Best Appetizer Party Ideas

Host an appetizer party for a low-stress option to entertain friends. Serve delicious finger foods, hors d’oeuvres, dips, and mini sandwiches for an alternative to a dinner party. Follow my clever hosting tips, food ideas, planned menus, and more!

photo collage with appetizers including shrimp, cheese ball, ravioli skewers, and phyllo cups.

This is how to host an appetizer party that will wow your guests! It includes tried and true recipes of my most popular appetizers. Plus, I’ve pre-planned 12 hors d’oeuvre menus to follow so you hardly have to think at all!

You’ll find an assortment of dips, small bites, finger food, crostini, sliders and munchies for the ultimate buffet spread.

5 Types of Appetizers

Choose at least one item from each category for a well-rounded table with variety.

  1. Hearty – These are your heavy hors d’oeuvres that tend to be the main attraction; think of it as your ‘main dish’ on the appetizer buffet. They’re a bit more filling and typically consist of protein, and possibly bread or starches that help soak up alcohol. Think meatballs, party sandwiches, and skewered meats.
  2. Finger Food – Easy pickup foods like shrimp cocktail, sausage balls, phyllo shells, crostini, food on picks, bacon wrapped appetizers, etc. Usually you can eat these in 1 to 3 bites.
  3. Dips & spreads – Every party needs at least one dip! It can be hot or cold, and they’re usually easy to make or prep ahead. Some of the best options are baked dips, cold dips, cheese balls, baked brie, salsa, and fondue.
  4. Platters – These offer an assortment of choices within a similar food group. I ALWAYS include a vegetable tray or crudites. Other options are a fruit platter, a charcuterie board, or a “DIY sandwich” tray.
  5. Snacks & Nibbles – Small bowls of crunchy snacks are a must. Place them around the party space and on the bar so guests can grab a handful when they want. Includes spiced nuts, Chex mix, chips, and homemade crackers.

PARTY TIP: Plan an appetizer menu that includes both hearty and light, hot and cold foods.

party table filled with various appetizers and drinks.

Expert Tips

  • Think of an appetizer menu like you think of a dinner menu. Create a balanced “meal” with a protein, something with carbs, and veggies or fruit.
  • Serve a variety of appetizer categories to ensure a diverse menu. Include something hearty and filling, something light, something hot, and some cold appetizers.
  • Cooking for a crowd? Add more food with less work by doubling up on simple recipes that don’t require a lot of steps. Some favorites are puff pastry pinwheels, chicken salad cups, crock pot meatballs, baked brie or brie bites, and cheese balls.
  • Make what you can ahead of time, up to 2 days ahead for things that store well like cut vegetables, dips, spreads or cheese balls. 
  • Plan on a menu that uses different methods of preparation. Some baked, some slow cooker, some cold, some individually prepared, some large batch recipes.
  • For items that are cold or hot, serve them in batches.
  • Include mini desserts for an appetizer party. They should be easy to pick up and hold with one hand.
collage with vegetable platter and fruit platter.

PARTY TIP: I always include a vegetable platter. It’s one thing everyone can eat, it’s light and fresh, and involves very little work. If you buy the pre-cut trays from the store, ALWAYS serve them on your own platter. Place them on a pretty dish or tray and put the dip in a small bowl in the center.

12 Appetizer Party Menus

I’ve always kept a party journal with notes and tips from my events. I’m including some real-life menus I’ve made for past gatherings because they represent balance and crowd pleasing recipes. 

Each menu below includes a main hearty item, a finger food item, and a dip item. Round out the offerings with a platter and nibbles from the lists at bottom.

photo collage of appetizers with meatballs, shrimp and spinach dip.

Menu 1

This is my #1 go-to menu. Cocktail meatballs, shrimp, and spinach dip are headliners at almost every Christmas cocktail party for over 20 years.

  • Bourbon meatballs – These are hot and a make-ahead dish you can put in the slow cooker 2-3 hours before the guests arrive. Keep them warm in a chafing dish or crock pot.
  • Cold marinated shrimp – These stay chilled on a bed of ice lined with large leaf lettuce, or in a DIY ice bowl. You can make these up to 24 hours ahead.
  • Spinach and artichoke dip – My friend and I used to say, “it’s not a party unless there’s spinach & artichokes represented.” Well, this is my go to recipe that everyone loves!
photo collage of appetizers with mini sliders, phyllo cups and cheese ball.

Menu 2

  • Beef and blue cheese sliders – These are served at room temperature so they’re pretty carefree on a buffet table. You can make them in the morning so they’re ready in the evening.
  • Chicken taco cups – Pick these phyllo cups up with your hands and eat them in 2 or 3 bites. They’re just a little spicy, and totally delicious. They’re best served warm so heat and serve in batches if you can, or keep them on a warming tray. An alternative is yummy artichoke bruschetta.
  • Cheese ball – Here’s a fantastic cheese ball coated with bacon and pecans. Make it up to 24 hours ahead and keep chilled until ready to party.
photo collage of appetizers with sausage bites, charcuterie skewers and corn dip.

