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Welcome to the Cocktail Party Food Guide

Here you will find great advice on cocktail party food and snacks. We also look at how much food you need for your party.

Your cocktail party food and snacks are arguably the most important ingredient for the party. If you do decide to take short cuts when planning the party, do not do it with the food. Rather make the food the star of the party, as this tends to stick in people’s minds the longest.


Therefore, whether you are doing the catering yourself or having it done, you need to do thorough research. Get references before hiring any catering company or buying food from any deli or restaurant.

A hired venue will typically have their own caterers and will likely not allow independent caterers to come in and take over. So bear this mind when you search for a venue.

If your cocktail party is at home, you have three basic options:

Ø Prepare the food yourself
Ø Go and buy the food at a deli, restaurant or bakery
Ø Cocktail catering - Get caterers to deliver the food at your home and let them pack it out where the food is served from (the kitchen or dining room for example)

The option you choose will depend on your abilities as a chef, the number of guests and of course your budget. If you are not a seasoned chef or baker, do not attempt to become one just before your party. Rather have the food catered.

You might find that it is cheaper to buy food than to make it yourself, particularly if your have fewer than 20 guests. And, of course, you don’t have to spend those hours in the kitchen actually preparing it. Make sure to shop around for the best deal.

So then, “what” and “how much”?

The cocktail party food and snacks normally depends on the style or theme of the cocktail party – a stylish affair requires high end cocktail catering; a relaxed informal party requires less formal cocktail party snacks. Generally the food will be in the form of bite size snacks as well as chips, crisps an sauces and dips. Guests can enjoy these from medium sized plates or side plates which you can stack up right where the food is served.

Cocktail party food favorites include:

Ø Cocktail wieners
Ø Cocktail meatballs
Ø Spring rolls (with veggies, chicken, beef and even crab and cheese)
Ø Samosas (a tri-angular shaped Indian meat parcel wrapped in pastry)
Ø Mini pizzas
Ø BBQ’ed chicken wings and drum sticks
Ø Potato pancakes
Ø Deep-fried new potatoes
Ø Filled eggs
Ø Marinated olives
Ø Various cheeses arranged on platters with biscuits and crackers
Ø Chicken satays with peanut sauce
Ø Deep-fried or steamed vegetables, served with cocktail sticks for easy consumption
Ø Bacon-wrapped dates
Ø Shrimp cocktail
Ø Fruit kebabs – diced pieces of fruit (pineapple, mango, strawberry, apple, pear, etc)

In terms of sweet stuff for desert – which you should serve after the “main meal” – the following are proven winners:

Ø Chocolate truffles
Ø Lemon or chocolate meringues
Ø Small portions crème brulee
Ø Small portions chocolate mouse
Ø Chocolate cigars (essentially spring rolls with thick chocolate sauce inside)
Ø Mini apple pies
Ø Mini milk tarts
Ø Pastry cones filled with cooked condensed milk and cream
Ø Koeksisters (deep-fried twisted dough fingers drenched in sugar syrup)

Bear in mind that people tend to eat much less sweet goods than savory goods, so make the ratio about 1 sweet item for every to 4 or 5 savory item. Read further for advice on party food quantities.

TIP: See our After Dinner Cocktails for delicious cocktail alternatives to dessert.

Cocktail Party Food - How much?

There is no hard and fast rule as it depends on how many guests you have, how long the party is and how much the people actually eat. Make sure you rather have too much than too little – you can always give “doggy bags” if you have leftovers. And, of course, leftovers taste great the next day.

For a cocktail party with finger foods, about 4 to 6 pieces per person per hour is good starting point. You should obviously adjust this if you are inviting a bunch of WWF wrestlers, by way of example.

The variety of items depends mostly on the number of guests. If less than 20, 3 to 4 varieties should do. For every 10 guests added on, add one more variety.

For example, you expect 50 guests and the party will last about 4 hours. You will have about 6 to 7 different varieties and about 5* 50 * 4 = 1 000 items in total. It’s not necessary to have the same number of each variety. Get more of the items that are more popular.

Again, whatever you give your guests, let the food be the star of the party.

TIP: For more great ideas for your cocktail party, see our guides on cocktail party planning, cocktail party themes, cocktail party invitations, cocktail party drinks and cocktail party music.

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