How To Set a Brunch Buffet Table & Napkin Pockets

Organization is my thing. I love being prepared, having everything ready to go, having lists and knowing what needs to get done. There’s is nothing more satisfying than checking items off the list and a sense of reaching the finish line. It’s actually a big joke ‘round these parts - “Dana, what’s next on the list?” Laugh all you want, I can take it, but rest assured I will never leave something undone or left at the back of the refrigerator… unless I choose. So, no shocker that pre-thinking the table and platters is part of my to do list. Having a plan of attack makes any job easier. And it’s no different when entertaining. All the same rules apply.

Of course, you’ve read previous posts spouting the importance of pre-pro (that’s short in the TV world for pre-production) in the food prep area, or in culinary terms mise en place. Certainly having all your food prepped is vital but it’s equally important for setting up the final table, all the platters and serving utensils. Decades ago when I entertained, I had one set of dishes and very few serving items. So it was a tad simpler. Now that I have more of everything, I have more options which can be overwhelming. But even if you only have a few items from which to choose, you still need to make those work for you in the best ways possible. That’s why envisioning the entire event can actually shave time and energy in the long run. Ask yourself, what should the table look like and what platters or bowls should be used to make the day of party flow easier? Putting some thought to this prior to is one less task that needs to get done right before guests arrive.

I thought I would share with you a carefree table setting, the platter choices and arrangement that I did for a recent brunch. As a matter of fact, that gathering was originally slated for a Saturday evening but we needed to reschedule. Our new date landed us on a Sunday midday; perfect for brunch.

The Table
No formal table setting for this brunch. Nor a fully covered table. It’s well documented that I love putting a table cloth down, but for this sunny, brunch buffet that felt too stuffy. Whimsy was my main goal. So, I used a small square light blue tablecloth and placed it with the end points on the center of the table, leaving the ends of the table exposed.

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Then for movement and visual interest, I tossed a swath of white sheer material down the length of the table. Thus creating the exact vibe I intended. Both haphazard yet purposeful, it softened the whole table. It actually drew the eye to center of the table. Now I had a landing strip for the food platters.

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Florals
With the variety of food I had planned, I knew there would be a lot of platters occupying space, so I opted for a very simple and small floral arrangement. Using only filler florals that I found at Trader Joe’s, I arranged the three different florals in a color blocking, circular manner to create a bright, burst of life. Total of $9. I placed in the center, and knew that the colors would be the inspiration for for the platter choices.

Bold, bright, contrasting and complimentary colors.

Bold, bright, contrasting and complimentary colors.

Napkins/Utensils/Dishes
There are so many ways to go when arranging napkins and utensils. For more ideas, check out my post Napkin Folding - 5 Basic Folds - Countless Options. Originally I was going to use a simple roll up technique but after letting my mind float about what would make sense for the event I came up with something very different. Since this was going to be a small gathering, just 6 in total, I still wanted the silverware/napkin set up to be an easy grab. Here’s the thinking…

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I grabbed simple rustic, cotton cloth for napkins for an relaxed Sunday vibe. In my drawer of tricks I found 6 lengths of ties, 3 different colors that all coordinated and played nicely with the overall color theme. Can you identify what these ‘strings’ are from?

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If you guessed the handles from clothing shopping bags you would have been correct. 3 different bags, 2 ties each of harmonious colors. For all those who say, don’t save stuff, I say BooHoo to that. These were perfect in every way. There is an art to seeing the usefulness of an item that you would normally toss away.

I decided to create napkin pockets by stacking a knife, fork and spoon together. The equivalent to a 3 way spooning situation. Then I placed them in the center of the folded napkin and gathered up the material around it like a flower petal.

Using the string, I tied them together about 3/4 ways up to create a flower like pocket.

Next… how to corral them. I remembered I still had a basket with leftover pinecones in it. Perfect for an organic feel.

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I kept the pinecones stacked on one side and lined the napkin ‘florals’ in the basket placing it next to a stack of white dinner plates for a grab and go station.

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Serving Platters
This is really where the menu plan meets the serving plan. Think about your menu. Think of the amounts of each item you plan to serve, then pull some platters and see what works and looks good together. Once I have a good sense, I then place them in the position on the table to review the flow.

Wanting to bring color and pizzaz to the table, I pulled out my most colorful, playful platters. The round fish plate would be for salmon burgers, the blue fish bowl for the relish, the long rectangular for the mini buns and purple cake stand for the traditional Spanish tortilla.

Wanting to bring color and pizzaz to the table, I pulled out my most colorful, playful platters. The round fish plate would be for salmon burgers, the blue fish bowl for the relish, the long rectangular for the mini buns and purple cake stand for the traditional Spanish tortilla.

Create Stations
I like culling food items that go together in a ‘station’. This is accomplished simply by huddling them on a board, tray or platter and use smaller bowls within. Given that I had a few offerings for the guests to create their own yogurt parfait, a yogurt ‘station’ was a must. I chose a small wooden board for a rustic feel, then to invite color and whimsy, I chose two different bowls in the similar color scheme. One for yogurt and one for granola. Instead of cereal bowls, I stacked glass, stemless martini glasses for yogurt parfaits. Toss some fruit around and you now have a Yogurt/Granola Station.

