Yeah, okay, not exactly a big secret, right? But I lost track of how many people said ‘I don’t know how you did it’ or something similar at or after the Halloween party. Because, yes, when the dining room table is fully extended and still barely contains everything, it does look like a lot of work.
So the “secret” is organization, and the strategy is divide and conquer.
Food is always a big part of all my parties. If you leave my house hungry, it’s your own damn fault. I like there to be a good variety and enough so that I don’t have to worry about running out of food before the fun is done. But it’s true that time is of the essence, so being organized to a fault is a plus and being reasonable with my expectations. Once I figure our what I’m making, I put it in order of what holds best on down to what must be made just before serving and then I start making 1-3 things a night for the week leading up to the party.
But what to make and how much of it? Catering math is the completion of the party-planning trifecta.
Catering math involves 3 variables and simple multiplication (yes, you can use a calculator if you need to).
- How many people do you expect?
- How long will the party last?
- Will dinner be served?
If you’re serving nibbles before a dinner, you don’t need as many hors d’oeuvres otherwise your guests will be too full to enjoy the meal. But if all you’re serving is cocktail food (especially if it’s during the main lunch or dinner window) you need to have enough to serve as the meal. So for a party with both snacks and dinner, it’s 5 pieces per person per hour. Without a dinner planned it’s 10 pieces per person per hour. Simple as that!
For the Halloween party I figured on around 25 people for 5 hours or so with no separate meal served, which means I needed somewhere in the vicinity of 1250 (25x5x10) pieces for the evening.
1250 pieces sounds like a lot, but when you figure that–for instance–each veggie on a veggie tray, each meatball, each little cookie counts as a piece (and a bigger cookie counts as a 2 or 3 pieces), the numbers start adding up quickly. And if you’re serving things that a little bigger, you can fudge those numbers even more. So as I add things to my party menu, I note how many pieces I’m expecting out of each and I can keep a running total as I build it out. The number is a guide, though, and you have to know your guests and adjust accordingly.
Something else I do as I make my menu is to categorize the dishes by content, texture, and temperature as well as taste. Having a balance between sweet and savory is often as far as a lot of hosts go, but I like to make sure I plan options that are both crunchy and creamy, hot and cold, plus a good mix of vegetarian options among the more carnivore-friendly. It’s all about the mix, just like the mix of people you invite over!
Preparing for this year’s party was surprisingly chill. I kept up with my prep schedule and Todd and I kept everything moving so that on the day of the party there was no last minute rush before the guests arrived and we were able to greet our guests as calm and collected hosts. I hope these tips help you navigate your next party in similar form!