Menu 3

  • Smoked sausage bites in easy barbecue sauce – These are tangy and delicious and you prepare them ahead. Keep them warm in a chafing dish or crock pot.
  • Charcuterie skewers – Another make-ahead recipe with tortellini pasta, cheese, meats and veggies. Serve at room temperature for easy entertaining.
  • Hot corn dip – You can make this in one baking dish from beginning to end. Cook until bubbly and serve. Guests will beg for the recipe!
photo collage with chicken skewers, cheese crostini and cowboy salsa.

Menu 4 

  • Jerk seasoned chicken skewers – Make them and cook them earlier in the day and then simply warm them in a low oven so they just heat through but don’t over-cook.
  • Ham and cheese crostini or Cuban crostini appetizers – Balance the chicken skewers with either of these baked ham crostini recipes. The bread slices make them satisfying while the toppings are drool worthy.
  • Cowboy caviar or cold Lipton spinach dip – Either of these dips is a good choice because you can make them ahead, and they are served cold or at room temperature.
photo collage with party sliders, salmon bites and baked brie.

Menu 5

  • Ham and cheddar party sliders with brown sugar glaze – An all-time party favorite! Ham, Hawaiian rolls, cheese and a sweet sugar glaze make these divine. Bake them and serve warm, but they’re also fine at room temperature.
  • Smoked salmon bites – The base is waffle fries making them a popular appetizer with guests. The smoked salmon is indulgent and the creamy spread is cool and flavorful. These are fine at room temperature for a couple of hours.
  • Baked brie with toppings – Choose one or all 3 of the delectable toppings for a trio of brie. The brie will firm up after it’s cooled but is still creamy enough to spread and eat. If you want to keep it warm during the party, use a chafing dish or warming tray.
photo collage with party sliders, stuffed wonton shells, mini cheese balls.

Menu 6

  • Ham and Swiss cheese sliders – Another OG party sandwich combining ham, Swiss cheese and a buttery poppyseed glaze. Prep ahead, bake and serve warm or at room temperature.
  • Asian tuna salad in wonton cups – These appetizer cups are addictive; I dare you to eat just one! Make the wonton shells up to 3 months ahead and freeze. Make the Asian tuna salad a few hours ahead and then fill the cups when ready to serve. They hold up well at room temp for about 2 hours.
  • Mini cheese balls (cheese truffles) – Cute mini cheese balls look as good as they taste. And they’re already portioned to an individual serving. Make them a day ahead and just add crackers or bread to serve.
photo collage with kielbasa bites, stuffed phyllo shells, Mexican layer dip.

Menu 7

  • Kielbasa bites (just 3 ingredients) – Bite size medallions of pork covered in a simple sauce pack a lot of flavor. Keep them warm and serve with picks or mini forks.
  • Sweet & sour chicken in phyllo cups – Prepare the filling early in the day and then fill the shells when it’s time to party. Bake to heat through and serve warm.
  • 7 layer Mexican dip – I make my dip in a shallow dish rather than a deep baking dish. I find that it makes it easier to get all the layers in one bite! Make it early and refrigerate until ready to serve. It holds up at room temp for a couple of hours…if it lasts that long!
photo collage with mini bbq sandwiches, stuffed phyllo shells, hummus.

Menu 8

  • Slow cooker BBQ beef sliders – Cook the beef up to a day ahead in the slow cooker. For the appetizer party, either let guests make their own sandwiches with Hawaiian rolls and slaw, or you can build them ahead. Be mindful that the bread can get soggy if they sit too long. About an hour is fine though.
  • Spanakopita cups – A great choice for vegetarians. Prep ahead and bake when ready. Serve warm or room temperature. For meat lovers I suggest bacon wrapped apricots.
  • Hummus or cold chicken dip – For another vegetarian option serve the hummus recipe. If you want to add another meat protein, serve the chicken dip.

PARTY TIP: An easy solution for heavy appetizers is sliced beef or pork tenderloin, or spiral sliced ham, party rolls, and condiments. Let guests make their own mini sandwiches.

collage with mini club sandwiches, jalapeno poppers, and cold corn dip.

Menu 9

  • Mini club sandwiches – The star of these sandwiches is the diced tomato spread that’s so tasty! These are fine to make a couple of hours ahead and keep chilled until ready to serve.
  • Baked jalapeno poppers – Prep them early in the day and then bake them just before the party. Serve warm or room temp.
  • Spicy corn dip (cold) – This unique dip is delicious! It’s a cold corn dip and it’s got that natural sweetness and creaminess, but the secret ingredient is Dorito’s chips inside! You may even want to eat it with a spoon!
collage with chicken salad puff pastry cups, ham and cheese pinwheels, and pimento cheese.

