Setting up a buffet to serve a crowd can prove more complicated than the cooking. Where should you put the bar, the desserts, the plates? Do forks and knives go at the beginning or the end of the line? And what about table decorations?

Barbara Smith — cookbook author, housewares designer, TV personality and owner of B. Smith restaurants in Washington and New York — has some good advice for a smooth event, from salad to side dish.

•Decoration. Use a favorite tablecloth or buy seasonal fabric such as velvet, plaid, even glitzy voile. Embellish with simple greenery, pine cones, shiny ornaments, flowers or fruit. Watch where you place candles, especially tall ones, that might singe someone’s sleeve.

•Presentation. Stack plates at the beginning of the serving line, utensils at the end. Forks and knives wrapped in a ribbon-tied napkin are a pretty touch. Use china plates (and they don’t have to match!) if you have enough, plastic disposables if you don’t. But avoid paper, which gets soggy, and use silverware, even if you have to borrow: “Plastic utensils are for picnics.”

•Notification. It’s thoughtful to let guests — especially vegetarians and those with food restrictions — know what’s in each dish. Write out a brief menu and display it in a festive frame, letting folks know there are nuts in the brownies or cilantro in the chowder. Foods with visual appeal — vivid veggies and fruits, colorful garnishes — are part of the table display.

•Space allocation. When space is at a premium, go vertical with tiered serving dishes and skinny cylinder vases for flowers.

•Separation. Putting desserts within sight of the main course helps calorie-counters make choices: potatoes, no; pecan pie, yes. And avoid gridlock around the food table by setting up the bar in another room. “You can use a kitchen counter but you have to be a clean cook,” Smith says. Tea and coffee can go near desserts.

•And finally: “When friends ask if they can help, let them bring what you need,” the experienced hostess urges. Even for things such as extra folding chairs, graciously accept a helping hand.

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