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Difference Between “Buffet” and “Smorgasbord”, and the Cabinet You Need in Your Dining Room

You don’t need all-you-can-eat meals everyday but, trust me, having a permanent buffet in the house is a wonderful thing. Confused? Read on.



Buffet cabinet

Buffet is the French name of a sideboard furniture

Yes, seriously, a buffet is a cabinet that consists of shelves and drawers where China and silverware are stored and often displayed. In the old days, its purpose was to display the wealth of its owners.

Unlike the taller China cabinet, the French buffet is no higher than the dining table. And, even today, it is very useful to have one at home, and never mind its old purpose of displaying wealth.

But more on that later. Let’s first dissect why most people today define buffet as an all-you-can-eat meal rather than as a piece of furniture.

“Buffet” as an all-you-can-eat meal used to be called smorgasbord

When dining in a restaurant, you must have come across the term buffet at least once in your life. But what does it really mean? There is more than one way to dine in a restaurant and choosing a buffet meal is only one of them.

A table d’hôte (literally, “table of the host”) means a pre-selected multi-course meal for a fixed price. See an example.

Prix fixe means “a fixed price charged for any meal chosen from the variety listed on the menu.”

À la carte (literally, “by the bill of fare”) means each dish is ordered and itemized in the bill separately.

In today’s world, buffet is the term used to refer to an all-you-can-eat meal for a fixed price. In a cruise ship, breakfast, lunch and dinner are all buffet affairs.

Before restaurant buffets became the craze, all-you-can-eat meals were called smorgasbord.

What is smorgasbord?

Smorgasbord is derived from the Swedish word smörgåsbord—”smörgås” means sandwich and “bord” means table— which traces its roots to the brännvinsbord, a table of small, open-faced sandwiches served before the main meal. Think simple hors d’oeuvres served to people on their feet, mingling and indulging in small talk, before dinner.

How did smörgåsbord become smorgasbord? The internationalization of the spelling was the result of the Americans embracing a Swedish custom.

The first smorgasbord in America was seen at the 1939 World’s Fair held in New York, when Sweden’s delegation served up a traditional buffet as part of the exhibition. The Americans loved it so much they got rid of the pesky dots and rings over the “o” and “a” and americanized the word into its current state.

Source: Straight-up Scandinavia: Understanding the smörgåsbord

When did “smorgasbord” become “buffet”?

You must have figured that out already, right? The Swedish smörgåsbord is a side meal and the French buffet is a sideboard… Although unrelated, the name of the furniture positioned on one side of the dining room was applied by the Americans to the practice of serving an array of food “on the side”.

Today, buffet means a meal where all the dishes are laid out on a table or series of tables and diners serve themselves.

You may not want an all-you-can-eat meal everyday but a buffet is useful at home

And now, we come to the reason why I updated an old post. We recently acquired two buffet cabinets that are arranged side-by-side against a wall and next to the dining table.

No, we don’t use them for displaying anything. They are there for totally utilitarian reasons.

Buffet cabinet next to the dining table

Separating kitchen utensils from dining utensils

We didn’t always own buffet cabinets. Before the recent house renovation, everything that we now keep in the buffet cabinets — in the drawers, on the shelves and on top of the cabinets — used to be in the kitchen.

You should have seen how we’d pull out drawer after drawer searching for a soup ladle or a cake server. Most times, it was like a treasure hunt because things got mixed inside the drawers with the spatulas, the wire whisks, the kitchen tongs…

Then, I realized that there was a better way of organizing everything. It just makes more sense to separate everything used for cooking from everything used for eating.

So, we bought buffet cabinets. Everything used for cooking is in the kitchen; things used for eating and drinking are in the buffet cabinets.

The many conveniences of having a buffet cabinet

When you’re having a meal and you need an extra fork or spoon, why should you run to the kitchen to get one when you can just pull out a drawer behind your chair to get what you need?

Need to refill that pitcher of drinking water? We used to bring the pitcher to the kitchen where the water dispenser was, fill it up then carry the heavy water-filled glass back to the dining table. Today, the water dispenser is on the buffet cabinet.

When we want toast with our meal, the toaster is not more than two feet away. The toast doen’t get a chance to get cold before it reaches the dining table.

Has the stew turned a bit cold because everyone’s having a good time and talking too much during a meal? The microwave oven is within reach.

Making coffee? A year ago, whoever is cooking had to move everything and make space for anyone making a cup of coffee because we made coffee in the kitchen. Not anymore.

Best practices for using a buffet cabinet at home

Define sections. Dedicate one drawer for spoons and forks, for instance, another for serving spoons, soup ladles, cake servers, etcetera. You’ll also want a drawer for table napkins and place mats, if you use them (we don’t anymore).

Do the same thing with the shelves. You’ll need one section for drinking glasses, another for wine glasses and another for dessert glasses.

If you want to use the top of the buffet cabinet for the toaster, the microwave, an electric kettle or anything that can cause liquid spills, make sure that the surface can be easily wiped and cleaned.

The tops of our buffet cabinets are white ceramic tiles. I chose that because tiles are easy to clean and not prone to staining. On the other hand, a solid wood surface, well, I ditched that option for the same reason that we chose granite for the dining tabletop over solid wood.

Updated from a post originally published on March 15, 2017