If your entertaining skills are feeling a bit rusty after months of Zooming and streaming, we've got your back. Our guide will help you put on a festive soirée that you, the hard-working host, can actually enjoy too.
Whether you're planning a multi-course dinner party or a casual afternoon with cookies and cocoa, it's essential to have a well-thought-out menu and timeline. In planning your menu, consider what your goals are for the event. Are you getting together a smaller group of friends who haven't seen each other in ages, excited to reconnect? Or are you envisioning a larger open house-type of party, with lots of mingling and moving about? Also consider your space – do you have a large central area or a long galley-type space? What platters and serving pieces do you have available?
These sorts of questions will help you decide if a seated meal or an appetizer party with small stations of food is a better option. From there, you can riff on a theme or simply build a menu of tried-and-true favorites that you can pull off with confidence. Entertaining is not the time to experiment with new recipes. And if you're not a cook, have no fear. With some planning and thoughtful plating, anyone can create a beautiful party spread with cheeses, charcuterie, fruit and chocolate without turning on the oven or stove.
How much to serve?
This is a question everyone struggles with occasionally. Luckily, there are some reliable rules of thumb that can help avoid a calamity. First, add a 15% buffer to your guest list to account for unanticipated guests. You can expect each partygoer to eat about a pound of food total. Remember that the more dishes you serve, the smaller the individual portions should then be.
For cocktail parties, expect to serve eight to 12 bites per person for the first two hours and then three to five bites for each additional hour. For example, a three-hour cocktail party for 20 people would require 280-300 one-bite servings. If the menu has 10 different items, then you would need 30 pieces of each item. While this may sound like a lot, it can sometimes look like not enough once it's all on the platters and can compel nervous hosts to over-prepare. Hold fast and trust your math!
Recommended serving sizes for a dinner party (raw weight per person)
Protein: 6 ounces (8 ounces if bone-in)
Pasta, potatoes, rice and grains: 4-5 ounces as a main course or 2 ounces as a side
Green salad: 1 ounce (without dressing), or one big handful
Vegetables: 4 ounces
Dessert: 4-5 ounces, or one slice of cake or pie per guest (prepared weight)
For cocktail parties
Crudités/vegetable platter: 1 pound prepared veggies per 10 people (about eight individual pieces per person)
Cheese and charcuterie: 2 ounces per person as part of part of a larger spread (1 ounce each meat and cheese). If the cheese board is to be the main event, then plan for 3-4 ounces each meat and cheese per person
Chips and dip: 1 pint dip and 16 ounces chips per 10 people
Mini-meatballs and stuffed mushrooms: Three to four 1 ounce meatballs per person
Plan on one drink per hour per guest.
Soft drinks: 12 servings per 10 people
Wine: Five to eight bottles per 10 people
Beer: 12 bottles or cans per 10 people
Three weeks before event: Send out invites, plan menu and make a food prep timeline, order any specialty items.
Two weeks before: Prepare foods that can be made and frozen such as caramelized onions, mini meatballs, cookie dough balls, fully baked desserts like cake and cheesecake, pastry-wrapped appetizers such as baked Brie bites or phyllo turnovers.
One week before: Give your house a deep clean, inventory tables and chairs as well as linens, glassware, utensils and cookware.
Three days before: Clean out your fridge so you have room for prepped food and to store drinks, stock the bar, tidy up your medicine cabinet and personal spaces in case of nosy guests, decorate, decide on a place to store coats, put together a quick cleaning kit in case of spills with a few towels, some salt and vinegar for quick-treating stains and organize a bin with containers and zip-close bags for leftovers.
One day before: Finish the majority of the food prep, buy and arrange flowers and any last-minute groceries like berries or bread, give your house a once over, refrigerate wine and beer.
The day of the party: Arrange chairs and tables – don't worry if you don't have exactly enough chairs for each guest (unless it's a seated dinner) – fewer seats encourages mingling, finish up last-minute food prep (this should be minimal).
Two hours before: Set out nonperishable snacks (cover them tightly with plastic and remove when guests knock), shower and get ready.
Right before: Light candles, ice drinks and enjoy a glass of wine and take a minute to relax before guests arrive. You deserve it!
Ashley Meyer is a Springfield-based writer and caterer.