This section is from the book "The American Woman's Cook Book", by Ruth Berolzheimer. Also available from Amazon: The Domestic Arts Edition of the American Woman's Cook Book.
Until very recently the only buffet was an informal type of service in which everyone served himself and his partner from a refectory table set against one side of the living or dining room. The table is spread with the best cloth and laid with the best china and silver if the occasion is formal, or with an informal cloth and pottery, copper, chrome and wood for a man's buffet or a sports party. Decorations are in keeping with the occasion and the appointments. Silver is laid in groups, plates are stacked and napery is laid in a tilted pile. Only one or two hot dishes are served and all the food is brought to the table at the beginning, except for necessary replenishing.
The currently popular buffet dinner is another way to manage a maidless dinner. Guests are seated at card tables placed in the living room or other open space, wherever they can be comfortably seated and served. The extended dining table is set much as for the usual buffet, except that it is away from the wall so guests may walk around it. The small tables are set for the usual four with a complete service at each place. If there are flowers or other decorations they should be very small and low. Small fruits in low bowls are effective. The large table, however, may be very elaborately adorned with both flowers and candles. Friends or members of the family may be asked to assist and the host should be occupied in seeing that everyone is seated comfortably. Sometimes older people, unacquainted with this form of service, become confused and need help. Second helpings, fresh water and butter are brought to the small tables by host, hostess or those assisting.
For more hilarious parties, still on the grown-up side, there are those in which each couple brings one course, the hostess providing the hot one and coffee. There is also the dinner at which all hands help. This takes some organizing to keep the guests from colliding and from clogging the kitchen, but if well planned, can be a great source of fun and not much more formal than a studio party.
More formal and peculiarly adapted to servantless entertaining is after-dinner coffee and liqueurs. Invitations are usually issued for "9 p. m. to Midnight" and since these parties are particularly popular among bachelors and professional people - physicians, newspaper people and musicians - guests arrive at their own convenient time. There is usually music from 10 to 11, giving the earlier arrivals an opportunity to have then-coffee and conversation first and the latecomers to have theirs afterwards.