Definitely recruit friends and family to help you cook, and plan your cooking agenda well. What you want to cook first, and what you need to cook last … Obviously plan well for the hot foods served in the chafers, but perhaps also serve some cold foods that can also be very pretty.
Cold foods: I think that pesto usually travels well. When fiance and I travel, I usually make a pesto cream pasta with veggies like tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, corn, and grated parmesan. It’s great hot … but it’s also great cold! Shrimp cocktail is definitely nice, small pinwheels can look very pretty as well. Gourmet sandwiches like salmon and goat cheese with avocado and tomato on pumpernickel. You can quarter them on the diagonal and stick a cute toothpick in each one.
Make a signature salad. When I was in college, we’d always have an outdoor barbeque on convocation day and they always had the same salad that I absolutely love. Fresh sliced strawberries, dried blueberries, sliced almonds, mixed greens, and maple balsamic vinaigrette. I love that salad so much, that when I graduated and couldn’t have it anymore, I made it myself. I’m thinking about doing that, or doing a mixed green salad with grilled peaches, pecans, and blue cheese in honey-dijon dressing.
Meat: How about beef beef bourguignon? You can use pearl onions and baby carrots, and serve it with brown rice. It’s easier than doing a beef roast, which you could also do. Just preslice it and layer in the serving pans, and serve the au jus or gravy in a separate pitcher.
Veggies: Seasonal veggies are the best. Asparagus can be very elegant, fiddleheads are very interesting. I love fava/broad beans.
Have a bread station? Do a mix of bought bread, and bake some yourself. Everyone loves a soft dinner roll. http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/monday-morning-potato-rolls-bread-10000001880028/ I made these for Thanksgiving, instead of making the loaf I just made them all rolls. They’re incredibly soft and stay that way. Accesorize the bread station with pretty olive oil, and balsamic vinegar bottles, and maybe some gourmet butter, like garlic butter that you can also make yourself.
Are you open to a multi-ethnic buffet spread? You could serve chicken satay skewers with a peanut dipping sauce, marinated kalbi short ribs, and paella.