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How To Plan an Hors d'oeuvres Event

Updated on June 3, 2009

Create Your Plan

Several years ago, I took a big leap of faith and secured/leased a small banquet facility in Maryland. It was a beautiful house built in the late 1800's. With the addition of a foyer with large bay windows at both ends and a connecting banquet room with a small barroom, it was the perfect location for the100 and less guests niche market. I absolutely loved the place and I hosted many successful events.

One of my most favorite experiences was with a client who, along with his siblings, decided to throw their parents an anniversary party. After initially speaking with the client on the telephone I just knew he was going to be a hard sell. I had to convince him that my location was perfect for his event AND I had to persuade him that I could provide a very tasty menu to match. He was well versed in "food" and was a frequent diner who was quite certain about what was good by sight and taste. The event was a party for about 100 guests. The group included some elderly and children. It lasted at least 3 1/2 hours or so.

There were few potential planning issues with this event because the hors d'oeuvres menu would be prepared and served at the same location. Be aware that transporting hors d'oeuvres to another location whether cooked or raw involves evaluating how your menu will ultimately maintain its promised consistency throughout the event. Carefully examine which hors d'oeuvres require special preparation. If you are a new caterer or this is your first hors d'oeuvres event sell items that are easy to manage.

When showcasing your menus to a client offer a wide selection. Explore creating a heavy hors d'oeuvres menu and a mini hors d'oeuvres menu each at least two (2) pages long. Give clients a laundry list to ponder with prices based on the number purchased.

Some caterers only sell hors d'oeuvres by the hundred. Consider selling by two different methods (my preference):

  • individual items (lamb lollipops or mini beef wellingtons) in exact numbers: 25, 50, 75, 100 and 200. Make sure your servings are exact. Clients responsible for the bill will arrive early and count.
  • dips, veggies or other very typical items by a group range: 15-20, 25-50, and 75-100. A group range allows flexibility on the volume served and can reign in the budget if you've miscalculated costs on the individual items.

My anniversary party client thoroughly enjoyed mulling over both menus selecting a variety of hors d'oeuves to serve his family. I enjoyed mixing a smaller group selection with a larger group selection making a visually appealing and interesting display.

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The Formula

Selling catering services to book a client who has never met you, doesn't know your business and has never tasted your food can sound like an impossible task. If new to catering, you may not possess the written references or strong culinary background to reassure your client you are capable of executing a flawless event. Remember, the client is taking a huge risk in hiring you with these obvious factors.

Though some caterers will offer a tasting during a contract signing meeting, I never did. I sold my anniversary client by impressing him with my knowledge and my willingness to give him the best possible event at the budget he desired. I proved to him that I was better than all the other caterers he had previously visited - even one caterer he saw just before he came to my facility.

The following formula has been a winner for me. The potential risk of being an unknown to your client can be overcome with confidence and expertise. Be sure to email your client this formula when you send menus. Discuss this formula before your client has completed menu selections. More often than not, my results sold more hors d'oeuvres which translated into a bigger check! I helped my client understand why he needed to spend more based on what needed to be served at the event.

Here is the exact text I use. Other caterers may have their own formulas. Develop what is best for you.

For assistance with determining the amount of hors d’oeuvres needed for your event, use the following formula: When no dinner is being served, guests generally consume 10-12 hors d’oeuvres per hour. With dinner, offer 6-8 hors d’oeuvres per hour per guest.

  • 75 guests x 12 hors d’oeuvres each = 900 hors d’oeuvres per person
  • 900 hors d’oeuvres per hour x 4 party hours = 3600 hors d’oeuvres for the event
  • Now select your menu: 100 meatballs, 200 Chicken skewers, 300 shrimp, etc.
  • You can reduce your hors d’oeuvres count by adding in dips or carved meats.


The Set Up

If you or the client rent a facility schedule a visit to determine the set up. Measure how much time it takes you to arrive, unload or configure the room before the event - even if the location promises to configure it for you. Use a word processing software or desk top publishing software to create a layout that you can share with staff.

The trends in serving hors d’oeuvres are to have stations throughout the event space, presenting on unique trays or people in costume. Suggest to your client to use square tables instead of round tables for sitting and cocktail tables for standing. If the client's budget permits, secure table linens that reaches the floor for a more sophisticated look and feel. Don't forget about tabletop lighting at each station or inexpensive floor spot lights. Add flowers or other textured elements like stones.

Gather some of the most unusual buffet equipment to use on your buffet tables. Take a look at each menu item to find the best equipment for the best presentation. I always purchased, especially in the beginning of my catering career, only the pieces of equipment I would use for a particular menu item rather than just randomly buying something with eye appeal.

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Recipe Share

A great dip served with fried tortillas in herb or vegetable flavors, lightly toasted pita triangles or gourmet flatbreads. Dip is prepared right on top of a round piece of glass (find at Kmart or Target - ask for the glass for a three-legged round side lamp table) The glass is raised off the buffet table by glass votives with blossoms inserted inside. I put a little greenery under the glass just so when the dip is eaten off, the guests see the greenery instead of a tablecloth. Drop a couple of blossoms directly under the glass on top the greenery too! Wish I had a picture to share!

Mediterranean Dip

  • Spread hummus on glass in a round circle starting from the center leaving enough edge of the glass for your dipping cracker/bread
  • Spread sour cream on top of hummus
  • Add shredded carrots (take fresh carrot make strips using peeler, gather strips then cut into bite size pieces)
  • Chop marinated artichokes then layer on top
  • Crumble on herb feta cheese
  • Drop on kalamative olives


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    • profile image

      Victoria Ilaria 6 years ago

      Good article , nice to see things explained so well. thank you for that.

    • eventsyoudesign profile image

      eventsyoudesign 7 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      Great article. Very informative. I do banquets in Nashville, Tennessee. I just started writing on hub pages. Maybe you could give me a few pointers? Thanks for sharing.


    • eventsyoudesign profile image

      eventsyoudesign 7 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee