How to set a buffet table is a written in stone kind of procedure. Here are a few rules that make it easier for your guests.
The first step is to understand how people walk a table and make sure that what they need is on hand.
Don't jam a table in front of a wall. Have it int he middle of a room to allow guests to walk around it. Better traffic flow.
Plates go at one end of the table where the food line up starts. Forks, knives and napkins go at the other end so that you are not carrying them around as you pick up your food. Food starts with the main dish and accompanying sauce if there is one. It then goes on to salads or side dishes. Your cutlery and bread is on the end as well as butter if you are using it. If there are condiments for certain dishes make sure they are right beside them.
Use serving spoons or tongs that make it easy for people to pick up the food.
Don't put out large platters of hot food unless you have a way to keep it warm. Use smaller platters and refill
Drinks are always in another place so that you have your food and napkin before you pick up your drink. It is all for easier handling.
If you have extra tables set them up throughout the house for people to sit. Even upstairs is fine if you are cramped for space. Buffets are much more fun when you actually have a place to put your plate.
I bought a couple of 6 foot folding tables plus cheap folding chairs at one of the box stores and these are wonderful for cramming in about 10 people a table.
Clear the table before dessert then place desserts and plates on one end and coffee and tea on the other. I prefer white mugs as they are easier to handle than cups and saucers but that is a personal choice. Offer both milk and cream and a nice touch is to have brown coffee sugar and granulated for tea. Place more napkins here because everyone has lost their napkins by now – pretty paper is acceptable.
When I was at the Cordon Bleu they always suggested height on a buffet table for the best presentation. If you want to do that then pick your serving dishes first; place books on the table at various heights and throw over the buffet cloth. Play around with the book heights until you get the look you want making sure that the serving dishes will fit securely on top. It looks spectacular. I think flowers are wasted on a buffet table but if you want them then make them low. I prefer to use votives if I want candles because candlesticks may get knocked over.