All-Appetizer Parties

Appetizer parties are a great way to entertain a group, especially if you are short on seating space, time, or resources.


Here are some tips to keep in mind when deciding which appetizers to serve:

+ enlarge image Ethnic dishes, like this CurryChicken Potsticker, addexcitement to your party.
  • Select interesting foods to serve. Be creative and don't stick to just one cuisine. Flavorful dishes from around the world add excitement to any party. Fashion your foods to provide contrasting colors, temperatures, and textures. Balance rich, dense, and highly flavored foods with simple, fresh items, and try to include at least one or two low-calorie and vegetarian choices.
  • Offer enough assortment. For small gatherings of 8 to 10 guests, three or four types of appetizers are suitable; for parties of up to 45 guests, plan on six kinds; and for more than 45 guests, offer eight types. For variety, you'll want to plan appetizers from each of the following categories: meat or poultry, fish or seafood, cheese, and vegetables or fruit. If your party will extend several hours, consider serving some hearty appetizers, such as meatballs, kabobs, or some made with pastry or bread.
  • A variety of hot and cold foods can help keep everyone nibbling, as cold appetizers can be circulated while other treats are heating in the oven.
  • Think visual appeal. No matter how attractive the foods are individually, consider their collective impact. Combine foods with interesting color contrasts (monochromatic colors give guests the visual blahs). Also, consider how foods will look as they begin to be demolished by hungry guests. You don't want foods that become brown, soggy, or wilted after a brief stint on the table.
  • Serve party-friendly foods. Consider your guests and your carpeting. Party goers will likely be standing and milling about the house, so stick to finger foods that aren't messy or greasy, are easy to pick up quickly, and are substantial enough to be eaten with two fingers. Too many offerings that must be spooned out, sliced, or spread tend to cause people to bunch up around a buffet table.
  • Offer drink choices. You can stock a full alcoholic bar, limit the alcoholic selections to wine and beer, or stick to champagne or one specialty mixed drink such as margaritas, a punch bowl of eggnog, or hot rum toddies. Be sure to provide a variety of nonalcoholic options for nondrinkers and designated drivers, including juices, sparkling waters, and soft drinks. Keep in mind that many guests will drink both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks.
  • Devise foods that go together simply and quickly. Avoid dishes that require painstaking serving techniques or last-minute preparation. Many party foods can be readied in advance, frozen, and heated as the guests arrive. As you plan, you need to weigh practical matters such as how much refrigerator or freezer space is available and how many appetizers you can heat at one time. Plan one or two hot appetizers that you can make ahead and heat at the last minute. For the rest of your menu, choose foods you can prepare ahead and serve without last-minute attention.
  • You don't have to prepare a lavish spread by yourself. Supplement your own appetizers with selections from a gourmet shop, or cheeses, fruits, and nuts. Or, ask friends to share in the work. Let them bring a favorite appetizer to add to the array.
  • Some hosts like to involve their guests in do-it-yourself serving by setting out the makings for snacks, such as mini-tacos or quesadillas, and letting guests put together their own appetizers. It makes preparation easier and encourages guests to mingle and get better acquainted.

How Much Is Enough?

  • The amount you'll need will depend upon the number of guests, the types of appetizers, and the time of day. Appetites will be greater if it's close to dinnertime than they will be at a late-evening function. If a full dinner follows your appetizers, guests will eat about half of what they would at an all-appetizer party. For cocktail parties, plan on about 12 bite-size servings per person. Hot appetizers and shrimp are sure to go fast, so make plenty!
  • Be prepared. It's always better to have too much food than to come up short. Keep extra prepared nibbles in your freezer, and have the makings for things that can be quickly assembled at the last minute in your pantry or refrigerator. Good options include crackers, cheeses, nuts, candies, smoked meats, olives, and vegetables for dipping.
  • Map out serving areas to make your party more fun. Don't set out all the food at one table, making your guests huddle about one congested, noisy space. Create comfortable conversation areas by scattering food and drinks on tables around the room(s), and provide extra seating. Set up serving tables so they can be approached from all sides. If the crush proves too much, you might circulate through the room(s) with trays of canapes. It's a good opportunity for you to visit and to gather compliments on your cooking, too.
  • When arranging appetizers on a buffet table, plan a center of interest, such as an elegant appetizer or a centerpiece. Set the hot foods closest to the kitchen for easier replenishing.
  • Serving appetizers in courses instead of presenting them all at once on a buffet table offers several advantages to the host. It allows you to pace yourself so you're not frantically trying to keep several different plates of appetizers full at once. When serving hot appetizers single-handedly, it's easier to make sure the food is at the right serving temperature for guests. And, if kitchen space and oven space are at a premium, it may make entertaining less chaotic.
  • Make sure there are a lot of places to set drinks and that disposable plates are sturdy enough to hold heaps of food. Otherwise, you may spend the day cleaning up spills.

Serving Suggestions

  • Serve foods on any plates or platters you like; serving dishes needn't match.
  • To keep hot appetizers hot, heat just one round of appetizers at a time. This way, another batch of hot appetizers will be coming from the oven as the last batch is eaten. An electric skillet, hot tray, griddle, fondue pot, chafing dish, or crockery cooker is handy for keeping appetizers hot. If foods cool as they sit out on the table, pop them into the microwave for a quick reheating.
  • Make double dishes. As one plate of appetizers gets picked over, remove it from the buffet table and replace it with a new version of the same food to keep the display looking fresh and inviting.
  • Ask a friend to help you watch the food table so you can enjoy your guests.
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