Successful entertaining doesn't have to mean that you're stuck in the kitchen while your guests have all the fun. Here are some menu tips that will help you enjoy your own party:
Finger foods are great for a casual gathering.
Consider the occasion and the style of service you're using. What's spectacular for one party may be inappropriate for another. A menu for a formal dinner just won't work for a party where the main focus is watching a football game on TV. And, an appetizer soup is awkward at a stand-up cocktail party.
Build menus around familiar dishes and add only one or two new recipes. This way, if one of the new recipes doesn't quite work out, you'll feel confident about the rest of the meal.
Plan as many make-ahead dishes as you can so you'll be free to enjoy the party.
Keep the number of recipes that involve last-minute preparation to a minimum unless you have lots of help getting everything on the table. Also, plan how much cooking you'll do between courses.
Think about how your oven will be used. Avoid selecting several recipes that must cook at the same time, each with a different oven temperature.
Combine foods with contrasting colors, textures, and temperatures. Avoid dishes that are all the same color or are all creamy or all crunchy. Plan a pleasing mix of hot and cold foods.
Make only one or two dishes splashy ones -- for example, the main dish and dessert. Let the others play supporting roles. Nothing upstages a menu's star more than too many showy competitors.
Avoid repeating flavors in a meal. For example, a punch, salad, and dessert all with pineapple is overkill.
Serve any one type of food only once during a meal. If your entree is a meat pie, don't serve another pie for dessert.
Avoid foods with overpowering aromas. Otherwise, the rest of the dishes -- no matter how delicious -- simply will get lost.
Consider how you'll present the foods. Think of everything. Will you have enough serving dishes? What table settings will you use?
For guests with diet restrictions, include some foods to meet their needs. For example, offering fat-free angel cake with a fruit topper as an alternative to pumpkin pie will please anyone on a low-fat diet.