Whole Table
Place all the platters, boards around the table to make sure there is good flow and visual interest. Move them around until it feels right to you. I kept most of the platters toward the center leaving room if our guests wanted to sit at the table to eat. We all opted to pile our plates and eat by the fireplace in the living room.

Sure it’s lots of color, and different styles but the blues and hues unite them.

Sure it’s lots of color, and different styles but the blues and hues unite them.

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The end result should be an inviting burst of tantalizing offerings that entice your guests to continue wandering around the table to pick and nibble away.

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Bruce and Maryann eyeing the offerings and creating a sumptuous plate of good bites.

Bruce and Maryann eyeing the offerings and creating a sumptuous plate of good bites.

Our guests did just that. Hopefully, this inspired you to create your own buffet table scape. I guarantee that having all the platters and the table pre-set will be a blessing not a chore.

Side note: I didn’t mention beverage station, but we always have one. If you look over MaryAnne’s right shoulder in the photo above you get a glimpse of the sparkle of glassware. We have a credenza that we use to house all the glassware and beverages as a self serve station. If you don’t have a credenza, add a small folding table, or carve out some space on your main buffet table. The idea is to have all the beverage items together to make it easy for your guests to serve themselves.

It’s springtime folks, Brunch is served!

 
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Napkin Folding - 5 Basic Folds - Countless Options

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I asked. You answered. Now the ball is back in my court to deliver.

Some of you have requested simple, yet elegant ways to fold a napkin.   Sure, you can just plop a napkin down next to the plate. Why not, what's all the fuss, right?  Guests are just going to place them on their laps anyway.  But I will ask you this one question, and then see how you feel about just plopping that napkin down.

When you enter the home of a host/hostess and see a table set with place settings and napkins lovingly positioned, how do you feel? 

1. Oh Ah, what a beautiful, welcoming setting. I feel special.

2. Oh yeah, that's where we're going to eat

If  you answered #1, keep reading.  If you answered #2 grab some other reading material and forget about scrolling through the rest of this post. I promise next week will bring something of more interest for you.

Setting a table can be as easy or as complicated as you want. The same goes with the finishing touches such as  folding a napkin.  I choose the simple method, but still try to make an impact.  Some of the styles below are quite basic with a twist. They are geared a bit more towards the festive side for the holidays, yet any of them can be used or modified for any occasion.  

The idea here is not to twist yourself up as you fold napkins.  Sure those fancy, schmancy, origami style versions look impressive.  But let's face it, those take a ton of effort and time only to have sadness kick in when your guests pull apart your time consuming creation and place them on their laps.  I'm all for making the table look pretty.  You guys know that about me by now. But I am also practical.  Employing simple techniques for maximum impact.  Whether it's preparing a dish, plating it or folding a napkin.

I pulled out a few items to play with for this episode of how to fold a napkin... Fast but pretty.

I pulled out a few items to play with for this episode of how to fold a napkin... Fast but pretty.

Let the folding, or rolling begin. The best part about these suggestions is that you don't need the exact napkin or ribbon or decor that I show in these examples.  These are guides and intended to motivate you to look around your house to see what you can use.  Any of the ideas shown can be easily refashioned to incorporate what you already have.  In fact, all the ribbons I use are from packages I received, or remnants lingering around just waiting to be given the chance at another useful life.  I also cut the ribbon handles off of nice shopping bags.  These are usually good quality and the perfect size.  Give a good think about what you have readily available.  Need more hints. How about using twigs or acorns, cinnamon sticks or nutmeg rounds. A feather, a flower, chives. 

Although most of these are for individual place settings, I've shown two napkin options for use on a buffet or cocktail setting.

The Simple roll

This method is a no brainer.  The art comes in how to finish it with a little extra flare.

  • Fold the napkin in half and in half again.

  • From the open edge side of the napkin, begin rolling towards the folded edge of the napkin. This helps to create a cleaner finish.

  • Tie a 3/8" ribbon around the mid section and finish with an adornment.

Once you have rolled the napkin up, tie a ribbon, knot it, place an ornament down and tie a bow. Place in the middle of the plate.

Once you have rolled the napkin up, tie a ribbon, knot it, place an ornament down and tie a bow. Place in the middle of the plate.

3/8" ribbon + ornament

3/8" ribbon + ornament

Note the folded edge on the left side is where you want to roll to.

Note the folded edge on the left side is where you want to roll to.

The Simple roll - Candy Caned

Using the same simple roll technique, wrap the roll with a wider ribbon to create a candy cane or striped effect.

  • Tuck one end of the ribbon under the bottom right side of the napkin

  • At an angle begin to wind it around leaving equal amounts in between.

  • Tuck the edge under.

