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TIP OF THE DAY: Plan A Buffet ~ It’s National Buffet Day

As if we haven’t eaten enough from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, National Buffet Day is held on January 2. Why, oh why???

The good news is that it is easy to have a low-calorie buffet; more about that below.

The word “buffet” came to the U.S. from a French sideboard, a long, narrow, high table traditionally used in the dining room for serving food, for displaying serving dishes, and underneath, for storage of plates, flatware, etc.

The use of the word expanded from home furnishings to elaborate tables of food at restaurants. (The first restaurant as we know it is believed to have been established in Paris in 1765 by one A. Boulanger, a soup vendor.)

We unabashedly love buffets. Our favorite meal is a little bit of many foods, and we often serve party buffets at home (there’s a list of them below).

A bonus: We don’t spend the entire dinner hour jumping up from table to kitchen.

A good buffet is food-lover excitement.

In our home town (New York City), we can head to* buffets that focus on different cuisines:

  • Brazilian Steakhouse
  • Chinese and other Asian
  • General American Cuisine
  • Indian
  • Pasta
  • Pizza
  • Salad (or Soup & Salad)
  • Seafood buffets
  • Sushi
    Some people avoid buffets because of fear of overeating.

    But a buffet doesn’t have to be high in calories, especially the ones you prepare at home.

    The board will be growing with even half of these recipe ideas.

    In alphabetical order, consider:

  • Build-your-own leafy green salad (different lettuces and salad vegetables); olive oil and flavored vinegars
  • Deviled eggs made with yogurt and mustard
  • Edamame
  • Grilled or roasted meat and poultry
  • Grilled or poached fish and shellfish
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Specialty salads: cucumber or tzatziki, fennel and onion, lentil salad, red cabbage slaw, three-bean salad
  • Smoked salmon or gravlax
  • Spiralized vegetable salad (check out this list)
  • Spiralized vegetable “linguine” (same list as above)
  • Whole grain salad: barley, bulgur, quinoa, etc.
  • Whole wheat party breads, crackers or rolls
    For Dessert:

  • Dark chocolate-dipped strawberries (dipped 1/4 of the way)
  • Frozen grape and banana skewers
  • Fruit compote
  • Fruit salad with optional Greek yogurt topping
  • Fruit compote


    We’ve included party bars in this list: a table of ingredients that guests customize for themselves.

    Like salad bars†, the base ingredient is provided with numerous options for add-ons.

  • Applesauce Bar
  • Agua Fresca Bar
  • Antipasto Bar
  • Apple Cider Party Bar
  • Assorted Desserts Party Bar
  • Avocado Bar
  • Bacon Bar
  • Baked Potato Bar
  • Bloody Mary Bar
  • Breakfast & Brunch Party Bar
  • Brownie Sandwich Bar
  • Bruschetta Bar
  • Chili Bar
  • Cocktail Spreads Bar
  • Coconut Bowl Bar/li>
  • Congee Bar
  • Crêpes Bar
  • Crostini Bar
  • Éclair Bar
  • Falafel Bar
  • Flavored Shots Party Bar
  • Frozen Yogurt Bar
  • Gazpacho Bar
  • Grain Bowl Buffet
  • Green Bagel Bar (for St. Patrick’s Day)
  • Grilled Avocado Bar
  • Guacamole Garnish Bar
  • Guacamole Party Bar
  • Holiday Cupcakes Bar
  • Hot Dog Bar
  • Hot Fudge Sundae Bar
  • Ice Cream Bar
  • Ice Cream Sandwich Bar
  • Irish Coffee Bar
  • Jambalaya Bar
  • Mac & Cheese Bar
  • Mashed Potato Bar
  • Meatball Bar
  • Mediterranean Buffet
  • Mexican Elote Bar
  • Pimm’s Cup Bar
  • Popcorn Party Bar
  • Pudding Party Bar
  • Shandy Bar
  • S’mores Bar
  • Stuffed Avocado Bar
  • Sundae Bar
  • Sushi Hand Roll (Temaki) Party Bar
  • Taco & Wing Bar
  • Tapas Bar
  • Wedge Salad Bar


    The Swedish are credited with popularizing the modern buffet in the U.S.

    At the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, the restaurant at the Swedish Pavilion’s restaurant, Three Crowns, featured a smörgåsbord—a large help-yourself selection of some of the best hot and cold Swedish dishes.

    In restaurant terms, for a fixed sum, guests could help themselves as many and as much as they want from a table of abundant choices.

    During the second half of the 20th century, the smörgåsbord—which had been referred to as a “buffet” by the American media—grew popular in the U.S.

    Restaurants debuted buffet-style lunches and dinners with multiple hot and cold dishes, set up on a long table. Diners helped themselves to whatever they liked.

    The idea extended into homes, too: certainly, our grandmother and mother entertained with buffets.

    But centuries before then, in the U.S., the concept began at taverns and inns with the “groaning board,” or simply “board” or sideboard—a piece of furniture that held victuals for guests to help themselves.

    Those victuals were, in most cases, just the basics: meat, potatoes, bread, butter, soup.

    Across the pond in Scandinavia, however, the Brännvinsbord anticipated the evolution of the modern buffet.
    The Brännvinsbord (Schnapps Table Or Brandy Table)

    During the middle of the 16th century, the Brännvinsbord emerged as a Scandinavian meal concept.

