How to plan a buffet or afternoon tea party

Posted: 15th August 2016

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By: Sarah Lewis

Whether it’s a children’s birthday party, a family christening or a special anniversary it’s always a difficult task to feed a variety of ages. However with some planning you can put together a menu which will have everyone coming back for seconds.

Firstly a week or so before the event sit down with a cuppa and a notepad and try to decide on final numbers of who will be attending, its good to also allow for a couple of extras just in case any plans change and you have any unexpected guests on the day. Then run through the list and make note of any obvious allergies you may be aware of or special diets, your guests may bring there own food or tell you if they have recently been diagnosed with an allergy you may not be aware of.

Once you have your list you can then decide on the demographic of guests, menu and start to plan your shopping list. Another point to consider is whether to serve a hot or cold buffet or mixture of both? If you decide to go for any dishes which need to be kept chilled you may need to invest in some ice packs and only decant a small amount to the table and regularly top up. Hot food may need to be kept warm for a while so again you may need to invest or hire some chaffing dishes, a domestic hot plate or slow cooker.

When you start to plan your menu you may choose to theme it examples may include cuisine from exotic countries, decades, or films. We will cover this and give you more ideas in a future blog.

I always then naturally plan the staple main dishes first and the sides will then be easier to decide. Main dishes tend to be filling and can be carbohydrate heavy but you must try and maintain a balance. Here are some examples for hot buffets Mexican chicken portions, mousakka, kedgeree, burger sliders (brilliant for children) and here are some examples for cold buffets filled wraps, cheese scones, bagels, antipasti. It really doesn’t have to be soggy sandwiches and iceberg lettuce! 3-4 main dishes would be sufficient for most functions. At this point I would also consider what crockery, serving dishes and cutlery you have available before you set your plans in stone.

Next I would plan the sides, salads and accompaniments you want provide a selection to complement your main courses but be prepared to have extras on standby as often the more nibbles there are your guests will tend to eat for little longer whilst there chatting. Good examples would be sliced French bread, salads, coleslaw, olives, cold farmhouse sausages, or sliced quiche. If the buffet is aimed for men I would also include some crown pleasers and belly fillers such as sausage rolls, pork pies and scotch eggs, do try to make your own if possible or source high quality versions from your local butcher or farm shop.

To please very small children it may also be advisable to create a separate fun platter for them to choose from. It doesn’t have to be unhealthy think about making your own homemade mini pizzas with pitta breads and smiley faces made with chopped up veggies and bread sticks. Maybe get them involved with the preparation when they arrive?

Finally you may choose to add desserts into the mix, you could simply have a display of artisan cheeses, crackers and fruits to garnish or have a separate dessert table examples would be individual cheesecakes, profiteroles, meringues and pre sliced gateaux.

Or if you decide to call in the outside caterers then give us a call at Lily’s Secret Vintage Tearoom and we can arrange a time for you to pop in and we can chat over your plans with a pot of tea.

TeaTop ten tips to create the perfect afternoon tea party at home

  1. Collect vintage china tea cups and cake stands from local charity shops and up cycle them into sets, they don’t need to match – it’s ok to mismatch!
  2. Prepare dainty sandwiches cut into triangles with the crusts cut off of course! Fillings such as cream cheese and cucumber and coronation chicken are popular.
  3. Serve scones warm from the oven and lightly dust with icing sugar once plated. Accompaniments may include clotted cream and strawberry jam.
  4. String up any leftover bunting you may have or make your own using pinking shears and lengths of ribbon.
  5. Display fresh flowers in jam jars or old teapots to decorate the table.
  6. Fold napkins in interesting shapes and flowers, search YouTube for inspiration.
  7. Play vintage vinyl on a record player to add to the atmosphere of your party. Provide some vintage party games for entertainment playing cards, monopoly, dominoes would work well.
  8. Use freshly ironed linen and pretty vintage tray cloths to set the table.
  9. Make a wide variety of cakes and sweet treats to enjoy at your party. Some traditional sponges, tray bakes, mini meringues and biscuits would be a nice selection. Remember to check if your guests have any food allergies.
  10. Finally add any optional personal touches which your guests may enjoy. Strawberries and cream, Jugs of pimms, sparkling wine or personalised place cards.

For further top tips connect with head tea lady Sarah here:

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