Party Food

Party foods are the life of the party! Compose any type of party menu for any occasion using this easy guide to food courses.

image of silver chafing dish serving party food

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. A hearty soup can also be the main entrée for a lunch menu.

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


Spring salad with radishes and arugula

Can be served instead of soup or before or after the soup or even after the main course, 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

Main Course or Entrée

The main course or entrée 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 entrée.


image of a slice of angel food cake

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 pear slices perhaps served with a liqueur such as amaretto or Kahlua.

Dessert Recipes


Usually made from fruit juice and have 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 and food and wine pairing for more information.


Coffee is optional.  Serve 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

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