The Importance of a Menu
On par with the importance of creating a cohesive theme and a thoughtful tablescape, planning menu ideas when entertaining guests is crucial in hosting. We encourage celebrating the little moments in life, and creating an unforgettable menu for your gathering is a simple way to show your guests that you care. Preparing each course, from the appetizers to the dessert, makes your loved ones feel appreciated and welcome.
Creating a menu for your gatherings may seem like a difficult task, but a thoughtful menu will elevate any event. When you experiment with different menu ideas, you unlock new and valuable hosting skills. Pair new and old recipes for wonderful new tastes, determine what dishes suit which occasion, and discover soon-to-be family favorites. Soon, you'll have go-to dishes for endless menu ideas and combinations.
When Do You Need to Create a Menu?
If you're hosting a gathering around mealtime, you should be prepared to serve food to your friends and family. Whether you're entertaining for a holiday dinner party or an intimate night with friends, we always suggest having a few menu ideas for appetizers, drinks, charcuterie boards, or a four-course meal—whatever the gathering calls for.
Some more formal occasions may demand multiple courses, whereas others could be more laidback. Whether you're planning each dish or asking guests to bring certain courses, it's your responsibility as the host to figure out how and what your guests will eat.
7 Things to Consider for Your Menu
When you sit to make an Easter dinner menu or a birthday party menu for your family, you may have no idea where to start. As the special occasion approaches, we like to use this checklist to determine the style of the gathering, the types of food we want to serve, and the overall cohesive theme. Check out these seven things to consider when brainstorming menu ideas:
Time of day
Type of gathering
Purpose of the gathering
What Time of Day Does the Occasion Occur?When thinking about menu ideas, the first thing to nail down is the time of day for your event. With so many different meal options, from breakfast to dinner and every mealtime in between, determining the time of day for your gathering will help determine what types of food and how much you need to plan for.
What Type of Gathering Is It?
As you plan your celebration, it's important to determine if your gathering is more casual or formal. When we come up with menu ideas for our friends and families, we find it easiest to figure out the tone for special occasions early on. Some people may prefer a seated, elegant meal for a holiday. Someone could want a laid-back and easygoing birthday party menu. Whichever you choose will affect how the menu is created.
Each course of your dinner party menu will be served directly to your guests for a sit-down or formal meal. However, if you choose a more casual tone, your appetizers can be passed around, and guests can graze different dishes.
What Serving Style Are You Using?Different serving styles can drastically change your menu ideas. So, early in your planning process, you must choose a serving style for your gathering. That way, you can determine how your dishes will be enjoyed and served to your guests.
For a plated serving style, the recipes will be served on individual plates for your guests, so they don't have to lift a finger. If you choose to go family style, you can present your menu more casually and let your loved ones fill their plates with each course at the table. With buffet-style serving, you can whip up large portions of your recipes, set them in serving dishes at another table, and let your guests serve themselves. Each serving style can impact how you create your dinner party menu, so keep that in mind as you plan your special day.
Planning a Menu with Dietary Restrictions or Preferences
When considering menu ideas and favorite recipes, you should consider any dietary restrictions and food preferences. Part of successful hosting is ensuring your guests can enjoy your planned party menu—so ask your guests for any allergies, restrictions, and preferences before finalizing your menu.
Pro tip: while focusing on the complex and flavorful dishes for your adult guests, remember to include some "kid-friendly" foods the little ones will enjoy.
Where Will the Gathering Take Place?
Where you plan to host your gathering can make all the difference in the feel of your menu and the serveware you need. Looking at your indoor and outdoor seating options will help you determine the logistics of the recipes you choose. For example, a party menu for a backyard barbecue with finger food dishes can be quite different than an indoor dinner party with a plated recipe.
If you're serving indoors, will you need a different area for serving? Will your menu fit on your table? Will guests have to come inside for an outdoor gathering to fill their plates? Consider what each location brings to the table when coming up with menu ideas.
What is the Purpose of the Gathering?The most valuable question to ask yourself when you need to plan a menu is: what is the purpose of this gathering? Curating a menu around someone special or a specific holiday can determine almost every factor for your recipe. Understanding the "why" of your celebration can give you inspiration for each dish on the menu.
Is the gathering in honor of someone special? Make the day all about them by creating a menu of their favorite foods. Focus on their tastes and cravings and plan a birthday party menu they'll never forget.
