What's a party without food? While the type of party you're planning will lay the foundation for what kind of food you'll serve, here are some guidelines will help you craft a menu that will have your guests raving!
Themes aren't necessary for a party, but if your party does have one, that will help you refine the menu more quickly. Planning a Lunar New Year dinner party? Go for foods that are meaningful like noodles, dumplings and fish. We recommend doing your research, especially if it's a cultural holiday. Or if you're planning a French-themed menu, then wine and cheese are musts, and consider serving roast chicken as a main and crème brûlée for dessert.
The tone of your event is important. Will it be a formal sit-down dinner or will this be a casual gathering? If the former, serving steaks will probably work. But if your guests are perched on couches, cutting a steak while balancing a plate in their laps isn't ideal. Think how many people will be there, and how much food is feasible for you to prepare. If it's a large party, ordering foods can help lighten your load.
Produce that's in season won't just be fresher and more delicious, it's also a great way to get inspired when menu planning! If you have time, go to your grocery store or local farmer's market to see what's in season. Plus, it makes life much easier for you to shop for your ingredients when they're abundantly available.
The whole of your menu is greater than the sum of its parts, so be intentional about how your dishes and drinks complement each other. For instance, if you're serving a richer, heavier dish like risotto, having a fresh salad dressed with bright, citrusy vinaigrette will cut through the creamy risotto. The same goes for dessert—if you're serving cheesecake, a denser dessert, then an airy chocolate mousse can provide contrast. Or if your main meal is quite heavy, serving sliced fresh fruit and truffles might be the right note to end on. Presentation is also everything! Lay out your spread so colors balance each other and group dishes together that make sense. Another tip: if your party will be a serve-yourself affair and the food will be laid out throughout the party, think of dishes that sit well.
This one is key, but so many people forget it! Delicious almost always beats impressive, especially if you're adding to your stress by creating a complicated dish. Beef Wellington, for instance, is a wonderful but labor-intensive dish that might not be suited for a casual, buffet-style party. On another note: we don't recommend trying a new-for-you recipe unless you have time to test it beforehand.
Executing the menu does not have to be your sole responsibility! If you're a seasoned cook and insist on doing everything from scratch, then by all means, make the boeuf bourguignon with pureed cauliflower and roasted green beans on the side. Otherwise, recruit help! Cater side dishes from your favorite restaurant, ask your baker friend to whip up a dessert, or buy frozen appetizers so you can focus on the main dish.
Cooking almost always takes longer than you expect, to say nothing of the pile of dishes you're left with. Professional kitchens are able to whip out dish after dish because all their ingredients are prepped and ready to go. Whether it's cutting all your crudités the day before, making the pie dough for dessert a week beforehand and freezing it, or mixing the iced tea you're serving the evening beforehand...your future self will thank you.