Find out how to Plan a Dinner Social gathering Menu, In keeping with a Former Occasion Planner

It’s no secret that I like to entertain, however what a lot of it’s possible you’ll not know is that I’ve a secret ingredient in my kitchen that permits me to ask associates over at a second’s discover with out breaking a sweat: my husband, Adam. Not solely does Adam share my love for hosting a dinner party—however he additionally occurs to be a wonderful grill-master, playlist-maker, and candle-lighter… all qualities which are clutch for pre-party setup. Nevertheless, there’s one factor that we generally disagree on, and that’s the best way to plan a cocktail party menu.

I began my profession as an occasion planner for a catering firm, and the expertise was principally “menu planning boot camp.” I realized to calculate the right foods and drinks quantities that may serve all our visitors with out having an excessive amount of leftover. I usually needed to get artistic to remain inside a shopper’s price range, and I labored with the chef to plan a menu that may be satisfying however not heavy, crowd-pleasing however not predictable, and might be tailored for a variety of dietary needs. Most of all, I realized to be strategic in planning a menu that the kitchen crew may execute for lots of people inside a restricted time span.

In catering, you’re usually working in individuals’s garages or house kitchens, so you must make do with out the facilities of a business kitchen. Planning a menu to fulfill all these goals—and that may delight and nourish my visitors—was really my favourite a part of the job. And now, it’s data that I carry into each gathering I host, even when it’s only for a number of associates.

Like many individuals, Adam was once nervous that we’d run out of meals once we had been internet hosting a celebration (so he’d purchase manner greater than we truly wanted), or he’d assume we would have liked manner too many dishes (which might lead to chaos attempting to get all of it on the desk.) Over time, I’ve taught him my methods of the commerce to maintain a menu easy however satisfying, whereas factoring simply sufficient portions to really feel considerable with out having tons of leftovers. And now, I’m lastly pulling all of them collectively to share with you! While you get the dangle of it, planning a cocktail party doesn’t should be complicate—in truth, in may be extremely enjoyable.

Each time I really feel that pre-party stress approaching, I remind myself that it’s not about impressing my visitors, it’s about creating an environment that makes them really feel related and cared for.

Learn on for my step-by-step information for the best way to plan a cocktail party menu, and I’d love to listen to any guidelines of thumb you depend on within the feedback.

First, resolve in your predominant course.

My course of is straightforward: resolve on a main course that feels proper for the gathering, and the remainder of the menu will stream from there. Just a few inquiries to ask your self when contemplating what to make:

  1. What’s in season? A menu that’s centered round seasonal produce is not going to solely create the suitable vibe, it’ll additionally style higher, too. And one of the best factor about utilizing high-quality seasonal components is that you simply don’t should do a lot to make them style nice. Listed below are our guides to spring and summer… fall and winter are coming quickly!
  2. How many individuals am I serving? In this post, I break down predominant programs which are greatest for a smaller group, and ones that work nicely for a big group. For many individuals, it’s possible you’ll wish to select one thing based mostly on more cost effective components and that’s straightforward to make in massive portions.
  3. Do my visitors have dietary restrictions? Many individuals as of late are gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian, or have a meals allergy. When unsure, simply ask them! I at all times ship my visitors a textual content asking about dietary restrictions beforehand, and infrequently discover out about issues I didn’t even know they had been coping with. It’s a small manner that you would be able to make them really feel cared for. Then, you may plan your menu to both omit that merchandise or you may resolve on one thing that’s simply adaptable to suit their wants.

When you’ve taken these components into consideration, you’re able to jump over to my favorite dinner party main courses of all time, and begin the enjoyable course of of really selecting what you’re going to make!

Plated Dinner, Household Model, or Buffet?

Gone are the times when the phrases “feast” are synonymous with a multi-course, plated and served dinner that includes a protein, vegetable, and starch. Internet hosting has gotten far more informal, and I’m wholeheartedly right here for it. Not solely does serving meals household model (that’s, on shareable platters and bowls in the middle of the table) lighten the load on the host, it additionally creates a relaxed vibe the place visitors are interacting, passing platters round, and serving themselves and others. I’d say that 90% of the dinners I host are served family-style.

That stated, there are events if you may wish to serve a plated meal, resembling if you’re serving a predominant course out of a very popular or heavy serving dish (like a slow cooker or stockpot) that may be troublesome to cross. Or maybe it is extra of a special day, and also you wish to introduce a stage of ritual into the meal. Simply remember the fact that in the event you’re serving greater than six visitors, you’ll most likely wish to name in backup that will help you plate, so that everybody is served at comparatively the identical time.

And though the phrase “buffet,” may recall to mind an outdated all-you-can-eat scenario, there are moments that actually name for setting out everything on a counter or bar and letting individuals assist themselves. For a extra informal gathering the place individuals are lounging round with meals as an alternative of sitting at a desk, buffet is unquestionably the way in which to go. And one different time I at all times arrange meals buffet-style? Thanksgiving. There are just too many dishes to suit onto the middle of the desk with out issues feeling crowded.

Select easy sides that may be prepped prematurely.

