You want to have a dinner party for lots of friends, but can't seat more than six at your dining table? The answer is to throw a party that serves "heavy" appetizers in place of a sitdown dinner. Heavy appetizers are appetizers that, when all put together, provide as much food as a sitdown dinner would, but in a relaxed casual atmosphere with food served at stations or buffet style. Your guests will get to mix and mingle, your set-up will be relatively easy and everyone will get enough to eat.
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Make your guest list. You can determine how many people your venue can hold by dividing the square footage of the available space by five. The number of guests and the time of day your event takes place will determine how much food you need. If your invitation asks people to come between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., they will expect dinner, even if, in your case, it's taking the form of heavy appetizers.
Calculate the amount of food servings you will need. If you are planning a dinnertime party, plan on offering at least five types of entrée type appetizers and three or four types of desserts. Plan on each guest trying four of the appetizers and eating two servings of dessert.
Decide where to set up serving stations. You may want to set up one large buffet line or serving table, or you may want to spread smaller serving stations around your venue. Make sure your food locations are easy to reach so your guests don't create logjams trying to get to the food. Tables that are approachable on all sides work well if you have enough space.
Decide whether you will use a caterer or provide all the food yourself. Some caterers insist on handling all the details of an event, while others are willing to provide partial catering. Calculate the cost in time and money of doing all the cooking yourself to help you make your decision. Check out easy appetizer alternatives such as frozen hors d'oeuvres from your local supermarket, discount store or specialty food store. Local quick serve restaurants also offer catering trays that can make your job easier.
Plan your entrée menu, focusing on different types of food at each serving station. Make sure all the food is either finger food or can be eaten with just a fork. One serving station might offer a salsa bar with heavy appetizers to match: Southwest spring rolls, mini-burritos, tortilla chips and quesadillas. Consider a station with mini-sandwiches, or with a make-your-own-sandwich spread of meats, cheeses, breads and condiments. Salads go a long way and are easy to make in bulk. Possibilities for a salad station include Chinese chicken salad, Southwest salad, Caesar salad, bean salad, and raw or grilled vegetables. A fresh idea is a mashed potato bar with plenty of hearty toppings on the side, such as beef stew, bacon and onions, spicy chicken, and cheeses. If you have room and it's in your budget, consider a carving station, with a chef carving freshly roasted meats such as turkey or roast beef.
Plan your dessert stations. Simple dessert bars such as brownies, lemon bars, and coconut bars can be interspersed with cookies that you know your guests will love, such as chocolate chip cookies and snickerdoodles. If you have enough freezer space close at hand, consider an ice cream sundae bar with plenty of syrup choices and toppings such as M&Ms, crushed Oreos, and peanuts. You can rent a chocolate fountain from many party stores, and let your guests dip their own strawberries, marshmallows and Rice Krispy treats in the flowing chocolate.