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The Ultimate Guide: Unraveling the Distinctions Between Buffet and Smörgåsbord

The main differences between a buffet and a smorgasbord

Eating a delicious meal prepared by someone else is great, but there are few things more satisfying than piling your favourite foods onto your own plate. Buffets and smörgåsbords are two popular, communal, all-you-can-eat styles of food service that offer guests a variety of food to choose from. Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some important differences between them.

Origins and definitions

Take their origins, for example. A smörgåsbord contains a variety of Scandinavian classics such as pickled herring, smoked salmon, cheese, meat, bread and spreads. The word smörgåsbord comes from two Swedish words: smörgås, which means ‘open-faced sandwich’, and bord, which means ‘table’. The tapas-like convention dates back to 14th-century Sweden and has since become a mainstay of Swedish culinary culture.
At a buffet, on the other hand, guests serve themselves from a variety of dishes laid out on a table. The French term “buffet” simply means a sideboard table or a place where refreshments are served. In the 12th century, a buffet was a low bench or stool, and centuries later buffets became known as self-service meals.

Layout and presentation

The layouts of buffets and smörgåsbords are also quite different. In a traditional buffet, for example, the food stations, from hors d’oeuvres to main courses and desserts, are arranged in a linear fashion with a clear beginning and end. Smörgåsbords, on the other hand, are arranged in a circle, with foods presented in groups based on their flavours and textures. The smörgåsbord made its official American debut at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, where diners at The Three Crowns restaurant were mesmerised by the revolving table.

Diversity of dishes

In addition, the choice of food is sometimes different between the two. Buffets tend to offer a hodgepodge of cuisines, while smörgåsbords tend to focus on Swedish food. There’s also an etiquette about the order in which food should be eaten at a smörgåsbord. Pickled herring is always eaten first, often accompanied by beer or a sip of aquavit, a Scandinavian spirit. From there you can move on to fish and seafood, sausages and pâté, hot meats such as meatballs and lamb, cheeses and, last but not least, sweets and a cup of coffee after dinner.

A taste adventure

Whether you prefer an old-fashioned buffet or a smörgåsbord, helping yourself is always a taste adventure worth the price. Each style offers its own unique experience, from the cultural heritage and specific dishes to the layout and presentation. Understanding the differences between a buffet and a smörgåsbord can enhance your dining experience and allow you to fully appreciate the culinary traditions associated with each.
The next time you’re faced with the choice between a buffet and a smorgasbord, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to make an informed decision based on your preferences and the type of experience you’re looking for. So go ahead and indulge in the wealth of flavours and options, whether you’re enjoying Swedish delicacies or exploring a global range of dishes. Enjoy your meal!


Answer: The main difference is in their origin and presentation. A buffet usually consists of self-service dishes laid out on a table, whereas a smörgåsbord is a circular arrangement of Scandinavian classics presented in groups based on flavours and textures.

Are the food choices different between a buffet and a smörgåsbord?

Answer: Yes, the food can be different. Buffets often offer a variety of cuisines, while smörgåsbords focus on Swedish cuisine. Smörgåsbords include dishes such as pickled herring, smoked salmon, cheese, meat, bread and spreads, while buffets can include a variety of international dishes.

How are buffets and smörgåsbords laid out?

Answer: Buffets usually have a linear layout where different food stations are set up in a row. Smörgåsbords, on the other hand, have a circular layout that allows guests to conveniently access different dishes.

Is there a particular order in which the food on a smorgasbord should be consumed?

Answer: Yes, there is an etiquette to enjoying a smörgåsbord. Traditionally, pickled herring is eaten first, often accompanied by beer or aquavit. Guests can then move on to fish and seafood, cold meats and pâté, hot meats, cheeses and finally sweets and coffee.

Can I find both buffets and smörgåsbords in the same restaurant?

Answer: It is possible to find both buffet and smörgåsbord in certain restaurants. However, it’s important to note that smörgåsbords are more closely associated with Swedish culinary culture, while buffets offer a wider range of culinary options from different cuisines.

Do buffets and smörgåsbords have different prices?

Answer: Prices can vary depending on the establishment and the specific offerings of the buffet or smörgåsbord. Factors such as the selection and quality of the food and the overall dining experience can influence the price. It’s advisable to check with the restaurant or venue for specific pricing details.

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