Five Budget Friendly Buffet Ideas with Massive Visual Appeal
By Christy Lamagna, CMP, CMM, CTSM
If you avoid buffets because you think your budget can’t afford them, think again. As clever event strategists know, creativity is more valuable than money, so the next time you plan a menu, don’t automatically skip to a plated meal. Consider a buffet, but make sure it’s noteworthy in both taste and visual appeal.
When assembling a buffet plan, think of the food as not just the meal but part of the décor and entertainment. Clever presentations can make ordinary foods exciting, interesting and popular while still being cost effective. Consider this: just a tiny bit of creativity makes oatmeal interesting.
For breakfast, instead of just offering oatmeal with brown sugar, raisins, and cinnamon, why not build an oatmeal bar? Toppings can include both sweet AND savory toppings. Add peas, Pecorino cheese and cracked pepper, pistachios, sautéed mushrooms, bacon bits, scallions and feta cheese. Add to the ‘sweet’ offerings dried cherries, chocolate chips, assorted jams, maple syrup and almond butter.
Mashed potatoes go from ‘ho-hum’ to ‘give me some’ when toppings are added. Sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, caramelized onions, blue cheese crumbles, chopped parsley, olives, salsa- the ideas are endless.
Serving Mexican food? Why not create a sour cream bar accompaniment? Cilantro lime, zesty jalapeno, chipotle, sriracha, or sweet creamed corn add an unexpected zing. Since you’re being creative, why not give some zip to your salsa? Instead of the traditional, ‘hot, medium, mild’ offer mango, peach, pineapple, and black olive cilantro are all great flavors to add.
Desserts can also get into the action. Ice cream/gelato bars are huge hits that end the meal with a smile. Toppings can edge out the ice cream when they’re delicious enough. Brownie bites, crushed chocolate bars, pretzels, Swedish fish, marshmallows, sweetened cereal (think Captain Crunch or Fruit Loops) and a myriad of other dry toppings are usually huge hits. Add wet options: hot fudge, peanut butter sauce, warm caramel, Nutella, whipped cream and a variety of fruit syrups. What’s not to love?
Beverages aren’t left out of the buffet fun. Gourmet water bars can include strawberries, cucumbers, lemon, lime, orange slices and more. Iced tea bars can include flavored teas, sweet tea, decaf tea and sugar-free tea. Lemonade can be infused with strawberries, lime, or mixed with iced tea. Are all easy ways to get attendees away from expensive cans/bottles, customize their drink and add variety in unexpected places.
Each of these options are examples of food that would otherwise be ignored, transformed into visually appealing, delicious and still affordable offerings. Take it a step beyond and have attendees take photos of their creations, text their flavor combinations and name their unique concoction. Food is only as interesting as the people preparing it, so tap into your imagination and let the deliciousness begin!