“Apparently, the caterer Peter Callahan was the first to make tiny hamburgers, maybe in the entire world. Or at least that’s what Martha Stewart claims in the introduction to Mr. Callahan’s new cookbook and she should know, right?” — Marshall Heyman in The Wall Street Journal
As a caterer and a food designer now for over 25 years, I’m asked all the time “what’s the perfect menu for a wedding cocktail reception”? Specifically, the ratio of passed hors d’oeuvres, hot and cold, to stationary food displays, bars and cocktail presentations. (and then there’s that whole tapas, mini plate thing which is a whole OTHER story). What I can tell you, is that you can never go wrong with having too much! After all, every sophisticated party host or hostess knows that the cocktail hour is when you make a strong first impression! (And that shouldn’t be that you’ve run out of food or cocktails).
Here are some of my pointers and tips on building your cocktail party set list:
Plan on a minimum of SIX to EIGHT passed hors d’oeuvres per person, per hour. Frankly, I don’t know an upscale wedding where I’ve actually done less than 10, and on average I’m asked to serve at least 12 as variety is everything!
Keep your passed hors d’oeuvres to a ONE-BITE serving portion that can easily pop in your mouth right off the tray. Trust me, no one ever successfully juggles their champagne flute with an hors d’oeuvre that requires three bites.
Offer an EQUAL SPLIT of beef, poultry, seafood and vegetarian options. (and don’t forget to offer several that are gluten-free).
Serve a good balance of decadent bites of classic LUXURY FOODS. In America, that may include my lilliputian reinterpretations of the classic Lobster Roll, Pheasant Under Glass and Caviar Engagement Ring Canapés.
When the hors d’oeuvres are tiny you can easily EMBRACE ETHNIC foods and spicy flavors, such as my Vegetable Spring Rolls, Mini Dim Sum Boxes and Caprese Tea Sandwiches.
Balance WARM hors d’oeuvres selections with COLD ones but keep in mind the season in which you are entertaining. For instance, in the middle of colder, Winter months it’s best to offer more hot hors d’oeuvres than cold ones.
Make sure to offer passed, PRE-POURED BEVERAGES on trays (which helps alleviate heavy traffic at bars and gets everyone merry as soon as they walk in the door).
Set up plenty of full-service cocktail BARS keeping in mind there should be one bartender per 50 guests, minimally. But keep in mind the location of the bars, the distance between them and have your caterer staff them accordingly.
SPECIALTY COCKTAIL BARS such as Champagne Bars, Martini Bars and my personal favorite, Sgroppino Stations, are in addition to your regular full-service cocktail bars. Not in place of.
Display stationary foods in stylish containers to make anything look VISUALLY APPEALING. You know we all eat with our eyes first, so whatever you do, make it pretty to look at! Frankly, I’m not a huge fan of most as they can be can be messy and mundane. But some delicious cheeses displayed in an modern, elegant design or an updated charcuterie are classics that can do no wrong in my book!
Best of luck and happy wedding planning! Peter Callahan
For more information on Peter Callahan Catering we invite you to visit his website or check out his cookbook Bite by Bite: 100 Stylish Little Plates You Can Make for Any Party