So you’ve decided to cater your own holiday party….this is about the time panic starts to set in. You may be experiencing tunnel vision and having flashes of yourself trapped in the kitchen rolling out pastries, whisking gravies, roasting things, and sweating…profusely…while your guests stand around quietly staring at you. Relax! Step away from the ledge! Take some deep breaths into a paper bag! You can do this. I believe in you and I’m here to help, friend.
Follow these very simple steps and when your guests arrive you will epitomize that effortless host or hostess that you envisioned when you agreed to host and cater your own party!
Step 1: Identify Your Guest List
Determine who you plan to invite as far in advance as possible so that you can get somewhat solid RSVPs in at least a week prior to the party. In an ideal world you would have accurate RSVPs, but not everyone RSVPs. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to assume you’ll have 80% acceptance, but be sure to include plus ones in your numbers.
Step 2: Write a Menu and Make a Plan
Now that you have a general idea of the number of guests you are serving, follow these general rules to figure out the amount of food you will need to prepare.
- For an hors d’oeurves cocktail party that lasts 2 hours prepare a lighter spread of 6-8 pieces per person, 3-5 dishes for guests to choose from.
- For a party that lasts 3-4 hours, through the dinner hour, prepare more protein and carbohydrates. Prepare 10-12 pieces per person with 6-8 dishes.
- For a party that lasts more than four hours prepare up to 14 pieces per person, about 10 dishes.
- If you plan to serve desserts in addition to hors d’oeurves prepare 2-3 pieces per person, 1 to 3 dishes.
Alternative Food and Beverages
When writing your menu remember to include alternative food options such as vegetarian and gluten free, especially if you are aware of guests who require such options. In general, it’s best to have alternatives available to avoid that uncomfortable moment when your guest asks what you have for them to eat (not fun).
Now is also a good time to consider beverage options. I am fortunate enough to have a significant other with a passion for brewing and serving beer, and since I don’t drink alcohol he takes charge of beverages. However, this brings up another alternative to consider: non-alcoholic beverage options. Not only is offering non-alcoholic choices a kind consideration for adults who don’t drink alcohol, but also for children who may be attending your party as well.
Write Your Recipes and Cooking Timeline
Whether you are using your own recipes or sourcing them from the internet or cooking and entertaining books, I highly suggest you write all of the recipes that you plan to use in a notebook. This will help you familiarize yourself with the recipes and will allow you to begin to formulate your timeline and your shopping list.
Consider the time each of your recipes will take to complete and try to break up the work. Find places in the recipes where you can refrigerate or freeze the dish and begin again the next day or at another convenient time. Many hors d’oeurves can be frozen and stored in labelled ziplock bags until ready to bake. This may mean you begin cooking days or weeks in advance of your party. Remember, your goal is to be put in as little effort the day of your party as possible, so that you can enjoy the time with your friends at the party.
I also suggest that you write both your timeline and your ingredient shopping list in the same notebook with your recipes so all of your information is right at your fingertips right when you need it.
Step 3: Locate Your Stuff
After writing your menu, decide what serving dishes you will use for each of your dishes. I can remember, as a little girl, rummaging through all of my grandmothers serving dishes, wondering why she had two of everything, and imagining the fancy parties she must have hosted in her day.
If you do have two of everything it would be a good idea to locate the dishes you plan to use, wash them and keep them in an accessible location. If you don’t have two of everything make a list of what you’ll need to add to your shopping list.
Step 4: Get to Shoppin’, Cookin’, and Freezin’
Make sure your shopping list is absolutely complete. You want to have everything you could need to get the first stage of cooking complete, including cooking and service dishes and beverages.
Begin cooking at least a week in advance of your party. You can begin earlier than a week, but you may need to make multiple shopping trips. Freeze individual pieces of food on sheet pans and, once frozen, store pieces in ziplock freezer bags.
Step 5: Day of Service
The morning of your party, have a cup of coffee and breakfast and then mix dips and set out crackers and chips. Then take a break; clean yourself up and get ready. Two hours before your party begin baking off pastries and hors d’oeurves and place them on serving dishes. An hour before your party take out cheeses to let them come to room temperature. Set out enough food to serve your initial guest, but hold back up dishes in your oven on warm until the second wave of guests arrive.
With all of this planning and prep work you are sure to be a super host the moment your guests arrive. Make sure you have fun and eat something!