How to: Plan the Perfect Appetizer Buffet Party

Let’s face it, when we have a party scheduled not only do we want to have a good time, with easy food, prep and clean-up, but we secretly want to wow our guests. Personally I think an hors d’oeuvres buffet is a perfect way to do this and looks incredibly impressive and professional. In order to achieve a delicious and impressive party several things will help:

  • Pick 3-4 delicious recipes that you can prepare from scratch.
  • Buy 3-4 quality store bought appetizers which you can use as is, alter or doctor up.
  • Buy cheeses, seafood, antipasto, olives, nuts and other items you can display beautifully, but use as-is.
  • Prepare as much as possible in advance so that you can be a perfect hostess and mingle with your guests.

Choosing Recipes

Nori StacksPhoto by

This is perhaps the most important part of planning a party as the food you cook will not only reflect on you, but will also make for a conversation starter. Impressive recipes are always a talking point at parties and can get complete strangers acquainted. Depending on the crowd you can go casual, elegant or ultra-fancy. A point to remember is that you don’t want to intimidate. If you would like a reciprocal invitation someday, you do not want to scare potential hosts away with your culinary prowess. It is not a competition, but rather an enjoyable get-together. Here are some of our household favorites.

For a more formal affair some of the following recipes might suit:

Grilled Crab Cakes with Red Pepper Aioli – This is a wonderful flavorful recipe that can be prepared in advance and just thrown under the broiler when guests arrive. It works perfectly with canned crab meat, which looks just as elegant but is easier on the wallet

Sushi Stacks – This is another wonderful appetizer that anyone can make. If you love sushi, but the idea of rolling it is daunting, this beautifully elegant alternative has all the taste with none of the work. You should be able to pick up all the ingredients in the Asian food aisle and other than a sharp knife you need no special equipment

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms – An elegant appetizer that can be put together ahead of time. When your guests arrive, just pop under the broiler until the cheese bubbles and you have a sumptuous snack that everyone will rave about. Again this works just fine with flaked canned crab, keeping it easy on the budget as well!

Scallops w/ minted pea puree on crostiniPhoto by

Seared Scallops with Minted Pea Puree on Crostini

This is another simple, but extremely elegant appetizer. Not quite as light on the wallet, but extremely impressive on the plate, this is perfect for an hors d’oeuvres part, light summer snack or as an eloquent dinner party appetizer.

  • 12 sea scallops, sliced in half
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 small onion or shallot, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 tbsp chicken/fish/vegetable stock
  • 3-4 large mint leaves + more for garnish
  • 24 crostini (sliced french bread buttered & toasted)

Saute the onion and garlic in the butter until just cooked. Add peas and chicken stock and cook until peas are cooked through. Slice the mint into a chiffonade, reserving some for garnish. Add pea mixture and two thirds of the mint to a blender and puree to desired thickness adding more stock if necessary. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Heat some oil and butter in a large pan and arrange the scallops in a circle remembering where you started. Sear for about 30-60 seconds on each side and remove to a paper towel. Lay the crostini out on a large platter and place a spoonful of pea puree on each slice. Top with a scallop half and garnish with the reserved mint.

For a casual or barbecue type affair some of the following recipes might suit:

Not your standard Tex-Mex Dip: This is a really fresh and unique take on the old standard Mexican layer dip. I have yet to meet someone who did not like this, even picky vegetable eaters. This works well for potlucks too as you can be assured no one else will be bringing the same!

Crab Rangoon: There are many recipes for this Chinese favorite, but this is the one I use. It’s another one that can be prepped ahead of time and thrown into the fryer in batches as guests devour the tasty won tons.

Pasta Salads: Everyone has a favorite pasta salad recipe, I like mine with chorizo. Make your family recipe up the day before to maximize flavor and lay it out for a cool and tasty treat. The same applies for potato salad.

Maximize store-bought treats to save time in the kitchen

Nobody has days to spend in the kitchen, so once you have made a few signature recipes, no one is going to begrudge you a few store-bought treats. Sam’s Club often has wonderful party trays or frozen hors d’oeuvres and desserts. Pick one or two of these to intermingle with your homemade goodies. It will save time, look good and keep you from being frazzled in the kitchen.

Cream puffs and eclairs are readily available store-bought and take it from someone who often goes through the hassle to make her own, they are worth it! Arranged elegantly on a platter with some fruit and whipped cream, people will not even care that they are store bought.

Store-bought meatballs are another great advantage in that you can just throw them into a crock pot with your favorite barbecue sauce or savory sauce and have a delicious hot appetizer made with barely any work.

Fruit and vegetable trays are another great time-saver. Yes, it’s cheaper to chop up your own, but anyone who has spent a couple of hours chopping fruit and veg in preparation for a party or potluck knows how tedious it can be, especially when you have twenty other things to make! Sometimes it’s worth splashing out for the time saved!

Seafood is also a great treat to have at any buffet. If you can find cooked shrimp on sale you can arrange them tastefully and buy some cocktail sauce or make the European version to add an easy but delicious snack to your table.

Use “as-is” treats to bulk up your table

A selection of antipasto such as Italian deli meats, olives, cheeses and marinated vegetables is an easy addition to any buffet table. It looks classy and thoughtful when all you did was arrange them on a platter.

The same goes for cheese. Visit your deli and pick up a selection of cheeses keeping in mind that there should be a good variety. I generally go for a soft cheese, like brie or camembert, a blue cheese, one or two hard cheeses and a specialty cheese. Try to stick to local cheeses as you will get more bang for your buck and get to highlight local produce to your guests.

Nuts laid around the party area in delicate bowls is also a lovely touch. You can leave them as is or try some quick and easy spiced nuts.

Preparation Tips

  • Plan your menu and shopping list in advance
  • Do as much as humanly possible the day before
  • Have a list of what needs to be done the day of and what needs to be done as guests arrive
  • Delegate tasks to other family members or friends so you can be a good hostess
  • Relax and have a good time!!!

What are your tips and recipes for the perfect party???


Save up to 60% on Black Friday

What do you think?



  1. 6

    where could i find to buy the top picture tieres for buffet display.

  2. 7

    The seductive French brandy laced in this classic pate brings a warming glow to every occasion. Seafood Recipes

  3. 8

    Love, love, love these recipes and ideas!!

  4. 9

    Thanks Ali. When I did catering these were my specialty – baby showers, bridal showers etc. loved it! 🙂

  5. 10

    Hi, just discovered you on Twitter. I’m a mother of 3 kids also. I have a food blog. I’m following you on Twitter and on Google Reader. Nice ideas & pictures.

  6. 11

    What an awesome post!! I’ve always dreamed of doing just an appie party — this is EVERYTHING you’d ever need to know. Bravo Deb! 🙂