Wow, thanks to everyone for the great replies! I was planning to have nibbles available in the afternoon, but perhaps you are right that I should have the buffet earlier. Good advice about renting the plates and glasses, too!
An idea that I came up with in the meantime was to have chilled beef tenderloin and/or smoked salmon as the main entrees. I know that's not as "casual" as I first said. What do you think of that, and what would be good sides?
I am trying to plan a summer party at our family's bay house near Galveston, Texas, for the my college's deans and department chairs (my colleagues and the chairs that report to me.) I have never entertained much, so I really need some help!
My original idea has been to tell people to come anytime after 2:00pm and serve a buffet about 5:30 - 6:00. I'm inviting about 50 people; perhaps half of those will come, I presume. While the party is rather casual, I don't want the typical cookout menu or barbecue or sandwiches. I guess what I am looking for is something that will maximize an interesting menu for so many people, while allowing me to prepare most items ahead of time to minimize wear and tear on my nerves the day of the party.
Am I asking too much? Is my basic idea sound? Does anyone have alternative ideas? Can anyone come to my rescue? Or should I just call a caterer?