In an effort to not spend the complete day prepping within the kitchen, I stick to some parameters when deciding on my facet dishes:

  1. They are often prepped earlier than visitors arrive. What do roasted veggies, room-temperature grains, and heartier salads all have in frequent? They will all be prepped fully prematurely and might simply hand around in the fridge or lined on the counter earlier than visitors even arrive. Having a number of of those dishes in my arsenal is certainly one of my largest takeaways from my catering days, and it seems, most facet dishes don’t truly have to be served piping sizzling. They’re simply as scrumptious at room temp.
  2. Normally, two to 3 is all you want. Many individuals (like Adam) are tempted to make a complete smorgasbord of sides, solely to appreciate that they could have bitten off greater than they might chew. Generally, one thing starchy (pasta, grains, sweet potatoes) plus a cooked vegetable (brussels sprouts, crispy cauliflowerroasted mushrooms) is all you want—add a leafy salad in the event you’re feeling formidable. I like a menu with a point-of-view, and generally including too many issues to the lineup simply waters it down (and makes for lots of pointless work.)
  3. Ask for assist. Aspect dishes are the right factor for these visitors who ask “What can I carry?” Take them up on it! Most individuals like to really feel like they’re contributing to a meal, and having one much less factor to test off your listing could make a world of distinction.

Give them one thing to snack on.

I’m a giant fan of getting one thing scrumptious for visitors to nibble on proper once they stroll within the door—it’s that little one thing additional that reveals you place some effort in, and it encourages a sluggish, lingering night since there’s one thing to take the sting off individuals’s starvation upon arrival. Stretching out the consuming over a longish timeframe is simply extra enjoyable. Nevertheless, because you’re already coping with a predominant course, sides, and doubtlessly cocktails, appetizers should be extraordinarily straightforward.

Decide an appetizer that goes with the delicacies that you simply’re serving the remainder of the night (ie. I most likely wouldn’t serve a cheese board to kickoff taco night time), then preserve it easy and don’t overthink it.

Mainly, something you serve pre-dinner will make you seem like an superior host. Listed below are a number of of my go-to’s…

  1. Spanish tapas-inspired. Olives, marcona almonds, marinated peppers… it might all be picked up the deli and served in fairly bowls.
  2. Cheese and charcuterie. It’s a basic for a cause, and it someway at all times nonetheless looks like a deal with. Here’s how an Italian Chef makes his.
  3. Seasonal veggie crudité with a pair attention-grabbing dips. It’s all in the presentation.
  4. Burrata with figs and pesto. It’s a four-ingredient wonder.
  5. Toasts with fairly toppings. A contact extra effort, however I really like the problem of placing collectively the perfect bite.

Finish the meal with somewhat one thing candy.

Do: fulfill your visitors’ candy tooth (candy tooth? haha) with one thing delicious and indulgent to cap off the meal.

Don’t: serve an enormous dessert on the finish of a cocktail party. The purpose is to supply one thing pleasant, to not make visitors really feel so weighed down they should instantly go away and go to mattress.

Do: think about choosing up a cake or tart from a fantastic native bakery, making one thing tremendous straightforward with assembled store-bought components (assume sorbet with berries), and even asking a visitor who likes to bake to carry dessert.

Don’t: really feel like it’s essential make a sophisticated dessert from scratch (except you actually wish to.) You’ve received sufficient to deal with with the remainder of the meal.

Make it a feast for the senses.

This can be a feast in any case, so presentation is vital! However as an alternative of interested by the best way to impress your visitors with fancy garnishes, strategy your dishes with creativity, extra like an summary artist. And simply because meals styling is an artwork kind doesn’t imply it needs to be troublesome—there aren’t any arduous and quick guidelines. I like to scroll through Pinterest for distinctive presentation concepts—perhaps it’s an herb or edible flower garnish, or maybe it’s a serving concept I hadn’t thought-about.

For instance, as an alternative of pouring a sauce excessive of a dish, maybe it might be extra aesthetically pleasing to serve it alongside in somewhat bowl. Or perhaps that huge Thanksgiving turkey could be extra interesting surrounded by tons of rosemary sprigs and orange slices. It’s about gathering inspiration, considering outdoors the field, and having enjoyable with colours, textures, and garnishes.

The best dish feels dinner party-worthy when plated with thoughtfulness.

Find out how to estimate meals quantities for a celebration.

In my expertise, it’s this last step that makes individuals most nervous once they’re studying the best way to plan a cocktail party menu. However figuring out meals portions doesn’t must induce panic when you may have a number of easy calculations that will help you estimate. One factor to think about is that the extra decisions you supply, the smaller portions you’ll want for every dish. Primarily based on my suggestion above to serve one predominant course plus two to 3 sides, you’ll wish to make considerable portions of every since they make up the complete meal. In case you resolve to make a number of sides, you will get away with smaller quantities of every.

Listed below are the calculations I typically depend on:

  1. Appetizers: 6 bites, or 1 ounce of cheese per individual.
  2. Meat or fish: 6 ounces per individual
  3. Starch or potatoes: 1 cup per individual (that is often greater than is eaten, nevertheless it’s a great “bulk” merchandise to fill within the menu if individuals are tremendous hungry.)
  4. Greens: 1 cup per individual
  5. Salad: 2 cups per individual
  6. Dessert: small slice or scoop per individual. See level above re “sweets.”

These are the rules-of-thumb I often go by, and know that in the event you don’t get them precisely proper, every part can be nice! Visitors naturally calibrate how a lot they eat based mostly on what’s there, so I promise it’ll all end up okay. When unsure, spherical up—and have a couple pints of ice cream within the fridge to verify everybody ends the meal feeling happy.


I hope this was useful for the following time you’re questioning the best way to plan a cocktail party menu. Bear in mind these are all strategies solely, and particularly in the case of events, guidelines are supposed to be damaged! Take what serves you and go away the remainder, and I’d love to listen to within the feedback if in case you have any menu-planning ideas that provide help to host with ease.

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