6 Must-Do & Don't Menu Planning Tips for your Party

No, your house is not a restaurant.

But how do you plan out what you're going to serve all of these people?

Whether you're hosting a brunch party, a full on dinner party, or a potluck - careful consideration goes into making sure everyone has enough to eat - and everyone goes home full and happy! Here are 6 Must Do's & Don'ts for Planning your Menu at your next Party.

Along with the Theme

The theme, timing, and size of your party will help you come up with your menu. Simply put, let your food help reflect your theme.

If it's a quick little get-together, serve bites instead of a hefty buffet.

For a dinner party, you'll want a main dish or two, with some sides… maybe even a dessert.

For a mid-morning brunch party, you're safe to serve on the lighter side, and may want to put out a lot of little bite sized options. Stick with things that are easy to make - you don't want to be up at 3:00 am preparing your food.

  • SKIP TIP - Skip the cheeseboard - sometimes. If it's going to be a faux pas and just doesn't fit the rest of the menu, you don't need to make a cheese board just because everyone else is.

For example, Justin and I usually like to set out a cheeseboard. But for a small dinner party we had recently where the menu was Korean, this just didn't make sense. Instead, we found an alternative and decided on a Korean "corn cheese" dip that is popular in Korean BBQ restaurants.

Similar, but different and intentional.

Dietary Restrictions, Preferences, & Allergies

You may know people's dietary habits already if you're having a group of close knit friends coming over. It's always polite and appreciated if someone new is coming over to ask them if they have any restrictions.

It's our philosophy to always make food that we love and will eat. But if you're planning on a ribeye steak for 8 people and you come to find out someone is a vegetarian, you may wish you made something else for them.

  • PRO TIP: Send out digital invitations to your party. That way, it makes it easy to reply and RSVP - but also to give dietary instructions if needed from new friends!

Portions & Picturing the Plate

Once you've picked out your staple menu items, picture yourself making a plate of those foods.

Is your plate full or would you want something else on the side? Are you missing vegetables or a starch? Is there bread for sopping up the sauce?

Maybe the serving size on the recipe says 6-8 for your party of 6, but you know your crowd will keep going back for seconds and you need to double the recipe.

When you picture yourself making a plate, this will help you visualize serving sizes, portions, and how much you need to make of each dish.

  • SKIP TIP: Skip the salad if nobody will eat it. Instead, if I know no one will eat the salad I made, I make an extra vegetable side dish to round out the options on the table.

To Appetize-or not?

We vote: To appetize!

Appetizers, even if just a small plate of some snacks from the pantry, are super helpful for any party you're hosting.


Because they 1) give you more time and 2) save your hangry guests that forgot to eat a snack before they came!

By putting an appetizer out, it gives you a little more time to finish any last minute food prep you need to do. It also gives people time to settle into your home, make themselves comfortable, and hold over their stomachs before the real meal is served.

  • PRO TIP: Always add fresh fruit and a block of cheese to your grocery shopping list, (as long as it goes with the theme!) Fruit & cheese is the easiest appetizer, (outside of a bag of chips,) that instantly levels you up as a host!

Dessert, anyone?

I stick to these rules for dessert:

  1. If my guests like sweets, serve something.

  2. If my guests do not like sweets, serve bread rolls with butter or dipping oil with the meal.

  3. If my guests are mixed and there's a large party coming over, always serve a dessert - more likely even 2.

And if I'm serving at least two desserts, one of them always has chocolate...

  • PRO TIP: The easiest dessert I love to serve at any party is berries and cream. I find the ripest, juiciest berries from the store and some whipping cream. I make homemade whipped cream and serve it alongside of the berries in little bowls or on a self-serve tray. To make this even more special, you can always grab or make a little cake or brownies to go with the berries and cream. (Whipped cream recipe coming soon!)

I'll have a Glass of…

Keeping with the simple theme, I like to always have 2-3 options for guests to drink with water always being one of them.

When I'm preparing for friends to come over, first and foremost, I'm setting out a pitcher or carafe of filtered water.

Second, I'm thinking of a wine that will go well with my food. (And by well, well… I just mean - do you like it, and does it go with the mood?) We can talk about wines that pair well with food later. What's important is that you will enjoy the wine.

Lastly, I'm offering one other option based on who's coming. Maybe my friends are beer-lovers, so I'll grab a 6-pack or box of a nice craft brew. Or if they're into a cocktail, I may whip up a batch of something simple like a sangria or mojito mix. Again - I like to tie it back to my theme.

But trust your instincts, too! Make something you will also enjoy, because you may be stuck with leftovers… which isn't a bad thing!

  • SKIP TIP: Don't serve a type of wine or beer you have never tried before if you and your friends are not adventurous. That's not to say if you love Pinot Noir, to not try a new bottle. But if you've never had Bordeaux before and your friends are kind of picky, I wouldn't let that be the only bottle out at my party. You don't want people to feel like they're missing out on the potential for fun! Stick to something you know, love, and want to share.

What are your tips + skips?

Tell me! What are your best tips and skips when you're planning a menu for a party? What's your favorite dish to make, and which have totally flopped?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

With Love, Chelsea

PS: Don't forget to download our 3 free Party Planning Checklists here! (Or just click the Products section.)

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Chelsea Boccardo Smith

Chelsea is the creator and founder of At Chelsea's. She enjoys sharing home entertaining tips, recipes, and menu ideas. Find time saving checklists & party planning guides on her Etsy shop. When she's not writing about her most recent party, she's out trying a new restaurant or taking her dog, Amber, for a long walk.
Learn more about Chelsea.

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