The holidays are officially here and we expect many of you will be throwing festive parties to celebrate the season with your nearest and dearest! It goes without saying that one of the keys to hosting a fabulous holiday gathering is serving yummy, memorable bites that your friends will gush about. It is true that our place on event days isn’t typically in the kitchen, but the truth is that holiday party hosting makes chefs out of all of us! Therefore, as you are working to build your event menu, you will want to treat it in the same way we encourage our clients to approach their cocktail hour (or a cocktail reception): variety and balance is vital to its’ success! To that end, today we are going to give you some quick hints in how to craft a well-balanced menu that is full of variety, but serves to tell one culinary story throughout your event. DISCLAIMER: We are not a catering company. Nonetheless, here are our thoughts on the subject from a wedding planner and guest’s point of view!
Before we dive into figuring out exactly what you’ll serve, let’s take a moment to talk about how much you’ll serve. One of the hardest things for non-professional hosts/chefs to determine is quantities for your guest count. For a party where hors d’oeuvres is the main food served at your party, (besides something sweet, of course), you’ll want to make sure you have at least 8 bites per person (if not 10-12), and are offering a variety of at least 6 savory menu items (more is great too, but be sure not to over commit yourself!). However, for a cocktail hour that is served prior to some kind of dinner, 3-4 bites per person should do the trick.
Vary Your Proteins
When thinking about what types of meat to serve, we recommend abiding by our rule of thirds. Make a third of your appetizers vegetarian, a third should be some kind of lighter protein such as chicken or fish, and the final third should be some kind of heartier meat such beef or pork. This will help you keep everyone happy, offering at least a couple items that each of your guests will eat. With that being said, feel free to move away from these guidelines based on your crowd. For example, if you know that many of your friends are super picky about their meats, you can only offer one red meat, and the rest a combination of veggie, poultry or fish based. Or if you know your guests are real meat and potatoes type eaters, feel free to go heavy, offering only one or two lighter options.
Along with varying the meats served at your little fête, you will want to make sure you are offering bites at a variety of temperatures. For a wedding, I usually recommend about a 50/50 mix of items that are served hot to cold/at room temperature, as guests like to have the option between something warm and hearty and something light and refreshing. However, for a holiday celebration in the winter, I would say that the more served warm, the better! Nonetheless, be sure to offer at least 1-2 room not hot items, as these bites will gain in appeal as your crowd gets bigger and the room heats up! Offering guests yummy bites at a variety of temperatures allows for each food to stand out.
Balancing Flavors and Textures
Lastly, we believe that it is absolutely critical to have a variety of flavors and textures show up to the party if you want the food to be remembered. Try finding a way to bring each of the following into your menu: sweet, tangy, salty, creamy, crunchy, buttery, and at least one bite with some serious heat to it (and if you can get multiple of those elements into each bite, then you are doing great). They key is to make sure that you aren’t putting out 6 appetizers that all taste the same. Even if you are going with a theme, you need to bring variety in taste to the menu in order to host a well-balanced event.
Whether its for your wedding cocktail hour or a holiday party at your home, your hors d’oeuvres are sure to be a hit if you remember to incorporate variety and balance into your menu. Cater to the needs of your guests and make sure to have vegetarian items as well as meat items, something crisp and refreshing along with the comforting and warm items, and experiment with an array of flavors throughout your chosen bites. Best of luck on your merrymaking festivities this season!