Your Guide to Hosting the Ultimate Appetizers-Only Dinner Party

Your Guide to Hosting the Ultimate Appetizers-Only Dinner Party

Your Guide to Hosting the Ultimate Appetizers-Only Dinner Party-url

Serve delicious finger foods for an inexpensive, low-stress alternative to a sit-down dinner with these easy appetizer ideas and clever hosting tips.

If you're new to hosting, live in a small space, or simply want an easy weeknight entertaining idea, this hosting menu is for you. Serve guests a spread of hearty make-ahead appetizers that require minimal prep the day of (aka warmed in the oven or poured out of a bag) and can be enjoyed while sitting or standing thanks to their small shape. Stock up on nibbles like mini quiches, nuts, meats and cheeses, cut veggies, and pastries, then add a few touches to make them look special. Garnish drink glasses with fruit slices, drizzle hummus with olive oil and a dusting of paprika, and display everything on pretty dishes. Break out the seasonal dinnerware or wooden serving boards to make it feel like an event, and you've got yourself a party. We'll answer hosting questions like how much food to buy and when to shop, plus give you ideas to recreate this concept at home.

Dera Burreson F

Dera Burreson F

Planning Your Appetizer Party Menu

To guarantee a diverse appetizer spread, serve a combination of easy appetizers that satisfy several of the following food categories:

  • Garden: Typically healthy appetizers made with fruit or vegetables (raw, cooked, or stuffed).
  • Starch: Hearty, starchy appetizer recipes, such as finger sandwiches, pizza, and dumplings, are all part of this family. Bruschetta, breadsticks, crackers, and rolls are also mainstays.
  • Protein: Serve meat or fish dishes, such as meatballs, chicken wings, or sushi, to give your guests protein. You could also make an egg, cheese, or tofu appetizer. Try these grilled appetizer recipes.
  • Snacks: Easy appetizers to prepare, the snack category includes nuts, chips, pretzels, popcorn, and other mostly savory finger foods. Check out our favorite easy (and healthy) party snacks.
  • Dips and Spreads: Pair foods from various appetizer categories with tapenades, relishes, and other party dips and spreads.
  • Desserts: Serve mini desserts such as cheesecake, candies, and cookies.

If your guests have dietary restrictions, consider making an assortment of appetizer recipes that cater to their needs. Having vegetarian appetizers or gluten-free appetizers, for instance, might be a priority if you are inviting vegetarians or people with gluten sensitivities. To easily identify special food categories, for example, place everything gluten-free on white serving dishes.

How Many Appetizers Should You Serve?

The number of party appetizers you serve depends on the number of guests you invite. As your guest list increases, so should the appetizer selections.

Here's a quick guide to how many appetizers you should serve at your party:

  • 10–12 guests = 5 appetizer selections
  • 25 guests = 9 appetizer selections
  • 50 guests = 13 appetizer selections

How Many Appetizers per Person?

Running out of food and drink is a major bummer when you're hosting a party. So we created this guide to answer your most common feeds-a-crowd questions, including, "How many chicken wings per person?" and "How many meatballs per person?" And we're not talking about nutrition facts panel servings; this is the real deal of what a normal person eats as a heavy appetizer portion. Here are some amounts and recipe ideas for some of the most common party appetizers. (Note: While our how-many-appetizers-per-person math is made for parties of 12, you can adjust up or down based on your guest count.)

Jalapeño Poppers, Cheese Sticks, and Crostini

We're lumping these diverse appetizer options together because the serving size is similar for items like mozzarella cheese sticks, jalapeño poppers, and bruschetta. One is never enough of these savory snack recipes in our party hosting experience, so here's how many appetizers per person to plan on:

  • One serving = 2 sticks
  • Party of 12 = 24 portions

Andy Lyons

Andy Lyons

Chicken Wings

Forget the forks and dole out the napkins for a finger-food favorite: chicken wings! Tender and saucy, chicken wings are a must-have appetizer. But how many chicken wings per person will suffice for your soiree?

  • One serving = 3 wings
  • Party of 12 = 3 pounds

Dips and Spreads

No party buffet is complete without non-cheesy dips and spreads to please the dairy-free diners and those who prefer something with a few veggies in it. Hot (like our spinach-artichoke dip) or cold (such as this guacamole), sweet or savory, the options are nearly endless. Your spread solution:

  • One serving = ¼ cup
  • Party of 12 = 3 cups

Cheese and Charcuterie

Curious about how many ounces of cheese per person will suffice? If you're pairing your cheese board with meats, you'll need less Brie, cheddar, and Gruyère than you would if you're serving the cheese solo. Either way, a couple ounces per person is a satisfying portion.

  • One serving = 2 ounces (1 ounce each of meat and cheese)
  • Party of 12 = 24 ounces of a mix of cheeses and meats


Cocktail Meatballs

Meatballs are so easy to prepare and can often be made ahead or held in a slow cooker until party time, as these molasses-lime meatballs and saucy apricot 'n' spiced meatballs prove. (So helpful if you're serving a huge crowd and doing the math about how many frozen meatballs for 50 or more people!) Here's how many meatballs per person you'll need:

  • One serving = 4 meatballs
  • Party of 12 = 2 pounds

Fondue and Queso

Perfect for dunking, cheesy sauces and dips like creamy cheese fondue and skillet queso make your party buffet more interactive and delicious. Here's how many ounces of cheese per person you'll need to feed the dipping masses.

  • One serving = ¼ cup
  • Party of 12 = 3 cups


Guests can't resist a handful of flavor-packed, crunchy munch mixes. Noshing on nuts is a party idea that never goes stale, and it's a terrific option that will please vegans, and gluten-free (depending on the recipe), Paleo and keto dieters all at once. Here's how much you'll need:

  • One serving = 2 ounces
  • Party of 12 = 1½ pounds

Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms are a perfect one-bite appetizer. Take note of how many appetizers per person so you don't run out early:

  • One serving = 3 mushrooms
  • Party of 12 = 1½ pounds

Cheesecake Bites, Mini Cupcakes, and Bite-Size Brownies

No party menu is complete without something sweet! We like to share small desserts to fit the bite-size theme, to allow for sampling, and to offer an easy handheld package. Try Mini Blue Corn Carrot Cake Cupcakes or Strawberry Margarita Cheesecake Minis.

  • One serving = 3 mini treats
  • Party of 12 = 36 mini treats

The Party Planning Timeline

You want to relax and enjoy the party, too. So set your appetizer menu, and then develop a schedule for shopping for and preparing the appetizers.

Two weeks to a month before the party:

  • Create a complete shopping list, sorting the list by when you can purchase items (perishables closer to party time).
  • Shop for items with a long shelf life such as wine, soft drinks, crackers, nuts, and hard cheeses.

A week before the party:

  • Prepare any foods that can be made ahead and frozen.
  • Finish any party decorations that can be created in advance.

A day or two before the party:

  • Prepare any appetizers that can be stored in the refrigerator.
  • Pull out serving dishes and utensils.
  • Purchase flowers or other perishables.

The day of the party:

  • Buy ice and chill beverages.
  • Finish last-minute appetizer recipes.
  • Set the table.

Food Safety Tip: Many party foods taste better when served around room temperature (not piping-hot or ice-cold). However, perishable appetizers should not stand at room temperature for longer than two hours. Switch out serving plates, or serve them in heated servers or bowls of ice to maintain appropriate temperatures.


This article was written by Karla Walsh and Amy Palanjian from Better Homes and Gardens and was legally licensed through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to

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