Party Food

The Life of the Party

Compose any type of party food menu for any occasion using this easy guide to food courses

large silver chafing dish

Food courses are generally served in a set order beginning perhaps with an appetizer and ending with dessert.

A full course dinner can consist of three, five, eight or twelve courses, and in an extreme form---twenty-one courses!

A great party food menu starts with...


A selection of small bites of food served to stimulate the appetite. Also called hors d'oeuvres or canapés they are often eaten without silverware (finger food).

Appetizers are not considered a course unless served at the table before the soup or salad. Appetizers are an excellent party food on a buffet or luncheon menu. Even a light drink (aperitif) is considered an appetizer.

Easy Appetizer Recipes
Appetizer Recipes for a crowd
Skewer Appetizers


Keep the rest of the meal in mind when choosing a soup. It can be hot or cold and thick or thin. Keep it simply flavored. Serve soup as an appetizer in an espresso or demitasse cup. Soups can also be the main entree for a lunch menu.

Favorite choices are leek and potato, gazpacho, seafood bisque and consommé.


colorful salad

Can be served instead of soup or before or after the soup or even after the main course and before desert, almost like a palate cleanser. Salads are perfect on a at brunch, lunch or dinner party menu, and make an interesting appetizer course when served on small plates.

Like the soup the salad can also be served as the main course depending on the occasion and time of day. Good choices are Roasted Beet Salad or Pear Salad with Blue Cheese and Orange Vinaigrette

More Salad Recipes

How Much Food to Serve

large appetizer tray

If you are serving appetizers only, figure on 6-8 pieces per adult. If the appetizers are before a dinner or buffet service, 4-6 hor oeuvres should suffice.

For more help see Cocktail Party ideas

See the Food Quantities Chart for more help

Most people will help themselves to an average serving and the majority may not go back for seconds.

Keep in mind who your guests are and be aware if they are pickers or heavy eaters. On a buffet of numerous types of dishes people will take smaller portions of each in order to sample everything. You can pre-slice or pre-cut such things as roast beef, lasagna and cakes to help with portion control.

Sit-Down Meal
It is better to serve generously then not to have enough. Plan on at least one second helping per person per course. Any leftovers can be tomorrow nights dinner or "doggie bags" for appreciative

Main Course or Entree

The main course or entree is the party food center of attention. Usually it is the most filling and the most complex dish on the menu. Every course leads up to the main course and if well-planned, can function as sort of a "gastronomic climax", if you will.

Sides dishes such as rice, potatoes, vegetables and bread are generally not considered courses but are a part of the entree.


angel food cake with strawberry

The meal ends on a sweet note. Either hot or cold, sometimes accompanied by a suitable dessert wine. A heavy meal should be topped with a light airy dessert.

A most delicious and easy dessert is fine chocolates and fruit perhaps served with a liqueur such as amaretto or Kahlua.

Dessert Recipes


Usually made from fruit juice and having a soft, icy consistency, sorbets are customarily served as a palate cleanser between courses. They also make a light and refreshing dessert.

Sorbet is an elegant and surprising touch for your guests. You can make it at home but also look for it in your grocer's freezer case under ices, frappes or granitas. Sorbets never contain milk so don't purchase sherbet as it will be too dense and too sweet.


The meal can begin and end with appropriate wines, cocktails or liqueurs. These are not considered courses in and of themselves.

See Chef Menus alcohol guide for more information.


Freshly brewed, flavored, decaf or regular. Also offer tea with lemon and honey. If you've got the right equipment, offer cappuccino and espresso.

Here is an example of a twenty-one course menu. What a delicious, albeit long, evening this would be!

Palate Cleanser
Second Palate cleanser
Cold appetizer
Thick soup
Thin soup

Wild mushrooms
Green salad
Ice cream
Savory puffed pastry
Petit Four

Go to Top of Party Food


Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.
Cooking for a Crowd Ebook

"Cooking for a Crowd
The Ultimate Guide"

All the information you will ever need