Is the gathering for a particular holiday? Whether you need to plan an Easter dinner menu or a Christmas dinner menu, you can make a traditional menu that your family enjoys year after year. Research common foods for the specific holiday or pull out family recipes you can't live without at that time of year, like our Great Thanksgiving Stuffing Rivalry.
Menu Ideas Can Match a Theme
Our tried-and-true method for planning a party menu is to match it to the theme of the gathering. If all you have is a theme, you can search for dishes that best match the theme, whether that's tasty popcorn recipes for a movie night or a romantic Fondue Night for Valentine's Day.
One of our best hints for matching your menu to a theme is to let an ingredient inspire your recipes! Find seasonal vegetables for a summer soirée, whether a summer tomato dish or a holiday favorite for your Christmas dinner menu.
If there's no specific holiday theme or reason for the gathering, find inspiration in a specific culture's cuisine. Indulge in Asian fusion for the night or discover new Mexican dishes for each course of dinner. Change up the cuisine your family is used to and give your palates a change of pace with cultural dishes from around the world.
5 Tips When Selecting Dishes for a Menu
We have a couple of things to consider when coming up with menu ideas that can help finalize your choices:
Have different textures and colors featured in each course
Make sure you have a variety of flavors on your menu
Think of creative and delicious pairings with different dishes
Make sure you have the kitchen space to prepare and serve your menu
Remember to choose what dinnerware and serveware you'll need ahead of time
Choosing the Right Serveware for Your Menu
After creating your dinner party menu, choosing the right serveware is essential to hosting your loved ones. From ensuring you have the right amount of serving dishes to picking out which design matches the theme of your gathering, selecting the perfect serveware for your event ties everything together.
For dinner party menus and everyday celebrations, you should have a wide variety of serveware options you enjoy. From the timeless Signature White Oval Platter to the pop of color of the Palm Mango Wood Large Rectangle Board, having options in your curated collection is a must for any host.
When preparing an Easter dinner menu, we rotate our seasonal dinnerware in and welcome spring with the sage green Speckled Rabbit Round Platter and the Speckled Rabbit Ears Ruffle Appetizer Bowl. For a Christmas dinner menu, why not spread the holiday cheer with the Vintage Santa Platter for your appetizer or dessert? Celebrate each holiday with seasonal serveware to complement your holiday meal menus.
Our Go-To Menu Ideas for 5 Different Courses
Dinner party menus aren't the only ones that need planning. You can host at any time of day, so planning party menus for each mealtime can come in handy. Lucky for you, our favorite recipes span different courses, so here's some inspiration for your own menu ideas:
1. Appetizer Menu Ideas
For our first course, we like to create delicious and nutritious appetizers that leave our guests excited for the rest of the menu. So grab your Fundamental Wood Ruffle Salad Server Set or your favorite set of small bowls to serve these family-favorite appetizers:
2. Menu Ideas for Sides
When picking the sides for your party menu, choose a recipe that will have your guests reaching for more—but not something so filling that they won't have room for the main course. Try one of these light and easy side dishes at your next gathering:
3. Main Dish Menu Ideas
Your main dish is the star of your menu, and we tend to choose these flavorful recipes our family asks for time and time again:
4. Cocktail Ideas
Don't forget to stock your bar area with all the cocktail supplies for your guests. Pair these timeless favorites with the flavors of your menu:
5. Dessert Menu Ideas
Even after an unforgettable meal, there's always room for dessert! So, give these family-favorite dessert recipes a try as the final course of your menu:
Planning Your Entertaining Space According to Your Menu
Your party menu will determine which entertaining spaces around your home must be decorated. There may be other areas in your home that need attention depending on the type of gathering you're hosting, so while the table should be set with your favorite dinnerware and serveware, that's not all. Look at the bar area, living rooms, and patios to consider how you'd like them arranged so your guests can be comfortable leading up to and after the meal.
Coming up with creative and seasonal menu ideas is one of our favorite parts of hosting. If you're feeling stuck and in need of inspiration or want to try each course out yourself, check out our done-for-you menus for your next gathering:
Planning a menu for entertaining is a hosting skill anyone can learn with the right help. With a straightforward list of questions to ask yourself and inspiration from our favorite recipes and menus, we hope you feel inspired to plan your next dinner party menu. Brainstorm unique menu ideas and gather your friends and family around a table full of tasty dishes to celebrate all of life’s moments.