Cutlery bundled in a cloth napkin should be at the end of the buffet line.

How to Set Up Linens for a Buffet

by Kathryn Hatashita-Lee

Setting lovely linen on your table dresses up your buffet and adds ambiance to the occasion. Taking the time to press the linen and smooth the creases will make your display look its best. A table topper paired with a skirt provides a graceful drape and hides table legs and surface imperfections. Skirts often feature accordion pleats to give a tailored effect. Topping with a runner adds a decorative layer and an overhang to give the linen a three-dimensional look. Silverware bundled in cloth napkins and placed at the end of the buffet line makes an easy package for your guests to pick up seconds before they take their seats.

Center a table topper on your table to create an even overhang around all sides of the table. This overhang can be short because the table skirt will provide more coverage.

Attach the table skirt with table skirt clips spaced consistently around the perimeter. For example, attach one clip to secure each foot of skirting. Some clips fit a specific tabletop thickness, such as ¾ inch, while other styles fit variable thicknesses. These skirts should extend close to the floor to hide the table legs and anything under the table, such as storage boxes.

Position a table runner, if preferred, down the middle of the table and set the long edges parallel to the table’s long edges. The narrow ends will hang over the table edges. Position a square topper over a round tablecloth and let the corners drape down the sides.

Wrap cloth napkins around the silverware and set the bundles in a basket, serving tray or large bowl at the far end of the buffet line. Paper serviettes can stack at the end of the table. Leaving the napkins to the end will keep your guests’ hands free to hold their plates and collect their food as they move along the line.

Items you will need

  • Table topper
  • Table skirt
  • Table skirt clips
  • Cloth or paper napkins


  • Table linens made from polyester provide a durable and versatile fabric for indoor and outdoor buffets.
  • A neutral tablecloth in white, ivory or black pairs well with a variety of tables and décor.
  • Place a centerpiece on your table to keep the platters closer to the edges and within reach.


  • Keep the table skirt clips away from small children and animals to prevent a choking hazard or other injury.

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images