Have you heard of a grazing table? It's like a buffet table, but it's specifically designed to pick up a nibble here and there instead of grabbing a plate at the end of the table, standing in the buffet line and loading you plate up with ziti and salad. Think of a grazing table as a cheese and charcuterie board on steroids, curated by someone who won't allow a single person to touch it until photos have been posted to Pinterest and Instagram.

Grazing table vs. buffet

buffet Expect to see fewer traditional buffets at weddings and other events now that the grazing table trend has taken over. (Photo: LElike83/Shutterstock)

Technically, a grazing table is a buffet. In fact, sometimes the term grazing buffet is used instead of grazing table. But, it doesn't look like the traditional buffet table. Rarely do you see a chafing dish on a grazing table, nor do you see a bowl of ice under food that needs to be kept cold like shrimp cocktail. Rather, a grazing table is usually full of primarily finger foods that keep well at room temperature for a period of time.

Cheese and charcuterie tend to be the stars of a grazing table, although it can be full of whatever type of food you want. These tables tend to include breads, dips, raw vegetables, fresh or dried fruits, nuts, olives and pickles, but they can also have foods like bite-sized sandwiches, as long as it can be picked up with the hands once it hits a plate. And, a grazing table is meant to be visually appealing. It's not put together; it's "styled." Of course, once guests start moving through it, a grazing table, it can be a mess.

Grazing table guidelines


There are no specific rules to creating a grazing table, but there seem to be guidelines most people follow when styling one. From looking at grazing tables on social media, including the one above from Wild Plumb Events, these seem to be the general parameters.

  • Use a large table. You want several guests to have access to the food at once.
  • Cover the entire table with food. Most grazing tables are artfully crammed with food, even if some of that food is repeated several times on the table.
  • Have a decorating theme. The linens, serving pieces and utensils should all be similarly themed. For instance, you can do all mismatched china patterns but you wouldn't want to do mismatched china, stoneware and paper products together. There should also be natural, non-edible elements on the table that match your theme like flowers, plants and sprigs of herbs.
  • Not all foods need a platter. Butcher block paper is often placed over the table and some foods, particularly meats and cheeses, are placed directly on the paper.
  • Vary the heights of the food on the table. Use pedestals to elevate some food items to make the table visually more appealing.
  • Use foods that keep well at room temperature and are mainly finger foods. Don't use items that you need to cut with a knife once they've left the table. Cut everything that should be cut so people can quickly pick up bite-sized portions — like breads or hard cheeses.
  • Choose foods of varying colors and textures for extra visual appeal.
  • Grazing tables can be the entire main course of a meal at an event, and a grazing dessert table can be separate or included on the main table.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Why you should create a grazing table this year
There are differences between a buffet and a grazing table, and the biggest one is about nibbling as you go vs. loading up a plate.