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May 9, 2010 06:24 AM

Advice Needed for Cocktail Party

I am helping to plan a cocktail party for approx 35 people. I am not used to entertaining this size of a crowd, so I had a few questions.

This party is at 7 pm on a Saturday night, it is assumed that the guests will be making a dinner out of the hors du ouvers and they will probably stay for 3 hours. The guests are not vegetarians, and tend to like simple foods.

How many different items should there be ? I was thinking 7 or 8 different things. With 2 or 3 being hot, the remainder being room temp or cold items.

How many servings per person of each of the various items?

Assuming that the bevarages consist of beer, wine, non-alchohol stuff, and a signature cocktail that would be prepared ahead of time, what quantity of the signature cocktail would be needed?

Here are the things that are in consideration for being served. These are just ideas at this point and we would narrow it down to a subset.

Shrimp Cocktail
Pulled Pork Sliders
Beef tenderloin
Smoked Salmon
Dip of some sort
Crab Streudel
Antipasto Platter
Stuffed Mushrooms
Canapes (toppings undecided)
Whole side of cooked salmon
Cheese/fruit platter
Puff pastry with sausage
Grilled asparagus w/prosciutto
lobster or crab salad
roast beef on a ciabatta with some greens and fancy mayo...

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  1. Can I come? Wow, that's some ambitious list! Do you have help for the party? If you don't, I would stick to cold apps that the guests can serve themselves. I have been to many cocktail parties where the guests, in fact, don't eat much and do go out to dinner, so quantities are hard to judge. We always err on the side of too much, particularly of things that keep and that we are happy to have as leftovers after the party. Things like antipasto platters, smoked salmon, cheese/fruit platter, nuts, cold shrimp. It just depends on how fancy and 'prepared' you want to go, and sometimes a nice presentation can make up for a more common party item. I know it's pretty cliche, but we always have crudite since there are inevitably dieting guests who are grateful for something they can munch on at will. With a great dip like Green Goddess and a beautiful presentation, it can rise above.I am sorry I can't give you specific amounts, but I think that if you consult some caterers' web sites, you may be able to crib amounts. We just always go for abondanza! Too much is usually just the right amount.

    1. If I knew it was a cocktail party, I would have eaten dinner first aand not assumed it was a meal.

      Some of those items are not finger foods and require a fork and knife (shrimp cocktail, beef tenderloin, smoked salmon, crab strudel, antipasto, whole cooked salmon, puff pastry with sausage) as well as keeping warm. If you have that much, one of everything is too much and some people will want/take all of something.

      Plus if the fork and knife is needed, then I assume you'll have seating. For 35. Plus space to lay out all that food.

      This sounds far more like a buffet without sides (and a large choice buffet at that) and not a cocktail party. I think something will suffer. Limit it to being a cocktail party with only cold/room temperature, easily pre-made appetizers or just have a buffet. With fewer choices (one or two meats and seafoods). Then a more logical serving size recoomendation can be made.

      1. Here's good rules of thumb for cocktail parties:

        Three hours is perfect. Guests show up fashionably late for the first hour, the party is in full swing for the second hour, and then the party winds down during the third hour. Each guest is on average going to have 2 alcoholic drinks, 10 bites of food, and half a pound of ice. So, this works out to 70 drinks, 350 pieces of food, and 18 pounds of ice. 7 or 8 different items sounds overly ambitious. I'd do just four or five things, one of them kept hot in a chafing dish or slow cooker, and call it good. To keep people moving around the party, you can scatter things around the room; put half the food on one side of the room, the rest of the food on the other side, and the drinks in a different area.

        For drinks... SCALE BACK. There's a reason that when you go to an art gallery opening that all they're serving is white wine and bottled water. You're going to run yourself ragged if you provide a full bar. Around here I just make a cocktail in quantity and serve it from a punch bowl, and provide plenty of bottled water. The very biggest bar I would dream of doing for a huge cocktail party (we're talking over 100 people) is two beers (a craft brew and an American macrobrew), a red wine, a white wine, a signature cocktail, and bottled water, and even then I'd rather stick to one beer, one wine (white in summer, red in winter), the cocktail, and bottled water. For 25 people, I'd do just one of those selections. If you know that your guests lean toward heavier drinkers, provide 2.5 drinks per person; I have cocktailian friends, and the last time I did a party for 25, they went through 64 servings of the cocktail. To make a cocktail in quantity, scale up the recipe, and then add some water to compensate for the loss of melting ice through shaking or stirring the drinks individually. Start with about a 5:1 ratio of cocktail to water, taste, and add more water until the drink is properly diluted. Then stick the pitcher of cocktails in the fridge and when party time comes, all you have to do is pour it over ice or into a cocktail glass.

        The ten bites of food per person works out pretty well; people graze at the party, it's not meant to be a full dinner. If you still want to make more, I'd max out at twelve bites per person. If you run out of food during the third hour of the party, it's OK! This just means the party went well. You want to do entirely finger food unless you have lots of places for people to sit down and don't mind providing forks for everyone. I think of the ones you have listed, I would go with shrimp cocktail, pulled pork sliders, stuffed mushrooms, nuts, hummus with pita wedges and crudités, and a simple cheese plate.

        You want to do as much as you can as far in advance as you can so that once the party comes, you can RELAX and enjoy your own party. That's why cold hors d'oeuvres are so nice to make. You can do 'em a day or two in advance, stick 'em in the fridge, then the day of just take 'em out and you're all set to go. Oh, almost forgot to mention... When guests get there, get a drink in their hand (whether it has alcohol or not) and let 'em go to it. The most you want to do for prodding social interaction is to introduce people to each other, maybe giving a little tidbit about the person you're introducing as a catalyst ("Marie, this is my friend Bob, he's training for a marathon"). If you try getting groups of people together in one area or another (or heaven forbid, playing party games), you come across as a drill sergeant.