For a fun change of pace, ditch the traditional sit-down dinner in favor of a menu with appetizers only. Serving delicious finger foods can be inexpensive, low-stress, and a great conversation starter. The trick is to find delicious appetizer recipes that mimic a traditional dinner menu. We've got plenty of easy appetizer ideas, plus tips to help you host your best gathering yet.

By Amy Palanjian and Karla Walsh
Updated October 29, 2020
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If you're new to hosting, live in a small space, or are simply want an easy weeknight entertaining idea, this hosting menu is for you. Serve guests a spread of hearty make-ahead appetizers that require minimal prep the day of (aka warmed in the oven or poured out of a bag) and can be enjoyed while sitting or standing thanks to their small shape. Stock up on nibbles like mini quiches, nuts, meats and cheeses, cut veggies, and pastries, then add a few touches to make them look special. Garnish drink glasses with fruit slices, drizzle hummus with olive oil and a dusting of paprika, and display everything on pretty dishes. Break out the seasonal dinnerware to make it feel like an event, and you've got yourself a party. We'll answer hosting questions like how much food to buy and when to shop, plus give you ideas to recreate this concept at home.

close-up party table with popcorn and charcuterie board
Credit: Dera Burreson

Planning Your Appetizer Party Menu

To guarantee a diverse appetizer spread, serve a combination of easy appetizers that satisfy several of the following food categories:

If your guests have dietary restrictions, consider making an assortment of appetizer recipes that cater to their needs. Having vegetarian appetizers or gluten-free appetizers, for instance, might be a priority if you are inviting vegetarians or people with gluten sensitivities.

How Many Appetizers Should You Serve?

The number of party appetizers you serve depends on the number of guests you invite. As your guest list increases, so should the appetizer selections.

Here's a quick guide to how many appetizers you should serve at your party:

  • 10-12 guests = 5 appetizer selections
  • 25 guests = 9 appetizer selections
  • 50 guests = 13 appetizer selections

How Many Appetizers per Person?

Running out of food and drink is a major bummer when you’re hosting a party. So we created this guide to answer your most common feeds-a-crowd questions, including, “How many chicken wings per person?” and “How many meatballs per person?” And we're not talking about nutrition facts panel servings; this is the real deal of what a normal person eats as a heavy appetizer portion. Here are some amounts and recipe ideas for some of the most common party appetizers. (Note: While our how-many-appetizers-per-person math is made for parties of 12, you can adjust up or down based on your guest count.)

Jalapeño Poppers, Cheese Sticks, and Crostini

We’re lumping these diverse appetizer options together because the serving size is similar for items like mozzarella cheese Sticks, air-fryer jalapeño poppers, and sweet pea ricotta bruschetta. One is never enough of these savory snack recipes in our party hosting experience, so here’s how many appetizers per person to plan on:

  • One serving = 2 sticks
  • Party of 12 = 24 portions
Mix 'N' Match Chicken Wings
Credit: Andy Lyons
Get Our Mix 'N' Match Chicken Wings Recipe

Chicken Wings

Forget the forks and dole out the napkins for a finger-food favorite: chicken wings! Tender and saucy, chicken wings are a must-have appetizer, especially when you spice them nicely (as in our red curry chicken wings and Thai-inspired chicken wings recipes). But how many chicken wings per person will suffice for your soiree?

  • One serving = 3 wings
  • Party of 12 = 3 pounds

Dips and Spreads

No party buffet is complete without non-cheesy dips and spreads to please the dairy-free diners and those who prefer something with a few veggies in it. Hot (like our spinach-artichoke dip) or cold (such as this guacamole), sweet or savory, the options are nearly endless. Your spread solution:

  • One serving = ¼ cup
  • Party of 12 = 3 cups

Cheese and Charcuterie

Curious about how many ounces of cheese per person will suffice? If you’re pairing your cheese board with meats, you’ll need less Brie, cheddar, and Gruyère than you would if you’re serving the cheese solo. Either way, a couple ounces per person is a satisfying portion.

  • One serving = 2 ounces (1 ounce each of meat and cheese)
  • Party of 12 = 24 ounces of a mix of cheeses and meats

Cocktail Meatballs

Meatballs are so easy to prepare and can often be made ahead or held in a slow cooker until party time, as these molasses-lime meatballs and plum good sausage and meatballs prove. (So helpful if you’re serving a huge crowd and doing the math about how many frozen meatballs for 50 or more people!) Here’s how many meatballs per person you’ll need:

  • One serving = 4 meatballs
  • Party of 12 = 2 pounds

Fondue and Queso

Perfect for dunking, cheesy sauces and dips like creamy cheese fondue and skillet queso make your party buffet more interactive and delicious. Here’s how many ounces of cheese per person you’ll need to feed the dipping masses.

  • One serving = ¼ cup
  • Party of 12 = 3 cups

Nuts

Guests can't resist a handful of flavor-packed, crunchy munch mixes. These paleo rosemary roasted nuts and sweet and spicy pecans always fly off the snack spread when we serve them! Noshing on nuts is a party idea that never goes stale, and it’s a terrific option that will please vegans, and gluten-free (depending on the recipe), Paleo and keto dieters all at once. Here’s how much you’ll need:

  • One serving = 2 ounces
  • Party of 12 =  1½ pounds
Stuffed Baked Mushrooms
Credit: Andy Lyons
Try This Stuffed Baked Mushrooms Recipes

Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms are a perfect one-bite appetizer. Bonus: Party snack options like Greek-style stuffed mushrooms and chipotle-and-ranch-stuffed mushrooms are so quick and easy, they can be made up minutes before a party. Take note of how many appetizers per person so you don’t run out early:

  • One serving = 3 mushrooms
  • Party of 12 = 1½ pounds

Cheesecake Bites, Mini Cupcakes, and Bite-Size Brownies

No party menu is complete without something sweet! We like to share small desserts to fit the bite-size theme, to allow for sampling, and to offer an easy handheld package. Try Mini Blue Corn Carrot Cake CupcakesStrawberry Margarita Cheesecake Minis, and/or Sweet and Spicy Brownie Bites.

  • One serving = 3 mini treats
  • Party of 12 = 36 mini treats

The Party Planning Timeline

You want to relax and enjoy the party, too. So set your appetizer menu, and then develop a schedule for shopping for and preparing the appetizers.

Two weeks to a month before the party:

  • Create a complete shopping list, sorting the list by when you can purchase items (perishables closer to party time).
  • Shop for items with a long shelf life such as wine, soft drinks, crackers, nuts, and hard cheeses.

A week before the party:

  • Prepare any foods that can be made ahead and frozen.
  • Finish any party decorations that can be created in advance.

A day or two before the party:

  • Prepare any appetizers that can be stored in the refrigerator.
  • Pull out serving dishes and utensils.
  • Purchase flowers or other perishables.

The day of the party: 

  • Buy ice and chill beverages.
  • Finish last-minute appetizer recipes.
  • Set the table.

Food Safety Tip: Many party foods taste better when served around room temperature (not piping-hot or ice-cold). However, perishable appetizers should not stand at room temperature for longer than two hours. Switch out serving plates, or serve them in heated servers ($37, Wayfair) or bowls of ice to maintain appropriate temperatures.

Hungry for more ideas everyone will enjoy? Use our favorite appetizer and finger food recipes to create your next party menu. If you're short on time, go for these easy 3-ingredient appetizers. You can also go with a warm and cheesy theme or utilize your slow cooker to get an early start on cooking.

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