Tips For Creating Your Dream Dessert Buffet

One of the hallmarks of any sumptuous gathering is an elaborate dessert buffet.  A dessert buffet is a sign of extravagance and indulgence.  It communicates that the enjoyment of food is a primary reason for people being in this place at this time. Many times much of the event budget is consumed planning the appetizers and main course; however, it is possible to elevate even the most budget-conscious desserts.  The biggest things to think about are:
  • Location
  • Display
  • Temperatures
  • Textures
  • Flavors

Location

Whether or not the desserts are eaten is largely a factor of where in the room the dessert station is located and the visual appeal of the display. In terms of the location, desserts are often located in corners or off to the side in order to make way for the largest portion of the meal - you can always count on more people eating the savory food. However, there is one key reason not to put dessert off to the side: aroma. Savory and hot food often SMELLS better or aromas waft through the air better. Think about it.  Sure, cookies smell great coming out of the oven, but they are rarely served WARM on a buffet.  Fajitas however SMELL amazing when they are being seared on an action station or even just waiting in a chafing dish. The aroma will draw people in, no matter where the food is. Dessert typically doesn't have that aspect, so if it isn't in the center or other prominent place, people who would otherwise have taken some won't find it.

Display 

If you are going to put the dessert front and center, it had better look AMAZING! Because there isn't typically an aroma to draw people in, desserts need to look stunning. Oftentimes, this takes care of itself with the decoration of, say, a large cake or tart. But how can you level up and make it even better? Easy. Symmetry and height.
A display that is a centerpiece in the decorative scheme needs to have a lot of visual appeal.  Having tall floral arrangements or dessert towers at the center is a good place to start.  Then move to tall serving pieces like cake stands or platforms.  Closest to the guest at the edge of the table is a good place for low platters and plates.
Also, symmetry in the buffet will create a beautiful effect showing intention and skill.  When things are placed symmetrically, it shows that the person setting the table composed everything the way it is.  Anyone can lay food on the table, but to create a beautiful table that addresses both form (beautiful design) and function (easy for the guest to use) takes experience.  Symmetry easily communicates that to the guest.
There is symmetry on the table AND symmetry on each platter.  Plates of assorted petit fours or mini tarts look best when displayed either in a pattern, or grouped by flavor. Randomly placing things makes it hard for guests to choose and it looks careless.

Temperature 

Especially in extreme climates, this is critical for success.  There are few things sadder than seeing food wilt and die as it is being presented to someone to eat. It is amazing how sad food creates a sad environment at an event. Just as in all areas of food service - respect the ingredients.  If apple cobbler should be served warm - make sure it is warm. Don't serve it cold or let it get cold. If something has whipped cream, keep it cold!  Don't put it on a buffet table in the bright summer sun at 12 pm and leave it there for hours.
At the same time, delicious vibrant food can create a lively environment. In extreme temperatures, you have to consider the experience of the guest and what will be satisfying.  Warm bread pudding on a cold evening - yes! Warm bread pudding in the middle of June - ugh! So, it is partly about what is the correct temperature of the items being served and it is partly about what items should be served in the temperature of the room/venue or time of year?

Texture

This speaks again to the visual appeal of the buffet. Again, visual appeal is critical to draw people in - especially for desserts. Dynamic textures are exciting. This applies not only for the food, but also for the linens, plates, servingware, flowers, etc. When it comes to the non-edible elements, everything creates a layering effect. Serving tongs sit on a platter, which sits on a linen, next to napkins and flowers.  Everything should work together to create contrast and texture visually.
When it comes to the actual food, texture takes on a new meaning.  We want to combine foods of different textures.  This is one of the biggest challenges in choosing desserts. It is very easy to end up with things that are all the same texture. Make sure to think carefully about how the food FEELS to the guest when they eat it.  Not everything needs to be crunchy, but it shouldn't all be soft either.

Flavors

In thinking about food, you'd think that this would be first on the list, but a dessert buffet is usually part of a complicated event that ostensibly includes food as part of a larger reason for gathering.  Unlike a restaurant experience, people didn't come specifically for the food, but that doesn't mean they don't care or don't want an amazing eating experience.
You could write an entire book about choosing food for an event or buffet, but suffice it to say, people want to feel like someone made "good choices" when it comes to the food.  They want the person choosing the menu to consider everything mentioned above AND things like, theme, time of day, service style, the preferences of the guests attending, etc. One of the biggest things to consider here is variety, just like choosing textures. In thinking about desserts, choosing textures is akin to choosing dessert products (cake, tarts, etc). Then you need to pick a FLAVOR for those products. Dessert flavors can require some creativity because the range of available flavors for desserts is so much smaller than savory food.  You can add raspberries to a duck dish, but you typically don't put duck breast on a raspberry tart. 
Again, consider the preferences of the guests, but you can also look at what is *typical* for groups generally.  Chocolate sells best - it is almost universal. Closely behind that is anything with fresh, uncooked fruit and vanilla flavored products. Those passionate about lemon will take that first, but otherwise lemon is largely ignored - shocking, right? All other flavor categories like coffee, nuts, caramel occupy the same place in terms of preference.
Look out for more ideas and tips on creating the perfect dessert buffet. Remember, it can be an afterthought.  It might not matter that much, but when you want to create a feeling of abundance and give the event an extra WOW factor, use these tips to bring the A game to your desserts!

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