Buffet success depends on teamwork, proper planning, smooth execution and constant refreshing.
Modern buffets showcase a property’s F&B flair. With intricate setups, upscale menus and a vast array of unique buffet pieces and serveware, they come about as close to fine dining as a buffet can.
They also require a lot of work.
“You have to be extremely organized,” says Jennifer Cappello, Executive Chef and Food & Beverage Director at Eagle Creek Golf Club, Orlando, Fla. “Proper planning is critical. Streamlined front- and back-of-house communication, strong menus and creative presentations are also essential.”
At Eagle Creek, Cappello has all of the details for buffets—including menus, headcounts and any special instructions—nailed down ten days in advance of the event. The information is input into a banquet event order that both front- and back-of-house staff can view as needed.
On the day of the event, both sides are given an outlined schedule for when things need to be ready and exactly where items like décor and chafers will be placed.
“Things come up,” says Cappello. “It’s important to have open communication with both departments, so we can work together and ensure the best possible experience for our members and guests.”
Visuals are Vital
For buffets, Cappello designates an attendant to manage the front of the house, while she and her sous chef, Kelby Deoleo, manage the kitchen, preparing and plating dishes so they look plentiful, while striving to minimize waste.
“It’s a fine balance,” she says. “Less tends to be more on a buffet, because you can always add. We find that by using shallow pans, we can make the buffet seem twice as big without having to hold huge amounts of food in a chafer. We also use fresh herbs and colorful, contrasting vegetables, to garnish and add visual appeal.”
“I was taught a long time ago to keep notes on everything,” says Executive Chef Jason Soule. “I can tell you how many people we served for lobster night for the past 15 years.”
Soule uses his meticulously organized notes to estimate how much to order and prepare for buffets. Then, during the event, he and his staff walk the line and fire food as needed.
“We’ve gotten pretty good about minimizing waste,” he says.
To make buffets look clean and attractive, Soule plates up smaller portions and adds multiple ingredients into chafers, so they have a more composed and finished look.
“If we’re serving salmon, for example, I’ll lay it on a bed of grits with a little relish on top and some sautéed spinach,” he says. “It looks more like a finished dish, plus the grits do double-duty, helping to absorb any juices.”
Beyond the Chafer
At Frenchmen’s Reserve, action stations are a part of almost every buffet.
“They’re more visually appealing, and members appreciate seeing their food being prepared before their eyes,” says Soule.
One of the club’s most successful action stations is its burger bar.
“We offer six different types of homemade burgers—a chuck-brisket short-rib mix, a turkey burger, a Greek-style lamb burger, a salmon dill burger, a Maryland crab cake and a homemade veggie burger,” says Soule. “Each is cooked to order.”
Members can choose between two dozen different toppings and three different types of buns.
“The first time we offered the burger bar, we had over a third of our membership dine with us,” says Soule. “That’s big for a Friday night.”
Action stations, like the chef-carved New York strip served with Béarnaise sauce and frizzled onions, are also popular at Eagle Creek. Ditto for themed buffets.
For a recent Jamaican-themed buffet, appetizers served by Capello included mini-johnnycakes with braised oxtail, along with conch fritters with a key lime marmalade dipping sauce. For dinner, she served a tropical baby spinach and fruit salad, as well as jerk chicken with a topping bar featuring mango chutney, a warm yogurt curry sauce and a crunchy jicama slaw. There were sweet plantains, coconut rice, black beans and mixed vegetables, too.
“The flavors were as vibrant as the beautiful tropical floral centerpieces and the live steel-drum band,” says Cappello, who notes that themed buffets are especially popular during golf tournaments.
“Members and guests appreciate that we are able to create authentic types of food from different cultures and regions,” she says. “We enjoy the challenge of coming up with these buffet menus—and they enjoy the fruits of our labor.”