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Article: Our Favorite Ideas for Serving Appetizers


Our Favorite Ideas for Serving Appetizers

Canapes, hors d’oeuvres, finger foods — whatever word you prefer, one thing is certain: appetizers are one of the most important {and delicious} parts of a menu. There’s nothing more exciting to the palate than enjoying a few bites of a delectable dish before the main event. From enhancing your presentation with cocktail napkins to exploring essential recipe elements, discover all the inside tips and tricks hosts need when serving appetizers with our helpful guide. 

What Qualifies as an Appetizer? 

An appetizer is a small dish traditionally eaten in just a few bites that is meant to be enjoyed before the main course of the meal. Think of your appetizers as a “warm up” to the main event — every bite encourages conversation, mingling, and enjoying every last morsel. Appetizers can vary greatly in flavor, color, size, and texture and they can be prepared and served in many different ways from a spread served in an appetizer bowl to a tartlet best enjoyed in a cocktail napkin.


Why We Love Appetizers


As lovers of all things food and hosting, we believe that the right appetizers can transform any gathering into an unforgettable occasion by creating a cohesive experience from start to finish. Appetizers are the perfect introduction to any meal. While all appetizers should be self-serve, you can present them to match the mood of your gathering. Allow guests to enjoy bread with spread served out of an appetizer bowl, or have marinated olives piled in a beautiful bowl alongside a quirky toothpick holder. 

Taking extra care to plan your appetizers can help set the tone for your theme and garner excitement in your guests for what they can expect from your main menu. For instance, if you’re serving a Thai noodle dish entree, starting with a fresh Vegan Summer Roll appetizer, served alongside an appetizer bowl filled with peanut sauce, will have your guests craving the rest of your themed meal. 


As long as your appetizer is made with love {and the rest of the menu in mind}, your first course will go off without a hitch. Since this first course is typically meant to be enjoyed in a couple of bites, each appetizer recipe must pack a punch, leaving your guests wanting more.


Our 3 Favorite Types of Appetizer-Focused Events


Over the decades, as entertaining styles have changed, so have the "rules" when it comes to the menus. When entertaining at home or for a special event, not only is it now more common to enjoy an appetizer course perched about the venur or house prior to being seated at the table, but it's also becoming more common to create your entire menu of foods that are most commonly served during a starter course. Grab your best set of cocktail napkins and get inspired to host one of the following for your loved ones:

  1. Hors d’oeuvres get-togethers
  2. Charcuterie parties
  3. Tapas gatherings

1. Host an Hors D’Oeuvres Party

    Hors d’oeuvres are a classic French dining course designed to whet an appetite before the main meal is served. But if you’re looking for a fun and fancy way to serve all your favorite small bite recipes in one night, we recommend hosting an hors d’oeuvres-only dinner party. Include a wide variety of textures and flavors so that each bite is its own experience, but look at the bigger picture to see if they complement one another.  


    Pro tip: To enhance the formality of your gathering, hire waitstaff to walk around your party with platters full of your hors d’ouevres, inviting guests to individually serve themselves by placing on an appetizer plate or even a handheld cocktail napkin. 

    2. Create a Charcuterie Party

      Charcuterie boards have been all the rage in the past couple of years — and rightfully so. While charcuterie is traditionally just meats and cheeses, we love the creative liberty more and more people are taking to reinvent the charcuterie board to suit whatever we’re celebrating. These boards can be adjusted to suit anyone’s taste preferences, with additions including fruits, vegetables, nuts, crackers, spreads, cheeses, meats, and more, so everyone can find something.


      Charcuterie parties can also be dressed up or down for any occasion. Create a hearty spread for a casual card game night with friends, or design an over-the-top grazing board for a large-scale party. With endless opportunities for customization, this appetizer-based party works for just about any gathering—just don’t forget the toothpick holder for easy grabbing. 

