Food is something people tend to have a lot of trouble with. Some people spend all their time and money on the food to the exclusion of everything else. Other people think chips and dips are all the food you need. Some people prepare too much food and end up having to throw a lot of it away while other people put everyone on a diet for the night. Some people slave for days preparing fancy dishes that go uneaten because people don’t recognize what you want them to eat or the food sits out and gets cold or old. Some people put the food out and never glance at it again to see if refills are needed or if it is covered with flies while other people never get out of the kitchen.
Food is undoubtedly a very important part of the party and planning it, preparing it and serving it can be both stressful and expensive. Luckily, there are many tips and tricks to help reduce both the stress and the expense. Food is also one of the most versatile, creative and exciting aspects of a party and the more imagination you use, the better people like it. Specific menu ideas are discussed later in this book along with the descriptions of specific parties but there is no shortage of party food ideas, tips and tricks to be found in magazines, websites and entertainment guides. Here are a few tricks I know.
• Whether you like to prepare gourmet dishes or snack foods, the rules are the same. When planning the menu, keep it manageable, plan food you can prepare in advance and those that are easy to serve.
• Use your imagination, different types of food is exciting, too.
• Many people want to bring food or dessert to a party. Let them and then, thank them.
• Don’t think Chaffing dishes and sternos will heat your food. They will not. They will only keep it warm if the food is already hot, if the sternos are kept lit, if the food is stirred often and if you start with boiling water in the bottom pan which holds the water.
• If you think you have too much food, you probably do. We tend to overestimate the amount of food we’ll need because we order enough food to serve each person a serving of everything. That doesn’t really happen. The more choices of food you have, including snacks, appetizers, main courses and desserts, the less servings you’ll need because people will pick and choose what they want. A few people may eat everything but most people will be selective and won’t eat a serving of everything served. It’s too much food for one person.
• Water and ice keeps food and beverages colder than just ice. The water increases the surface coverage of the cold water and chills things better. Also, coolers and thermal containers preserve warmth as well as cold. You can use them as portable ovens as well as ice chests.
• Throw away any leftover food with meat, protein, mayonnaise, seafood or gravy on it if it is left out too many hours in the heat or warm room temperature. These types of food start growing bacteria immediately and will make you sick if eaten again. However, tomato sauce, sugary foods such as most desserts or any snack food (if not stale) are savable if desired. Tomato sauces, including onions in a ketchup base, are too acidic for bacteria to grow easily and sugar, flour and salt are not typical breeding grounds for harmful bacteria. These food items can be left out or used again.
• Crock-pots are excellent for hot dishes like chili, soups, stews, gumbo, sausage and peppers, rice dishes or anything you can leave in the pot simmering on low heat.
• Chips and dips are great but if people will be drinking you need to have some foods with substance. Easy answers include bagels and cream cheese, finger sandwiches, rice balls, baked potatoes with a choice of toppings or macaroni and cheese.
• Definitely use a caterer if you want to and can afford it. There are many caterers who offer a wide range of foods and prices. If you don’t have a regular caterer or one that comes recommended by someone, ask a lot of questions. Ask whether or not they will be providing the equipment and paper products, if servers are available for hire, if they will they deliver the food or if you have to pick it up, will the food be hot or will you have to heat it and whether or not they have a satisfaction guarantee.