New York caterer Serena Bass sports a VIP client list that includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Oscar de la Renta and Minnie Driver, who's also her niece. Her first book, "Serena, Food...

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New York caterer Serena Bass sports a VIP client list that includes Sarah Jessica Parker, Oscar de la Renta and Minnie Driver, who’s also her niece. Her first book, “Serena, Food & Stories: Feeding Friends for Every Hour of the Day” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $32.50) is full of practical advice and wonderful recipes that aren’t fussy or complicated.

Serving a buffet may be a more casual way to entertain, but Bass doesn’t hold back on planning details. Everything is considered in advance, from table placement to serving utensils. Here are some of her tips for organizing your party.



Set up the buffet table

as close to the kitchen as possible. Consider the flow of the room and decide which direction would be best for guests to move around the table.

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If setting up a bar

, place it out of the way of the buffet line.



To avoid confusion

, direct guests to the beginning of the buffet by placing plates on one side of the table, and not at an end.



If there’s room

, put knives and forks — rolled in napkins or set into baskets — on a separate table a few feet past the buffet, which will encourage those with filled plates to move away from the table. Baskets of bread or rolls also can be put on that table. Be sure to slice bread all the way through so guests don’t have to separate the pieces with one hand.



Your guests will

be carrying a plate in one hand and serving with the other, so a variety of tongs — such as ones with spoonlike ends, or a flat side with a curved side — are great for buffets.



Make sure serving spoons

and bowls are well matched. Handles should not be so short that they fall into the bowl or so long that they tip over a bowl of sauce.



Save dishes with unusual ingredients

, or what Bass dubs “mystery food,” for small parties. If guests have to constantly stop to ask “what is this?,” the buffet line will bog down.



Encourage guests

to help themselves to seconds, and always serve yourself last.

CeCe Sullivan, Seattle Times home economist