Whether served as starters or bite-sized entrées, appetizers should be as appealing to the eye as they are to the palate.

Appetizers are those amazingly tasty tidbits that are served before a meal (as a starter), placed enticingly along a buffet table, or passed around on a tray as hors d’oeuvres. They may be exotic and colorful or meaty and filling. Depending on the occasion, whether elegant or casual, it’s always a good idea to make them easy to consume.


Appetizers are grouped by whether they are served hot or cold. They can be mixed and matched and based on a theme, season, and ethnic region.

When planning your selection, choose varying textures, flavors, and colors for a greater variety and interesting display.

Buying Tips

Purchase appetizer ingredients in phases or keep the pantry stocked with hard goods. Make a detailed list of what is on hand and what will need to bought immediately prior to an event.

You can also combine personal recipes with goods purchased from a deli or favorite restaurant.

Plan on purchasing a few garnishes as well, including cinnamon and fresh parsley. Use them, if needed, as last-minute “dress-ups” for a plain tray of food. For instance, cheesecake squares may benefit from a dusting of nutmeg, or a white dip could become more appetizing with a topping of chopped parsley leaves.

Planning Tips

The biggest fear in appetizer planning is running out of food. Use these general guidelines:

For every five guests, plan on two different types of appetizers (1-5 guests = 2 varieties; 5-10 = 4 varieties, etc.).

The time of day will factor into how many appetizers your guests will consume, but a good rule of thumb is eight pieces per hour per guest. This may be less if a meal is served and more if it is a festive or holiday occasion when people tend to overindulge. A younger crowd may also consume more.

Storage Tips

Allow cooked foods to reach room temperature before refrigerating. For safety, cool quickly in a bed of ice. Still-warm foods placed in the fridge will encourage bacterial growth if an appropriate internal temperature is not reached in a short period.

Do not pack refrigerator shelves tightly as this, too, will prevent cold from reaching the center goods.

Usage Tips

Presentation is as important as the taste of each mouth-watering bite. If the food is intended as a starter, then the garnish, saucing, and plating are all-important. For a buffet setup, color and placement are critical. In this case, risers and cake stands can be put to practical use.

Consider serving requirements. Cheese wedges that require cutting should have a stable surface. Stage plateaus for light foods that can be easily lifted. Traffic flow and the type of utensils used will also factor into design.

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by BigOven editorial team
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