Food decisions are some of the toughest decisions you will need to make. Based on time of year and day, your budget, the number of guests, the party theme, the style of event…everything plays into your menu choices. Will you do sit-down dinners or buffets? French service or family style? Each has its advantages.
Dairy or meat? Is food being served outdoors? Are you serving lunch, dinner, or something in between? If it’s an open house you are planning, will you barbeque, and is your grill large enough to handle all the food for your guests?
Are you using a caterer or cooking yourself? If you are cooking yourself, make some more lists! Start by listing the recipes for everything so that you don’t miss any ingredients and have to run out at the last minute.
Vegetables for salads and crudites, dips and dressing, fruits to cut up for salad, lists of ingredients for the dishes you’d like to prepare. For barbeques, don’t forget the condiments, the buns, and the sauerkraut. Baking and making desserts means making yet another list. It means preparing things way in advance, and staying on top of things while your party is under way.
Alcohol is always on the beverage menu for adult parties, it seems. But you are responsible if your guests drink too much and get into an accident, so don’t forget that! Whether wine, beer, or hard liquor is served, there are things to take into consideration. If you want to serve mixed drinks, you will need some basics.
Vodka, scotch, bourbon, and tequila can all be combined with pre-mixed mixers and fresh juices or simple soda or ginger ale. You can, for example, still make a marguerita with lime juice and Cointreau, or you can just buy a bottle of mix, throw everything into a big plastic tank with tons of ice, mix, and serve. For vodka drinks, you can use almost anything and call it a martini. Mix some vodka with chocolate and make chocatinis. For most mixed drinks, you can find recipes on the net. Better yet, make an old-fashioned punch, spike it a little, and refill as needed. Garnishes include cherries, orange, lemon and lime slices and rind twists, sprigs of fresh mint, pineapple sticks, olives, and pearl onions.
Beer brings its own set of rules. If you are going the keg route, you will need to make sure it stays cold at all times, or your beer will go bust. If you use bottled beer, you will need to make sure you have an easy way of disposing of the glass bottles.
At formal events, you may need to arrange for the corkage fees, which boosts the price per guest considerably, but you may have no choice. If you are serving wines at any event, and dietary laws are important, make sure your wines are marked “mevushal,” so that your waiters and bartenders can serve your wines with no problems.
If you want to avoid the soda “problem,” serve fresh juices at a juice bar. For coffee and tea, you can serve it iced or hot. In the winter, hot cocoa and mocha drinks, frothy cappuccinos, spicy teas, and hot punches are always delightful. Don’t forget to offer non-caffeine options! If soda is ok, make sure you have diet versions, too.
Ice is one of those things that disappears fast, especially in the summertime, especially at outdoor parties. Make sure you have lots of tubs of ice on hand, because warm ginger ale is a disaster—and warm diet cola is even worse! The ice will keep your salads chilled, your food fresher, and everyone cool.
Find a caterer you like, and make sure he can accommodate any of your guests who observe kashrut—and do it according to strict rules. If you are going all the way, your guests will be consuming an enormous amount of food over the weekend. Because here’s what you are going to need:
Baskets for guests containing some fruit or chocolate, water or other beverage, and snack
The Oneg Shabbat in Shul—find out what the congregation usually expects
Friday night dinner with all the trimmings
Dessert and after-dinner snacks for those who get the munchies
Boxed breakfast for guests
Collation in shul
Lunch with all the trimmings
Dessert and after-lunch snacks
Saturday afternoon tea or
Shalosh Seudot (a light meal eaten between the afternoon and evening services, except in the winter)
Saturday night or Sunday party
This is one way you can pull out all the stops for a fancy reception with fancy gowns, tuxedos and all the rest, or you can simply have a BBQ, an informal Open House with buffet, a party at a venue that allows your kids to ice skate, roller skate, go bowling, or take a boat ride around Manhattan. Menus and venues are up to you.
Sunday farewell brunch
For those who came from a distance to spend your simcha with you, give them a nice Sunday morning send off with an elaborate Israeli style breakfast, buffet style, or do a full American breakfast buffet with all the trimmings, including pareve sausages, home fries, and a coffee bar. They will love you for it.
By Jeanette Friedman