      3. Enjoy a Tapas Gathering

        If you’ve ever ordered world-famous Spanish tapas, you’ll know just how fun it is to fill up on a wide variety of small bites rather than relying on one main course. We enjoy that style of dining so much that we thought, “Why not bring it to our own homes?” Find inspiration in our Tapas and a Toast Gathering as you create your menu, focusing on complementary flavors and dishes that will keep your guests going back for more with their appetizer forks.




        5 Qualities Every Good Appetizer Recipe Should Have

        Before you select your serving essentials like cocktail napkins and appetizer bowls or set your menu in stone, you must learn what makes an appetizer work. We’ve found that all good appetizer recipes have several small {but important} elements:

        1. Appetizers Should Be Easy to Eat 

          Appetizers should be small enough to be bite-sized or easy to handle with an appetizer fork, allowing guests to enjoy them without needing a full set of utensils or making a mess. This means that every small bite should either be able to be served in a small appetizer bowl or salad plate with a matching appetizer fork or enjoyed with a paper or fabric cocktail napkin in hand. Avoid dishes that crumble or flake to keep your home and guests as clean as possible throughout their dining experience.


          Pro tip: for some small bites, consider using skewers or toothpicks in a toothpick holder for ultra-easy portions. 

          2. Appetizers Should Have a Variety of Flavors

            Whether searching for one appetizer to introduce your menu or combining multiple for an appetizer-only party, the key to a tasty menu is finding varied yet complementary flavor profiles. A good selection will offer a range of textures {such as crunchy, creamy, soft, etc.} and flavors {think salty, savory, sweet, and so on} to cater to different tastes. 

            3. Appetizer Recipes Should Complement the Main Course

              While appetizers shouldn’t be overly filling, they should always complement the main course and set the tone for the rest of the meal. For example, think of serving our Raw Oysters in our oyster platter with mignonette sauce in an appetizer bowl before a seafood-focused meal, such as fried fish. The overall flavors should go together and excite your guests for what’s to come. 


              4. Appetizers Should Have Appealing Presentation

                Appetizer recipes are best when they look, well, appetizing. You should be able to present every small bite you choose for your menu in an appealing manner to enhance the overall party experience. Think of vibrant colors, intriguing toppings and garnishes, and artful organizations within appetizer bowls and alongside  bright cocktail napkins to wow your guests.

                5. Appetizers Should Be Diverse and Accommodating

                  Ultimately, the best appetizers depend on occasion, theme, and guests' preferences, which is why diverse options are ideal. It’s a good idea to offer a wide variety of appetizers to accommodate dietary preferences, restrictions, and allergies so that all guests can partake and put their appetizer utensils to work.

                  Find Inspiration with Our Favorite Appetizer Recipes

                  When it comes down to creating a well-balanced and tasty menu, we like to separate our appetizers into two main categories: protein-forward and vegetable-forward. Find inspiration {or follow our favorite recipes} with these delicious appetizers.

                  Smoked Salmon Carpaccio with Crispy Capers Recipe
                  Green Beans and Dill Sauce Recipe
                  Head on Shrimp Recipe
                  Eggplant Caponata Recipe

                  Protein-Forward Appetizers

                  For filling and tasty bites served in an appetizer bowl or with a fabric cocktail napkin, you’ll need at least one or two protein-based appetizer dishes:

                  Vegetable-Forward Appetizers

                  There’s nothing better than a colorful appetizer bowl or plate, and these vegetable-based appetizers are the best way to offer fresh, enticing foods to your guests:


                  When Should You Set Out Appetizers at a Party?


                  We’ve mastered our general party-prep timeline and suggest that, in most cases, you set out appetizers about ten minutes before guests arrive. It’s never polite to leave your guests hungry — greet your loved ones with a drink and a small bite on a cocktail napkin or toothpick from your favorite toothpick holder to enjoy as soon as they enter your home. 

