How to Start a Buffet in Three Simple Steps
Buffets are one of the most popular dining setups throughout the country. From weddings to all-you-can-eats, buffets are recognizable, accessible, and - best of all - profitable. But how do you get one started in the first place? After following the necessary steps to start your own restaurant, you can use the following suggestions as a blueprint to specialize in buffets.
Step 1: Equipment and Dinnerware
The equipment you purchase is critical to the success of your buffet. Regardless of whether you have a permanent indoor setup or a catered outdoor operation, almost every buffet will need chafers, food pans, kitchen spoons, and tongs, just to name a few of the essentials. But even though they have a few things in common, they require very different specialized equipment for successful operation.
For an indoor buffet, you can go the extra mile by using an induction buffet table, an innovative way to keep food warm without the use of chafers or fuel. You can also look at more permanent dinnerware, such as melamine dishes, glass tumblers, and metal flatware. Last, one of the major advantages of an indoor buffet comes with the option to use tables, booths, or a combination of the two.
Outdoor buffets can benefit from items like banquet tables and cloth table covers, two necessities that form the foundation of your buffet while offering a chance to make a lasting impression on your customers. Outdoor operations will also need unpowered equipment, like food and beverage carriers, on top of disposable dinnerware and beverageware—and that's not to mention the trash cans and bags to go along with them.
The best part of outdoor buffets are all the extras that can give your customers a memorable experience. Products like portable bars and beer dispensers can give an added impact to catered buffets, especially at weddings or conventions. For on-site cooking, you can even invest in portable outdoor grills for fresh-cooked food and an authentic aesthetic.
Step 2: Planning for Flow
Like a beltway around a major city, buffets should be planned with easy access, clear signage, and heavy traffic in mind. One of the most common forms of buffet is to have a line of serving tables that are against the outside perimeter of the event, making it easy for anyone to quickly jump to the food that they want, while the dining tables are spaced evenly inside. Another possibility for more compact areas is to have a few tables set up on one side of the room with the dining area on the other. This form is also preferable when working a room that has a dance floor that may stretch from wall to wall, such as at a catered wedding. But no matter what layout you pick, your customers should be able to quickly and easily get around without confusion.
When laying out the food itself, there are several key factors to keep in mind. First, order your food with the cold dishes at the start of the line and the hot dishes at the end. That way the hot food, which is typically your entrée, won't cool on a customers' plates as they're moving through the line. Next, it's generally a good idea to keep beverages in a separate area when possible to avoid congestion and confusion in lines. Beverages can go near bars, if applicable, or have a separate location in indoor settings.
Setting up the dining tables is a little easier than the serving area. As long as the chairs don't bump into each other, tables, or a wall, customers will generally be happy with their dining experience. However, it's more difficult to plan for flow since diners will be coming and going at random. To accommodate this, space between tables is essential where possible. Cramped dining areas can result in spills, falls, and even confrontations - not to mention the irritation of navigating through a maze of chairs clacking together.
Step 3: Adapt as Needed
Even the best-laid plans have surprises, especially when customers are serving themselves. As your customers begin to find their food, the best thing you and your staff can do is adapt to changing situations appropriately. This includes refilling empty chafers, answering customer questions, and providing the best dining experience possible to your patrons. While it may feel thankless at times, the best service staff at a buffet is the one that customers don't even notice unless they have a question.