What Are Passed Appetizers?

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Passed appetizers are served from a tray instead of a table.

Passed appetizers are hors d'oeuvres or "finger foods" that are served from a tray carried directly to guests at a social gathering, such as a cocktail party or reception. Also referred to as tray service or butler service, passed appetizers are an alternative to placing hors d'oeuvres on a stationary table or buffet line. Passed appetizers come in many varieties and can add a touch of elegance to your next party.


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Whether the appetizers to be passed are cheese and crackers or caviar canapés, they are meant to be enjoyed while your guests are standing, likely with a beverage in one hand. Passed appetizers should be small enough to eat in no more than a few bites, preferably without the use of a plate or silverware. Ideally a cocktail napkin (provided when presenting the tray) is the only thing your guests will require to enjoy their individual-size hors d'oeuvres.



At catered events with tray service, wait staff will pass hors d'oeuvres. This can promote a festive atmosphere, as guests are allowed to socialize while food or drinks are brought to them. At smaller gatherings, you may wish to pass hors d'oeuvres yourself. Passing appetizers helps ensure that hot items are served at the proper temperature. It also fosters interaction with each individual guest, making them feel special by being individually served.


Just about any small food eaten with the use of fingers can be appropriate as a passed appetizer. Traditional items include mini sandwiches, deviled eggs and stuffed mushrooms. Seafood choices include tuna tartare, mini crab cakes and shrimp cocktail. For more hearty fare, beef or chicken skewers, Swedish meatballs, and mini burgers, or sliders, are popular. Certain ethnic foods, such as Italian bruschetta, Japanese sushi and Spanish tapas, make great passed appetizers as they are generally presented in small or individual-size portions that can be eaten without utensils.



Passed appetizers may not be ideal for every situation. Serving trays can only hold a limited number of hors d'oeuvres and a popular appetizer can be depleted rapidly, necessitating return trips to the kitchen. Some appetizers may run out before reaching every guest. The decision as to whether to have passed appetizers at your event depends on the size of your party, the amount of food being served, the layout of the event space and the cost involved.


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