When servers are walking around with passed appetizers while guests mingle, you know you're at a real party. Passed appetizers are often served during the cocktail hour before a wedding reception or other sit-down dinner, but you can also serve passed appetizers as the "main course" at a cocktail party or as part of a dinner party in your home.
Hors d'Oeuvres or Appetizers?
It's common for people to use the terms "appetizers" and "hors d'oeuvres" interchangeably to describe any sort of food that's served before a meal. However, the two terms have slightly different connotations for food and catering professionals.
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Hors d'oeuvres (pronounced "awr-durvz") is French for "outside of the work," meaning food that's eaten outside of the main meal. Hors d'oeuvres are typically finger foods that are only a few bites each. Appetizers are often served at the table and relate to the meal; for example, an Italian dinner might be preceded by a calamari appetizer.
It might be more accurate to describe small dishes served on trays before a meal as passed hors d'oeuvres, but no party guests are likely to correct you if you call them appetizers. If you or a server are walking around offering guests small bites from a tray, you're serving passed appetizers.
Planning for Passed Appetizers
As you think about the logistics of serving passed apps, bear in mind a few important factors. You don't want to serve too few things and run out of food long before the meal is ready, but you also don't want to have a lot of food left over, and you don't want to fill up guests with too many hearty appetizers before they sit down for dinner. The number of servings that each guest will eat depends on the length of the appetizer period, how filling the dishes are, what guests are having to drink and whether a meal is being served.
A common rule of thumb for planning passed hors d'oeuvres is to expect each guest to eat about six servings during a pre-meal cocktail hour or eight to 12 servings during a cocktail party with no meal following.
Choose passed hors d'oeuvres that are easy to eat with one hand since people may be holding a drink at the same time. Make sure that there's something for everyone's palette and dietary restrictions and that servers who are distributing passed apps know exactly what's in each dish. At least one of your heavy hors d'oeuvres should be vegan and gluten-free.
Ideas for Passed Hors d'Oeuvres
Serve at least two different dishes as passed hors d'oeuvres for any event. The larger the event, the more variety you should provide. Four or five different hearty appetizers should be plenty for most parties, especially if they're fairly heavy hors d'oeuvres that will fill up people quickly.
Chickpea fritters with tahini sauce, baked avocado fries, stuffed mushrooms or spiced nuts can all be vegan and gluten-free appetizer options. Bacon-wrapped scallops, meatballs on toothpicks, antipasto skewers, burger sliders and shrimp cocktail are other examples of crowd-pleasing heavy hors d'oeuvres.
Provide at least one lighter option as a balance to your hearty appetizers. Hummus with vegetables and grain-free crackers is one easy vegan and gluten-free option. Fruit skewers with yogurt sauce, summer rolls filled with veggies and canapés that use cucumber slices as a base can all be tasty and easy-to-serve appetizers that won't fill up people too quickly.