-pile-of-cocktail-sausages-and-fivetypes-of-pudding adventurous…)
“Bowls of crisps sit happily next to pots of curry alongside sausage rolls and bunches of grapes. It’s a merry mashup of goodies."
Don’t go assuming a buffet has to feature the usual doughty stalwarts of the trestle table spread – dips, crisps, sweaty hunks of cheese… Your buffet can be whatever you want it to be. The great buffets have their own personalities, unique to the host. In one household, the non-negotiable might be retro devilled eggs (or modern devilled eggs). At another, a triumphant whole roast ham. I fondly recall the Christmas Eve spread at my father’s house that included – inexplicably – Liquorice Allsorts.
What I most love about a buffet is the way it rises above mere functionality and becomes a vehicle for bringing people together. Allowing guests to choose their favourite things from a table laden with delights puts everyone in a celebratory mood. The queue for the food may be the only time you chat to Uncle Bob, and a buffet can be a conduit to kindness too: can I serve you, Grandma?
Normal dinner-table etiquette gets joyfully put aside at the buffet. Many may sneer at the way we overfill our plates, lumping together a mishmash of foods that don’t really go. I say, bring on the multicoloured food mountain. If it’s an occasion suitable for a buffet, the spirit of plenty should be embraced.
My ultimate endorsement of the buffet? My husband and I had one for our wedding feast – and it was glorious. Our nearest and dearest gathered around chatting, guests getting to know each other as they filled their plates. It was an exuberant, relaxed and brilliant meal. I wouldn’t for the world have swapped it for the finest formal multi-course plated dinner. Praise be to the buffet!
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