New Year's Eve food is best served buffet-style. Set your buffet table against a wall, or in the center of the room. For only six or eight guests, it is often placed with the long side against a wall; a larger number may need both long sides for sufficient room when serving themselves.
Take time to arrange the buffet table. Consider it a centerpiece of your party.
Dress the table in lace, linen or with attractive placemats. Bring in all of your best beautiful serving trays and plates. Strive for artistic flower arrangements and, if you're using candles, supply plenty of them so there's enough light.
The goal of a buffet table is to serve people quickly, so flow is important.
Arrange the table carefully. Confusing traffic plans should be avoided in order to help the serving line progress with ease and speed. Place a stack of large dinner plates at the point where guests are to start; napkins and silverware should be placed where they will be picked up last, after the plates are filled.
With so much casual dining going on, it's a good idea to serve only foods that can be eaten with a fork. Rolls are usually buttered before they are put on the buffet. If you serve a tossed salad, tongs are far more easily handled than the conventional salad fork and spoon. Since seasoning is so largely a matter of individual preference, individual salt and pepper shakers should be provided on snack tables or other convenient surfaces near the guest's chairs rather than on the buffet. A side table may hold a tray with goblets or glasses and a pitcher of iced water.
Limit the number of courses to just two -- a main course with salad and rolls, and a dessert. A chafing dish is a great convenience on a buffet table; heat-retaining casseroles are also an aid in keeping hot foods hot. Mixtures should not be too thin and runny, salads not too juicy. Tossed or molded salads are always good; fruit salad mixtures may be served in lettuce or cabbage cups which can be transferred to plates.
Remember to consider eye-appeal of foods as well as their taste-appeal. The colors of the foods themselves as well as their arrangement on serving dishes and their garnishing are important, for a buffet meal provides almost the only opportunity for guests to see the whole menu at once. In planning for your party, be sure to estimate quantities generously.
After your guests have served themselves, refill empty serving dishes or remove them from the buffet. Second servings may be passed by the host(ess) or guests can be asked to help themselves to seconds. After everyone's had a chance for a second at the main dish, clear the buffet table and set out the dessert(s).
Larger, heartier buffet meals are sometimes served. For example, a roast turkey may be placed at one end, and a handsomely garnished baked tender ham at the other; both of these may be set out either hot or cold, and sliced or partly sliced beforehand. The could also be sliced and served by the host's helpers. To complete this particular meal, serve small, hot Southern biscuits with a big relish tray of carrot sticks, celery curls, olives, a platter of sliced tomatoes drizzled with French dressing and lemon meringue tarts. Don't forget some cranberry jelly to go with the turkey and spiced crab apples or peaches for the ham.