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Event Planning Tips

Appetizer Etiquette

I am planning a party of 40. How many appetizers should I serve per person?
A: The rule of thumb is 5 to 7 appetizers per person. That's about 200 to 240 appetizers. If you're just serving appetizers without a main course then count on 7 to 8 appetizers per person.

Q: Should I serve all one type of appetizer or mix it up?
A: Variety, variety, variety! Mix and match and please everyone. What if you have a vegetarian and a carnivore? Your best bet is to serve at least 3 to 4 different varieties of appetizers for larger parties. If you only have 10 guests, then try for 2 different choices.

Q: How much food should I serve?
A: This question is tough to answer, but asked of us all of the time. The answer depends on how many side dishes you are serving, entrees, and how extravagant your cocktail reception is. The rule of thumb is ½ lb. of uncooked meat per person, ¼ lb. of side dishes per person (2-3) dishes and 1-2 desserts.

Caterer's Secrets for Food Presentation

Q: How should I present my plates of appetizers?
A: Beautiful presentation is just as important as how good the food tastes. Think about colors and contrast. Brightly colored glass plates or patterned serving plates will show the food off nicely. Also, lining your serving platters with ti leaves or banana leaves sprayed with non-stick spray makes for an upscale presentation. Try serving pot stickers in a bamboo steamer and don't forget to garnish with bright flowers or herbs. If you have dips to serve with the appetizers, try hollowing out a bell pepper or red cabbage to use as a container, or try a teacup, ramekin or small bowls.

Traffic Flow Ideas

Q: I have a small entertaining space. What is the best arrangement for my food?
A: What you want to avoid is congestion. Try breaking up your food presentation into small stations located strategically throughout your home. You want people to flow through your space and to mingle. Since cocktails are the first thing people gravitate to, try putting the bar in the back of the room. Then look for dead space to set up food stations. You can always pass around the appetizers if you have help. If not, create an hors d'oeuvres buffet table! If you want to hide some of the clutter and save room, put a tablecloth on the buffet table and store extra bottles, ice, napkins, etc. underneath the table, for easy access during the party.

Drink Tips

Q: At what temperature should I serve the wine?
A: Red wines are best served at 65°F (slightly cooler than room temperature). White wines should be chilled and served at 45-55°F. (Chill about one hour in advance of the party.) Champagnes should be served completely chilled. Red wine should also breathe for about one hour prior to drinking.

Q: My guests are sophisticated drinkers. How can I look professional?
A: Don't forget the garnish, which makes a world of difference. Provide olives, lemon or lime twists and peels, cherries, celery, etc. You can try freezing your beer mugs for effect and rimming your cocktail glasses with sugar or salt. And don't forget the ice!

Q: What's a twist?
A: A twist is when you rub the rind around the rim of the glass to release the oil in the lemon or lime. Then you drop the peel into the drink.

Q: At what temperature should I serve the wine?
A: Red wines are best served at 65°F (slightly cooler than room temperature). White wines should be chilled and served at 45-55°F. (Chill about one hour in advance of the party.) Champagnes should be served completely chilled. Red wine should also breathe for about one hour prior to drinking.

Q: I am having 10 guests at my party. How much liquor should I purchase?
A: You can assume that 10 guests will consume about 4 to 5 drinks for the evening. If you are just serving hard alcohol, that's approximately 20 shots. (Based on 1.5 oz. per shot - - 2 per person). A bottle of wine usually yields about 5 cocktails. If you buy beer, consider purchasing 6-packs or bottles.

Q: What are the basics of a stocked bar?
A: Gin, vodka, rum and bourbon are the most common ingredients for most mixed drinks and can also be served on the rocks. You should also have essential mixers like soft drinks, soda and tonic water and orange and cranberry juice. Have wine and beer available. As far as glassware, try wine glasses, highballs, and double old-fashioned glasses.


Q: I am not having a themed party, but wanted to know if you have any basic ideas to create a party mood?
A: Scented candles always work. Not only do they smell good, but look beautiful, too. Choose your favorite music and have it on in the background. Keep the music upbeat and allow for an assortment of musical styles. Lighting is also important. You may want to dim the lights or put in lower wattage bulbs.

Setting the Table

Q: I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I don't remember how to properly set the table? Can you help me?
A: Don't be embarrassed, some people never learn how. Here are the rules: china - a charger and bread plate are the only 2 required pieces of china that should be set up preliminarily. Your first course is then served on a plate, or serve soup before the first course. Silverware - - should be laid out in the order it will be used, starting from the outside and moving inwards, toward the plate. To the right of the plate is the larger knife (facing inwards) and then to its right, a spoon (if needed). On the left are the forks. The farthest fork is the salad fork and then the larger fork closest to the plate. Dessert utensils can be set up above the plate horizontally (or brought out when needed). Glasses - - the water glass should be placed to the right of the plate above the knife. If you are serving wine, then place the glasses in the order they will be used to the right of the water glass.

Party Checklist

Q: My last party was a mess! I was so disorganized. Do you have a list of steps I should take to plan my next party?
A: Of course! Here's a list which can ensure that your party is under control from beginning to end:

At least 5 weeks ahead of party (8 weeks in the months between May and September):

Call Party Line to reserve your tent, tables, chairs and everything else you'll need to make your party spectacular!

At least 4 weeks ahead of party:

Select an occasion or reason to party

Choose a theme

Choose a date

Choose a time

Choose a location - - rent if necessary

Decide on a guest list

Buy invitations and send or call guests

Plan decorations

Plan menu and grocery list

Plan activities if necessary

A week before the party:

Follow up with guests who did not RSVP

Buy groceries and beverages

Cook and prepare any items that can be made in advance

One day before the party:

Clean your home

Set up the party space

Remove or secure any large pieces, china, or collectibles

Set the table


Clean your home again

Prepare the rest of your food

Day of party:

Set up your food stations

Cook appetizers

Heat food

The final countdown:

Place fresh hand towels in the bathroom

Clean up the kitchen

Make room in your coat closet for more coats

Turn the music on and the TV off

Hide your valuables (you never know!)

Guests and Invitations

Q: One of my guests told me she would be late. Should I serve without her?
A: Proper etiquette is to wait 20 minutes and then proceed. But since she has told you that she'd be late, she gave you the option to start without her.

Q: My husband and I have an eclectic group of friends. Do you think they will mix?
A: The key to an interesting party is having guests who are different from one another i.e. age, profession, etc. That way the conversation won't get stale.

Q: I want to put a time limit for my party on the invitation. Is that tacky?
A: I don't recommend time limits unless it is a children's birthday party or at a venue with a specific time constraint. If the party is in your own home, you should anticipate 4-5 hours for a dinner party and 2 hours for a children's party.

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