Plan an Appetizer Party
The most successful parties, large or small, have one happy similarity, both guests and hosts feel comfortable and relaxed. An all appetizer party where much of the food is prepared ahead and set out with little need for attention, can be especially enjoyable. But as for any party, good planning is crucial.
Here are some guidelines to help you decide what to serve, how much you'll need, how to arrange your offerings and how to manage your time.
One factor to consider in selecting the foods is to serve an appealing contrast of hot and cold appetizers. As you plan, you will need to weigh such practical matters as how much space is available in your refrigerator or freezer, and how many appetizers you can heat at one time.
Foods served together should offer different textures. Crisp, crunchy vegetables and crackers match up well with creamy dips, spreads and cheeses. Think about flavor variety as well. No matter how much garlic you like, an hors d' oeuvre assortment in which garlic seasons every dish would be monotonous. Apparent lightness or richness counts too. Oppose spicy, dense, or richly flavored foods with something uncomplicated, like maybe some ice-cold radishes.
For a variety at a large party, plan on serving at least one appetizer from each of these categories: meat or poultry, fish or seafood, cheese, and vegetables or fruits. You'll want a good balance for a small gathering too, but on a less ambitious scale.
Eye appeal is always important for party appetizers. No matter how attractive foods are individually, you must also consider their collective impact. Make sure the colors of food served side by side contrast appealingly. Add bright accents to perk up somber or monochromatic dishes.
How Much Food...
Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast answers for every party. Weather matters, people tend to eat more when it is cold and drink more when it is hot. Time of day is also a factor. You can probably plan on slightly less food for a mid-afternoon party than for an early evening one.
For foods that are passed on trays, prepare at least two of each hors d' oeuvre per person and serve at least six different appetizers of this type each hour. Supplement them with foods that guests can help themselves to, such as dips, nuts, spreads, and cheeses.
Using Space Effectively...
How you place foods depends largely on space. In some rooms, the choice is to arrange foods on a buffet table, but you can encourage socializing and give your party greater flexibility if you use small tables at various points in one or more rooms, including outdoor areas when weather permits.
When you serve appetizers buffet style, choose foods that are for the most part easy to pick up quickly. Too many offerings that must be spooned out, sliced, or spread laboriously tend to cause people to bunch up. If you can, move the buffet table away from a wall so guests can circulate around it.
Budgeting Your Time...
Unless you work well under pressure, do your shopping, for both food and serving needs well in advance and prepare as many dishes ahead as you can. When freezing appetizers, use good freezer containers and wraps, and follow the recipe directions as to how long to store in the freezer or refrigerator. This will insure that they'll be at their best when you are ready to serve them.
Remember that you are part of the party's atmosphere. Too many dishes that require last-minute attention will keep you in the kitchen instead of with your guests. When you're sure that every detail is manageable, you'll have more fun, and so will everyone else.