Chic, simplicity

Chic, simplicity

Roll the napkin

Roll the napkin

Using 1/2 grosgrain ribbon, tuck on end under the napkin and wind it around leaving equal amounts in between. Tuck the edge under.

Using 1/2 grosgrain ribbon, tuck on end under the napkin and wind it around leaving equal amounts in between. Tuck the edge under.

The simple roll - Crisscross

Can this simple roll be more versatile?  Duh, of course, it can.  If you don't want to spiral the ribbon around, why not create a straightforward crisscross effect.

  • Place the ribbon midway under the napkin, then crisscross in front placing the ends across the plate.

Modern, simple and elegant.

Modern, simple and elegant.

The buffet Roll

Using the roll technique, find a vase or bucket or even a wide bowl that coordinates with your table theme.  Then place all the rolled napkins in an orderly fashion. Place your napkin bucket near the flatware and dishes on your buffet table for easy access for your guests.  

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I didn't have enough black napkins so I used a cream/green one to coordinate. The way to make it look planned is to concentrate the colors. I choose to use the darker color for the circular perimeter with the light colored center. It feels like a flower.

I didn't have enough black napkins so I used a cream/green one to coordinate. The way to make it look planned is to concentrate the colors. I choose to use the darker color for the circular perimeter with the light colored center. It feels like a flower.

 

The Simple fold

I know you are saying, "What the heck? This is a napkin folded over in a rectangle.  Is she serious?"  Yes, I am.  This is a straightforward approach but by turning the napkin horizontally it feels slightly different.  Don't worry, keep scrolling. There are more plays off this easy technique.  

Is there anything easier than folding a napkin and placing it in the middle of the plate. I think not. But we can pump it up. Read on...

Is there anything easier than folding a napkin and placing it in the middle of the plate. I think not. But we can pump it up. Read on...

The Simple Fold Doubled Wrapped

You see.  The rectangle fold slightly jazzed up. (Fun tip: The sage green, crinkle organza ribbon is from our wedding.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I saved the ribbon from our wedding 16 years ago, and just like our marriage, it's still going strong!)  

  • Using a wide ribbon, starting on an angle tuck one end under the bottom left hand side.

  • Wrap the ribbon around twice, slightly overlapping in the middle so there is no gap.

  • Leave enough ribbon for the tail to poke out on the bottom right hand side. You may need to adjust as you go.

The simple rectangle napkin has a more powerful impact with a doubled ribbon wrap tail peeking out.

The simple rectangle napkin has a more powerful impact with a doubled ribbon wrap tail peeking out.

Fold napkin in half, then half again, than half yet again.

Fold napkin in half, then half again, than half yet again.

The wide ribbon is what makes this angled wrap have more presence.

The wide ribbon is what makes this angled wrap have more presence.

The Simple Fold & Half Knot

Same rectangular fold, same ribbon but with a bit more sass.  

  • Place the wide ribbon under the napkin in the center with the top portion of ribbon being slightly longer than the bottom.

  • Bring the the top portion of the ribbon to lay down over the napkin.

  • Take the bottom ribbon and cross over front.

  • Then tuck that piece under and flare the tail out to the right.

Once you pull the short side through to the right, make both tails lie flatly down.

Once you pull the short side through to the right, make both tails lie flatly down.

The top portion of the ribbon rests across the middle of the napkin while the bottom/under portion gets crossed over front.

The top portion of the ribbon rests across the middle of the napkin while the bottom/under portion gets crossed over front.

Tuck the ribbon under the midsection and pull to a loose knot.

Tuck the ribbon under the midsection and pull to a loose knot.

The triangle

Yes, this is another no brainer fold, but one that also has versatility.  

  • Fold the napkin in half and half again

  • If you have a nice finished edge like the one shown below, fold the point down only to the trimmed edge. (You can also use this approach even if you don't have a fancy edge. It will actually make your triangle fold a bit more special.

  • You can also just fold it point to point.

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Simple Triangle & Ornament tuck

Tuck an adornment under one side.  Use a cinnamon stick, or a flower stem or this stem of pearl like buds.

 

The Triangle Tower - Buffet Style   

Using the same triangle technique but folding edge to edge, you can then stack them to create a uniformed row for a buffet table

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The fold & hold

Easy fold in half fashion and tying in the middle.

  • Lay the napkin right side down and fold each edge into the middle

  • Flip the napkin over placing a ribbon midway. Add an adornment

  • Tie one knot to secure and place onto the plate

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The Drape

The more elegant dropping of a napkin. 

  • Fold the napkin in half

  • Grab the middle folded edge and let the napkin naturally drape

  • Place the napkin on the plate. It will create pretty folds

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Fold the napkin in half and grab the folded edge.

Fold the napkin in half and grab the folded edge.

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The Tied Drape

Just add a ribbon tied 1/3 the way down from the top

As I mentioned, none of these are ground breaking.  They are simple techniques with a little extra pizzaz, which is what I believed you asked for.  I hope I sparked your creative spirit using the napkins and odds/ends pieces in your home to create a festive, happy landing place for your guests.