Planning the perfect party menu is easier than you think! These tips and tricks will help you figure out exactly what you should serve, when you should serve it, and how much you should serve!
One the questions I get asked the most is how do I make a party menu? So I’ve put together my tips for creating the ultimate party menu, no matter what the occasion. I’ve used these for planning a 50th birthday party, a bohemian bridal shower, a Halloween carnival, and more!
The one thing that is missing in this post are actual recipes! If you need those, these are my top party foods ever. They’re great for pretty much any occasion and work well in any setting, no matter what your answers are to my questions below!
How Do I Make a Party Menu
When you’re thinking about your party menu, think of the four T’s as you’re planning. If you think about these four T’s when planning your menu, you’ll be golden for any event!
The first thing to consider is what time is your party? If it’s during a mealtime, you’ll need to either serve something that works as a meal or heavy enough appetizers or snacks that it can substitute for a meal. If it’s not during a mealtime, you can typically get away with less food.
If you’re planning a menu on a budget, plan an afternoon party so you don’t have to serve enough food to feed someone a full meal. You can serve light appetizers, desserts, and drinks because people will likely have already eaten lunch and will still plan on having dinner after.
The next question to ask is what time of day is your party? This will help determine what type of food to serve. If you’re hosting a breakfast party or a brunch, you may lean more towards things like blueberry muffins or one of these breakfast board ideas. On the flip side, if it’s a game night after dinner, you may just want to do some of your favorite desserts.
The third question to ask about time is how long is your party? If you’re hosting something longer where people will likely graze throughout the party, you’ll want to make sure that your menu is full of things that are good to stay out for long periods of time (or can be heated/chilled easily).
If it’s a shorter time period or if you’re doing a specific time just for eating, you can typically serve more finicky foods like an Oreo ice cream cake or cheese stuffed meatballs that should be eaten quickly after serving.
And the final time related question to ask is how much time will I have for food prep? This is an important one to think about because if you only have a few hours to cook right before the party, you may want to buy most of the food and just make a few simple dessert dips to round it out.
The second thing to think about is what type of party or event are you planning. Are you hosting an adults only cocktail party that requires fancier appetizers or are you hosting a family-friendly Halloween carnival where you want lots of cutesy Halloween treats.
You can often dictate the type of party you want it to be by the decorations and food you serve. Want the baby shower to be more upscale and intimate – serve gourmet individual desserts like chocolate mousse cups and fancy strawberry mocktails. Want it to be more casual and fun, serve a crowd pleaser like berry cobbler and party punch.
Another question to ask is what type of food sensitivities or lifestyles do you need to be aware of when planning the menu? If it’s a small party with just a few people and someone has a peanut allergy, you may want to skip out on that peanut butter pie. If it’s a large party and you’re making quite a few things, I always recommend having options for people who are gluten free, dairy free, and nut free. Fruit, veggies, and charcuterie boards with lots of options are often a good choice.
The third thing to consider, and it’s a biggie, is the temperature. There are a few questions to ask yourself related to temperatures.
First, what will the temperature be of the venue you’re hosting in? Will it be indoor or outdoor? If you’re hosting something a backyard bbq and it’ll be a hot summer day, you’ll want to avoid things like lemon cupcakes that might have frosting that will melt off in the heat and will want to serve things to cool guests down like creamy lemonade. If it’s indoors with a climate you can control, you have a lot more flexibility with your menu.
Next, will you be able to control the temperature of the food? In other words, do you have a way to keep things chilled or keep things warm or does everything need to be tasty at room temperature? If you don’t want to deal with things like coolers and chafing dishes, you’ll want to plan a menu full of good at room temp dishes.
Lastly, as you’re planning the menu, ask yourself what temperature does your food need cooked at? This is especially important if you’re planning to serve food warm or want it relatively warm when gets are eating. If you’re hosting a Super Bowl Party and want to serve sticky chicken wings and taco dip with ground beef, do you have two ovens since they cook at different times?
Baking baked goods like cakes and cookies together in an oven can change bake times and how things bake. If you need to double up on oven space, try to do it with things like appetizers that don’t truly need to bake, just heat up.
Once you’ve determined the time for your party, you can move onto thinking about the theme and matching foods to your theme (if you have one) and color scheme.
If you do have a particular theme for the party, it’s fun to choose at least some food items that match your theme. If you’re doing a black and white party for instance, you’d want all black and white foods on your menu. If you’re doing an Disney birthday party, you would want Avengers themed foods.
If you’re doing themed food and asking people to bring foods, make sure they know what the theme is and are happy to bring something within that theme. Or better yet, ask them to bring things like drinks, paper goods, or other things that won’t matter if they don’t match the theme.
If you don’t have a theme or the theme is a generic one like 28 is great, then you can think about your theme less. Or you can choose your own theme for the food such as the birthday guests favorite things.
Party Food Planning Final Thought
At the end of the day, you don’t want the food – the planning, preparation, or presentation – to stress you out so much that you can’t even enjoy the party. Keep it as simple as possible unless you’re someone that really wants to do something elaborate.
While good food can really elevate a party, it’s better to have a handful of knockout dishes that all work together to support your theme/party style than it is to have twenty different dishes that are just thrown together to have more food.
Party Food Planning FAQs
Think about four things when deciding the food you want to serve at the party – time, temp, type, and theme. Serve the food that matches the time of the day, the temperature outside (no ice cream in December), and your party theme. Then go with some appetizers, desserts, and a signature non-alcoholic drink for the perfect party menu!
Make things that are easy to make for a crowd like dips, casseroles, and DIY food bars. Another great option are finger foods that are easy to make for a lot of people like sliders, pigs in a blanket, and more.
Serve cold or room temperature items such as fruit and vegetables, deli meat and sandwiches, salads, cold dips, breads, and cheese plates or charcuterie boards.
Delicious Party Food
Now that you know how to plan your party menu, it’s time to get to it! These are some of the best party foods out there!
- Best Mexican appetizers – a collection of the best Mexican appetizers for Taco Tuesday, Mexican fiestas, and any other taco or nacho themed party!
- Christmas appetizers – tons of easy to make Christmas appetizers perfect for any holiday party!
- Patriotic desserts – red, white, and blue desserts for any of the occasions that celebrate those colors!