party menu planning

Figuring out what and how much food and drink to serve at a party can feel complicated — but it doesn’t have to be. We make it simple with this menu guide for five food-centric parties. Bon appétit!

Brunch: Quiche, frittatas, croissants, and scones are always a hit and hold up well throughout a party. Balance out a stack of bacon and sausage with something healthy like a fruit salad. Most breakfast items are best eaten warm, so keep dishes in the oven before serving. Mimosas are a tradition at a brunch, but don’t forget to offer coffee, tea, and juice as well. Aim for 3 ounces of protein (about 2 eggs) and one to two servings of carbs per person.

Luncheon: Lunch is versatile, so you can make it as casual or formal as you’d like. Finger foods (think cheese plate, nuts, and substantial hors d’oeuvres) allow for mingling. For a sit-down meal, turn to casseroles, sandwiches, soups, and salads. Dessert can be anything from cookies to slices of cake served with coffee and tea. Figure on eight hors d’oeuvres per person for a light, stand-up lunch or one serving of each dish per person for a sit-down meal.

Afternoon Tea: Conjuring images of English gardens and crumpets, tea parties call for delicate dishes and food. Invite the ladies over for sweet treats and maybe even a little gossip over Earl Grey. Set up small round tables with white tablecloths and floral centerpieces. Serve a variety of teas — from fruity herbal to traditional black — and bring out your prettiest teapots, cups, and saucers. Nibble on crustless finger sandwiches (think classic egg salad or cucumber and cream cheese), salads, scones with butter and jam, mini cupcakes, and macarons. Plan on three small servings of savory food, one or two of sweet, and two tea bags per guest.

Cocktail Party: Choose a couple of classic cocktails (martini, old-fashioned, Harvey Wallbanger) with only a few ingredients and different liquors for variety. Prepare pitchers of your signature drinks, or print out recipes on card stock and display in frames. Don’t forget juices and club soda for designated drivers and teetotalers, and beer and wine for the cocktail-averse. Set up a bar station with cocktail glasses, wine glasses, ice buckets, garnishes, stirring spoons, bottle openers, napkins, and towels. Avoid guests getting too sloshed by providing plenty of nibbles and pitchers of ice water. Classic cocktail foods include a cheese or charcuterie plate, shrimp cocktail, meatballs, mini quiches, crudités and dip, bacon-wrapped dates, and nuts. If your party is outside of meal hours, a selection of five or six hors d’oeuvres are sufficient; if during, eight to ten are best. Plan on guests eating one to two servings of each hors d’oeuvre and drinking an average of three drinks.

Dinner Party: Take your guests’ dietary restrictions into account and opt for simple dishes you’ve mastered and feel confident others will enjoy. A cheese plate makes for an easy hors d’oeuvres, and a meal can be as simple as salad, roasted chicken, veggies, and fresh bread. Cakes and pies are great dessert options, but fresh berries and ice cream works too. Family-style serving is easiest, but if you want to be more formal, enlist a co-host to help plate individual servings. Anticipate guests will eat six hors d’oeuvres and one to one-and-a-half servings of the main dish. Simplify the drinks portion of the menu by just offering wine (red or white) and water (sparkling or flat). You may also want to serve champagne with hors d’oeuvres or dessert. Plan for half to three-quarters of a bottle of wine and 16 ounces of water per person.