Menu 10

  • Sesame chicken salad in puff pastry cups – Chicken salad is always a welcome recipe. This one’s got a hint of Asian flavor, and mini puff pastry shells are the perfect vessel. Make everything ahead but fill them when ready to serve. alternatively, make these honey chicken salad in pie pastry shells.
  • Ham and cheese puff pastry pinwheels – These are the ultimate make-ahead appetizer. I prepare them and freeze for up to 3 months. When I need them, I remove and let soften so I can cut the slices, bake and serve warm or at room temperature.
  • Pimento cheese spread – This classic southern delight is rich and cheesy with a hint of spice on the finish. A great alternative to a cheese ball, and can be made a day ahead.
photo collage with teriyaki chicken skewers, fruit and cheese skewers, and tomato feta dip.

Menu 11

  • Teriyaki chicken skewers with peanut dipping sauce – Marinate the chicken overnight and thread it onto skewers so you can cook it just before the party. These are still delicious at room temperature too.
  • Ham, cheese and fruit skewers – Not only are these easy and delicious, they look pretty too. A terrific cold appetizer that you can make early in the day. Another hearty option is baked cheddar and bacon crostini.
  • Tomato feta dip – A dip that comes together in 5 minutes? Yes, please! Simple ingredients create great fresh flavor that holds up for the entire duration of the party.
collage with chicken wings, sausage balls, and Hormel chili dip.

Menu 12

Rustic appetizers perfect for football parties, game day, and super bowl parties.

  • Honey chicken wings – These are classic for casual gatherings like football parties and Super Bowl. Cook them just before the party and serve warm or room temp.
  • Sausage balls – These can be made ahead and served at room temperature. You can even freeze them for up to 3 months and thaw when ready. Another tasty choice is Italian sausage cups served warm from the oven.
  • Hormel chili dip – Another quick and easy dip you can make and bake just before guests arrive. Keep it warm in a chafing dish or reheat in the microwave as needed.

PARTY TIP: Keeping food at the right temperature is crucial. Items with creamy ingredients are fine at room temperature for about 2 hours. Use heated servers for hot items and ice bowls for cold foods.

More Hors d’ Oeuvres

Here are a few more options you can add to any of the menus above.

vegetable platter with tomatoes, carrots, and baby squashes.

Party Platters

collage with three spiced pecans bowls, and Chex mix bowl.


It’s a fantastic idea to have small bowls of crunchy snacks placed strategically around the party space. Place them on the bar, on side tables where drinks can be set down, and anywhere the crowd is sure to gather.

How Much To Make

  • For a party of 10 to 12 you can stick with the core five appetizer types I mentioned above: One heavy appetizer, one medium finger food, 1 dip, 1 veggie platter, and 1 crunchy snack.
  • For a party of 25 I typically have 7 to 8 different foods. Start with the core five and then add 1 more hearty recipe and/or finger food. You could also add another dip with one being cold and the other being a baked dip.
  • For parties after 6pm and the appetizers are the only food, estimate 12 to 14 pieces per person
    • That breaks down to about 2 to 5 pieces of finger foods per person, depending on what it is.
    • For things like meatballs, sausage bites or shrimp, have 1 to 1 ½ servings per person. That’s usually about 5 pieces per guest.
    • For sliders I estimate 1 ½ sandwiches per person.
    • When it comes to dips I double or triple the recipe based on ¼ cup per guest.
  • If dinner will be served later, have 7 to 8 appetizers per person.

Supplies You Need

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  • Chafing dishes are my #1 hostess supply. Make sure it has a water pan to hold hot water, and that the food bowl is removable and can be baked in. Without the water well the food will burn to the bottom of the dish, from the heat source. A chafing dish is ideal for serving dips, warm finger foods, and hot meats. Use one that uses canned heat so you can set it anywhere even without an electrical outlet nearby.
    • HOSTESS HACK: Fill the water pan with hot water as directed. Remove the food bowl and place a round platter on the chafing dish instead. The heated water will keep the dish warm and act like a warming tray for finger food.
  • A crock pot is a kitchen essential. Not only to cook in but to keep food warm in. A 4-7 quart size is great for cocktail meatballs or weenies, while a smaller one can hold dips or fondue.
  • A warming tray is a nice addition and you can set baking dishes on it to keep warm. The caveat is that you need to have an outlet available to plug into.
  • Platters for finger food, cheese balls, charcuterie or crudites. 
  • Tiered servers add height and can help if you’re short on surface space. 
  • Nesting bowls. One to hold ice while the smaller one holds cold dips. Set the dip bowl on top of the ice to keep it chilled.
  • Bowls for serving cold dips, and munchies.
  • Serving utensils such as tongs and large spoons.
  • Large cooler with ice in case you need extra fridge space but don’t have room in the refrigerator.
  • White or clear salad plates are the perfect size for an appetizer party. Or plates with a wine glass holder make juggling food and drinks easier for 2 hands.
  • Party size forks or picks to eat with.
  • Cocktail napkins for hands and drinks. Have plenty placed all around the party space.

Party-Ready Pantry

Throw a party on a moments notice with these pantry and refrigerator/freezer staples.

  • Nuts
  • Cheeses
  • Charcuterie Meats
  • Crackers
  • Chips, pretzels, popcorn
  • Cornichons
  • Frozen puff pastry and phyllo shells
  • Frozen bread, party rolls, biscuits or bread dough
  • Frozen chopped spinach
  • