Cocktail Party 101


I was pulled out of catering retirement by a dear friend looking to plan a surprise party for her husband’s birthday. I thought I’d share for you how I plan out a party and give you a few tips to make yours a bit easier.


First you need to determine a few things:

  • How many people are you planning on?
  • Is there a theme?
  • Will it be a meal or appetizers?

My friend wanted primarily finger food with a Hawaiian theme and expected 25-30 people. She had a friend who was a BBQ fiend who would help me grill a few of the dishes. The biggest challenge? I would have 30 – 45 minutes to arrive and have food ready before they would arrive.

Once I have a theme I look through my cookbooks and recipes for inspiration. I go on to Food Network and to search for specific ideas I might have. Then I write it all down and see if I have a good combination.

It is good to balance out some cheese and crackers, a mixture of meats and a few sweets. I also like to do one or two killer dishes. For this one Ann really wanted Ahi Poke so I did a bit of research and made up a recipe from several I read about.

Mix homemade and a few store bought items. For this I used Trader Joe’s Chicken Dumplings and then fixed up goat cheese and brie. I also used a bought peanut sauce though I usually make mine from scratch.

Here is the menu I chose for the Hawaiian Birthday Party:

Herbed Goat Cheese
Macademia Coated Brie with Spicy Mango Chutney
Maui Onion and Tomato Salad With Roasted Onion Dressing
Asian Beef Skewers
Chicken Skewers with Peanut Sauce
Hawaiian Ahi Poke with Wasabi Creme Fraiche
Dumplings with Honey Soy Dipping Sauce
Macademia Chocolate Chip Bars
Lime Meltaways
Fruit Skewers with Tropical White Chocolate Sauce

You should plan on 12 pieces per person if you are not serving a meal. Also plan on 3 drinks per person – alcoholic or non-alcoholic.

If I was doing this at home I would shrink the menu a bit – maybe one cheese dish and one or two desserts.

The Game Plan

Thursday I made up my shopping list and did most of my grocery shopping. That night I prepared the Spicy Mango Chutney, Macademia Nut Chocolate Chip Bars and gathered all my recipes. I like to put them all in a three ring binder so I can easily flip through them.

Friday morning I made up all the two marinades and made the dough for the Lime Meltaways. I also made up the Tropical White Chocolate Sauce. I also prepped the mushrooms for the Asian Beef Skewers and chopped up all the ingredients that I would add to the Poke and the Honey Soy Dipping Sauce.

Saturday I skewered the beef and the fruit. I placed the chicken breasts in the marinade and baked the Lime Meltaways. I pre baked the wonton base for the Ahi Poke.

The half hour I had once I arrived went quickly. I recruited a few helpers at the party to help me pull it off. Everything was on the table and ready to go by the time they walked in.

Other things to consider

  • Serving plates – have them out and ready to go before you start the final cooking
  • Pre-soak wooden skewers
  • Enlist a few people to help you before or during the party
  • Assign a drinks person
  • Assign a barbeque person if that is needed

My last piece of advice would be to not sweat it when things don’t go exactly as planned. No one but you will know it looks different or that something didn’t make it to the table. Give yourself a bit of grace, take a deep breath and go join the party!

Similar Posts