Cocktail Party Strategy: Make a Lot of Few Dishes

When we start planning a cocktail party, sometimes our lists can get a little long. It's like the appetizer decathlon: Why stop with bacon-wrapped dates when we could do bacon-wrapped potatoes, too? It's always more, more, more. But really, less, less, less is better. Not less food. Just fewer dishes. We put this to practice last night...

We threw a cocktail party (and wedding shower) for about 15 people, and we wanted it to be easy. Appetizers often aren't; you're placing things on top of toast rounds or making individually wrapped somethings. So we've started approaching cocktail parties like family-style dinners. Serve big bowls or trays of two or three things rather than smaller trays of 10 different bites.

There are a lot of advantages to doing it this way:
• You shop for fewer ingredients. If you're buying the ingredients to make a big pasta salad, chances are you can add one or two things and double the recipe.
• You can stick to dishes you're very familiar with. Pick two or three favorites that you've made before, and you'll be less stressed out.
• Big, bountiful bowls or piled-high platters just look more inviting to us.
• You aren't refilling trays over and over.
• Everyone gets to try everything. If you make smaller batches of more dishes, a guest may miss out on a good app that went fast.

For our party, we did a big, colorful Chinese chicken salad (this was a little plates-and-forks party, so it wasn't all finger food), flatbread pizzas that we cut up into small pieces and scattered across a big tray, and a pile of tomato and mozzarella skewers with basil oil drizzled on top. (Instructions and pictures for that are coming later this afternoon.)

One thing to keep in mind is that fewer dishes, even if they're in bigger serving pieces, take up less room on a tabletop. That's where candles, small bunches of flowers, or bowls of nuts come in. We did a big batch of our favorite rosemary roasted cashews (pictured above) and put them in several bowls around the room. For dessert, we served a beautiful, rum-soaked chocolate cake that a friend made, but Faith's cake bites on toothpicks (also pictured) would be easy and plentiful.

Related: Make-Ahead Tips for Dinner Parties

(Images: Elizabeth Passarella; Faith Durand)

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