more cocktail party: the food is hot, and my hair’s not ON FIRE!!

quantities of food

And now, time to progress to the rest of the story — how much food and drink do you need for the perfect cocktail party. Beginning here will help in setting the menu — how much food will you need? How many different items, and how much of each one? I always begin with my next list, the Cocktail Party Master Planning Template, download it and and fill in. Start with the menu column on the left, and if you are looking at the recipes, fill in where to find the recipe (so that you don’t have to hunt for it later!), how many one recipe serves, and if it can be made ahead. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time required to prepare these tiny morsels (“WOW! Three hours to go before my guests arrive and there is nothing left to do!” is a phrase never said by any host EVER!)

Then count the number of guests, including yourself and any helpers, and follow the rules below to determine how many total servings of hors d’oeuvres you will need. Add the number of servings listed in the third column, then you can adjust the numbers of recipes, adding or subtracting as necessary, to achieve your goal number of servings. 

Small Party (8-12) Rule of Five:

2 heavy hors d’oeuvres (meat based)
1 medium hors d’oeuvres s (dip with bread or crackers)
2 lighter choices (crudités, etc.)

Choose at least two that can be made ahead several days, and one more that can be made the day before. As you change the number of guests, add or subtract one dish for every eight to ten people. The more people, the more varied your selection should be. It’s better to have a selection of four spreads than to have an excessive amount of two spreads.

Medium Party (25-30) Rule of Seven:

2 heavy hors d’oeuvres s (meat based)
2 medium hors d’oeuvres (dip with bread or crackers)
3 lighter choices (crudités, etc.)


3 heavy hors d’oeuvres (meat based)
2 medium hors d’oeuvres (dip with bread or crackers)
2 lighter choices (crudités, etc.)


how much to prepare of each recipe?

Check the recipe to determine how many servings each yields. The first hour of a cocktail party you will need a total of 8 to 10 servings per person, and 6 to 8 per person for each hour after that.

Small Party (8-12, average 10), 2 hours:

80 to 100 total servings for the first hour
60 to 80 total servings for each hour after the first
140-180 Total number of servings needed       

While this may seem like a huge amount of food, the yield for a recipe can range from 8 to 40. One dip usually serves 30 or more, a cheese ball around 40.

quantities of drinks

It can be difficult to estimate how much your guests will drink, but figure two or three 6 oz. drinks per person. Here are a few tips:

One quart of liquor makes 20 drinks of 1-1/2 ounces each. One fifth of liquor makes 18 drinks of 1-1/2 ounces each.

One fifth of wine or champagne makes 5 drinks of 5 ounces each. One gallon of wine or champagne makes 26 drinks of 5 ounces each.

Allow one pound of ice per guest. Always place the ice in the glass before pouring in the ingredients. This avoids splashing and hastens the chilling process.

When preparing a punch, all the ingredients should be cold. The ice or ice ring will last much longer if the punch is chilled. Allow 2 glasses for each person. Many guests will put down an empty glass when they get a fresh drink. The number of drinks consumed will depend on the time of day, type of drink, amount of food and season of the year.

In addition to iced drinks, every winter party needs a soothing hot beverage or two. Coffee is a reliable standby, but for a change try a spiced tea or hot mulled wine. And ALWAYS you should provide an ample supply of non-alcoholic beverages.

more planning

So, what about those other columns on the master planning template? This is the time to fill in how many of each recipe, to complete the math for your total number of servings, sort out what dish you will use to serve the item (this is because I have found myself planning to serve three different items on the same dish!!), and if you will be  garnishing the platter or dish. If you know what to garnish with, you will more likely purchase the necessary items and actually get them on the food before placing them on the serving table.

and a bit more planning

And for the other preparations: don’t forget to clean the house, check the bathroom for sufficient hand towels, soap and other supplies. Designate an area for hanging coats, too; if the weather is inclement you don’t want wet garments thrown on your bed.

One day before the party, thaw items that were previously frozen, put into serving dishes if possible. Prepare any dishes that may be refrigerated overnight. If possible, set up your serving table, and if necessary arrange trays for drinks. Place platters and all serving forks and spoons on the table. Tag each platter (I like to use sticky notes here) with the name of the food it will hold so you won’t forget to serve a dish which may be in the oven or refrigerator. Set the mood with candles if appropriate, and select the music. Assemble and place centerpiece. Chill wines and beverages. Set up coffee maker.

The morning of the party, remove all food that has not been thawed from the freezer and thaw as directed. Place foods to be cooked in appropriate cooking dishes; refrigerate or place near stove.

Before your guests arrive, cook and heat foods as necessary. Arrange foods on the table if appropriate. Check the bathroom again. And when your guests arrive, greet them with a smile, relax and enjoy their company. Your guests will enjoy the occasion if you’re having a good time too.

Whatever happens, don’t admit it when things go wrong and don’t panic. Far more likely than not, a recipe you accidentally overcooked will not be noticed by your guests as long as you don’t announce the mistake. Remember that a great party has a life of its own, independent of your plans. Relax and enjoy it yourself, and your guests will too.

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