    In Sweden and Finland, the merchant and upper classes served a schnapps table (brännvinsbord), a small buffet placed on a side table to accompany brandy or liqueurs as a mid- or late-afternoon refreshment of schnapps or brandy (the difference).

    In more affluent homes, foreign spirits such as cognac and whiskey might also be served.

    This pre-dinner nibble was somewhat analogous to the modern American Happy Hour buffet or cocktail hour. As a way to stave off hunger prior to dinner, it could be compared to the English custom of afternoon tea (with alcohol instead of tea).

    The Russian tradition of zakuski is a variation of the brännvinsbord.

    The Brännvinsbord was set up on a side table where guests gathered for a pre-dinner drink. It was separate from the formal dinner that followed; and could occur from two to five hours before dinner itself.

    The sideboard traditionally held five types of food:

  • Different types of bread with butter
  • Cheeses
  • Salted fish, such as smoked or salted salmon or pickled herring
  • Sausage, smoked or dried meat, cold cuts
  • Two types of spiced brandy, e.g. cumin, dill or wormwood
    Men and women might be served in separate rooms, where the women were often offered a sweeter brandy or liqueur (and each group could converse on topics of their specific interests) [source].

    By the 18th century the concept had become quite popular; but the old concept was at the cusp of peaking and expanding.

    Around the beginning of the 19th century, it developed into a more extensive buffet—or in Scandinavia, the modern smörgåsbord.

    During the expansion of the European railroads throughout Europe, after 1830, the smörgåsbord buffet increased even more in popularity.

  • It was served as an appetizer in hotel restaurants (like the antipasto bar at Italian restaurants.
  • It was offered as fare at railway stations, before the advent of dining cars.
    The old Brännvinsbord concept survives as an permanent exhibit in the Nordic Museum in Stockholm [source].
    The Smörgåsbord Enters The 20th Century

    During the 1912 Olympic Games held in Stockholm, restaurants stopped serving smörgåsbord as an appetizer and began to serve it as a main course [source]).


    [1] This Swedish smorgasbord was prepared for Midsummer Eve, a national holiday in Sweden. Here’s the scoop from Play And Go (photo © Play And Go).

    [2] Part of the buffet at Hibachi Grill in Jersey City, New Jersey (photo © Hibachi Grill).

    [3] Part of a healthy home buffet (photo © Michael Connors | Stock Xchange).

    [4] A veggie-centric healthy home buffet (photo © Nancy Louie | iStock Photo).

    [5] Turn store-bought or take-out Mediterranean food as a home buffet (photo © Nanoosh | NYC).

    [6] Part of an antipasto bar (photo © Yulia Davidovich | iStock Photo).

    [7] Our favorite restaurant buffet, at Fogo de Chao (photo © Fogo de Chao).

    [8] An Indian buffet at Clay Oven Indian Restaurant (photo © Clay Oven Indian Restaurant | Canada).

    [9] Chinese buffet at Asian King in Texas (photo © Zomato).

    [10] Dessert buffet at Ichi Umi, a sushi and Japanese food buffet in New York City (photo © Ichi Umi).

    [11] Another dessert buffet (photo © Agnes Csondor | iStock Photo).

    With enthusiastic mention by the media, smörgåsbord became known throughout the world. The word often used was buffet, which was much easier to pronounce and remember in the English-speaking world.

    Jump to the U.S. in the 1940s. The American version of smörgåsbord, the buffet, began in Las Vegas at the Buckaroo Buffet restaurant
    Customers could dine on unlimited salads, meats and seafood for the price of $1 (which equated to $17.51 in 2017 [source].

    Today, Las Vegas may be the buffet capital of the world, with its famous all-you-can-eat buffets at major hotels, with seeming endless choices, including desserts.

    The 1980s, large chain restaurant buffets emerged: Golden Corral, Hometown Buffet, Old Country Buffet, Pizza Hut, Ryan’s, Sizzler, Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes. Mom and Pop buffets followed.

    In 1997, the upscale Fogo de Chao Brazilian steakhouse chain opened its first U.S. location 1997 (it now has has 57 locations worldwide).

    It’s buffet heaven: an immense salad bar of top-quality items accompanies unlimited beef, lamb, pork and poultry carved for you from skewers at tableside.
    The Future Of The Buffet In The U.S.

    According to Business Review at Berkeley, an independent student-run website, even before Covid the buffet concept was in trouble.

    They claim that:

  • In the 1990s and early 2000s, consumers became more health conscious. While many buffets have healthy options, Buffets typically aren’t considered “healthy options” by most consumers, and even though salads and seafood are often part of a buffet, it is felt that buffets encourage overeating.
  • The target demographic, baby boomers and increasingly aging, and shrinking as a result. Buffets don’t particularly appeal to millennials and younger generations. They aren’t considered hip, aren’t considered healthy, and can’t easily tap into the influence of social media, making them unappealing to the average younger consumer as a result.
    Another article in the trade industry periodical and website Restaurant Business, from 2020, discusses the challenges to be faced by buffet offerings post-Covid.
    As we said up-front, we unabashedly love buffets and no matter what happens, we will hunt down the best—or prepare them ourself!

    *This article was written during the Covid restaurant shut-down, and refers to happier times—with hopes for return to normalcy.

    †There are different levels of “salad bars.” Some may just have salad ingredients. Others expand the concept with cheeses, meats, seafood and more.


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