                  If you’re serving a formal plated meal, then the appetizer dish will be the first course served; in this case, wait until everyone is seated around the table before you {or your hired waitstaff} bring out the first plate.




                  Our Must-Have Serveware Essentials for Serving Appetizers


                  Once your menu is set, you must have the correct serving dishes and utensils to dole out your small bites. The design you choose can depend entirely on your recipe, so we recommend owning a wide variety of appetizer bowls, cocktail napkins, and more. Before your next gathering, consider adding these appetizer serveware items to your curated collection: 

                  • Serving boards
                  • Appetizer bowls
                  • Appetizer utensils
                  • Cocktail napkins
                  • Specialty serveware

                  Stylish Wood Serving Boards

                  Versatile, stylish, and oh-so-easy to keep clean, serving boards are a must-have for any host. Wood boards are traditionally used for charcuterie spreads, but with a little creativity within your tablescape, you can use them for various appetizer bites. Serve up your favorite springtime sushi bites on a serene Iris Blue round wood board amongst matching dishes from the collection for a delightfully cohesive spread. For a bold approach, use something like our Blue Citrus round Board for a pop of pattern. 


                  Versatile Appetizer Bowls

                  Appetizer bowls are multifunctional dishes perfect for serving a variety of appetizers, whether you’re offering a dip with a crudité board or palate-cleansing sorbet between bites. Smaller than a salad or pasta bowl, they are the perfect size for the couple of tastes expected from a starter. Appetizer bowls can even be placed to catch shrimp tails or oyster shells, making cleanup a breeze—the useful options are endless.

                  If you’re setting the table for the appetizer course, choose a design that will help set the tone of the meal to come, such as a rustic wooden Fundamental appetizer bowl. For mingling parties where guests may carry their small bite, something like our Signature White Ruffle Flare Appetizer Bowl offers a stylish accent without distracting from the conversation at hand.

                  Useful Appetizer Utensils

                  Not all appetizer recipes are finger foods, so owning a collection of appetizer utensils is a must. Appetizer forks are the handiest piece of a utensil set, as they can be used for a variety of dishes, whether they are pork dumplings or grilled veggies. If an individual serving of an appetizer needs a corresponding utensil, make sure it is served with the appropriate appetizer fork or spoon. We often reach for our Fundamentals designs, because a wood appetizer fork, spoon, and spreader never go out of style. 

                  Stylish Cocktail Napkins

                  While cocktail napkins are traditionally offered when serving beverages, we often recommend using them instead of appetizer bowls or plates, should the recipe allow it. A cocktail napkin can work as a small plate as your guests grab a few bites while giving them freedom to mingle. Just like other essential table and kitchen linens, cocktail napkins are also useful for wiping fingers off between dishes and catching crumbs while you eat. 


                  Cocktail napkins are also the perfect way to tie in your tablescape theme to the rest of your gathering. As your guests walk around and enjoy one another’s company, they’ll have a stylish table linen accessory in hand, whether a beautiful gold scallop cocktail napkin at a birthday event or a seasonal red and green cocktail napkin at a holiday gathering.

                  Special Serveware Items 

                  Take your love of appetizers one step further and invest in specialty serving platters designed to hold certain small bites:

                  • Seasonal egg trays — made with little divots to hold halved deviled eggs during an Easter gathering.
                  • Half dozen oyster platter — perfect for presenting freshly split oyster shells and a complementary sauce or garnish in a seafood spread. 
                  • Shaped toothpick holders — designed with seasonal figures in mind, a toothpick holder is best for any spread where guests help themselves to each bite, like a charcuterie board or pigs in a blanket. 

                  Between learning what it takes to make a delicious appetizer and discovering the essential serveware items, you'll be ready to serve small bites like a pro. Grow your collection of stylish appetizer bowls, cocktail napkins, toothpick holders and more and you’re sure to “wow” your loved ones during an appetizer course or your next hors d’oeuvres party. 

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