Monday, October 10, 2011

The Food Makes the Party

Good food makes a good party.  

Well, maybe that's a bit of an overstatement, because there are a number of factors that can make a party go south--boring guests, insufficient beverages, uncomfortable setting, bad music.  To avoid these and other pitfalls, we sought the advice of an expert:    Stormy Lundy,  Director of Special Events for the Reading Terminal Market Catering Corporation.

Stormy says....

On Setup:  "If you have too many seats, the party stops.  Guests will sit in small groups and no one will mix.  It's important to have seating, but not so much that mingling stalls."

On Quantity:    "For a cocktail party, figure at least 4-6 pieces per person.  I'm talking about substantial appetizers like mini quiches, spanakopita, and 2 bite-sandwiches, not carrot sticks." 

On Menu Selection:  "For a cocktail party, it's best to avoid forks and anything that won't fit on a small 7 inch plate.  You want to encourage movement and interaction.  If people have to sit down and cut a steak or peel shrimp, they aren't mingling." 

On Timing:  "If you are throwing a party on a weekend night that spans the dinner hour in any way, you need to offer a good amount of food.  It does not have to be a sit down meal, but, again, figure at a minimum  4-6 pieces per person because this is substituting for dinner."

Case in point:  I recall a milestone birthday party I attended a few years back.  The party was held on a Saturday night at 7pm, which, no matter how you slice it, falls squarely in the dinner hour so ya better spread out some vittles.  The hostess (who looked like she didn't eat much) had intended a 'grazing' party with all 'pick-ups'.  

Intentions aside, there was such a dearth of food at said party, guests hovered around the servers hungrily asking for replenishment.  In desperation, the servers finally put out crackers and mustard for lack of other options.  We left early, as did most of the guests, who were otherwise fun and festive folks, and stopped for hoagies on the way home.  The other risk to this foodless scenario is that people drink on an empty stomach, and that results in sloppy, inebriated guests.  Not pretty.

Speaking of desperate measures to procure food at a party reminds me of the scene in Seinfeld when George is caught eating an eclair out of the trash can-- 

So that's the worst case scenario.  But even in examples less dramatic, a party can flop if the food doesn't work.  This is not to say that you need to spend days in the kitchen--simple casual is fine, and even takeout is A-OK, but you must pair the menu with the event.  Last fall, we hosted a few game viewing parties in the good old days when our beloved Phillies made the NLCS.  That meant boiling a vat of good quality hot dogs from Smuckers in Reading Terminal Market, opening jars of few different mustards,  supplying rolls, chips, maybe some carrots and celery for the healthy fans, and of course, beer.   It also meant that the food needed to be ready and waiting at first pitch so the hostess, who an avid fan, didn't miss a thing.

In the next few posts, we'll profile party menu ideas for a variety of occasions and themes.  Meanwhile, please share your peaks and valleys of hosting and cooking.  Do you have a happy or horror tale to tell?

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