A surefire way to put a kink in your holiday party is to serve dishes that target only one group of eaters -- for instance, vegetarians or meat eaters. The best way to resolve the conflict? Don't get too fancy with what you make. Some vegetarians won't eat dishes prepared with milk or cheese. Similarly, some meat eaters don't like veggies mixed into their meat. So cook chicken or beef and make a few different side dishes both groups will love (baked potatoes or rice and individual plates of corn or beans). Consider "build-your-own" food items such as burritos. That way, guests can choose only the fillings (or toppings) they want.
Food allergies are more common than you think and, unfortunately, they're also on the rise. Check with your guests to make sure they have no aversions or allergies to the foods you are making. It will ensure you prepare a meal everyone can eat, and it will save you the hassle of throwing an allergy-proof meal together for someone at the last minute.
When prepping a holiday meal, it's important to know your audience. If your guests are a bit older (say grandparents or other aging relatives), a late-night cocktail party or dinner is not the best choice. The key is to always keep your guests in mind.
Also, remember to integrate your guests' sweet tooth into meal planning. Most people will want something decadent to complete their meal. From fresh fruit dipped in sweet chocolate liqueur to velvety truffles or gourmet chocolates, your guests will appreciate a delicious treat after their meal (be it sit-down or cocktail).
If you plan to serve alcohol, also serve something heartier than veggies and dip -- food with substance, such as cheese platters or pitas and hummus. If you're planning a sit-down meal with drink pairings, follow this tip from servers at five-star restaurants: Always wait 20 minutes between courses (from the time the last plate/glass is taken away to the time a new one is served) to serve more food or drink. (That includes any après-dinner drinks you may be serving, like gourmet hot chocolate with a drop of white chocolate liqueur.)
Do you want a leisurely cocktail party, where people can mingle and chat? Or are you hoping to throw an intimate and romantic sit-down dinner? This will dictate the party's timing, length and menu. Cocktail parties traditionally have a buffet table stacked with food people can nibble at their leisure, while intimate dinner parties usually have two or three courses served by the host/hostess or a catering company.
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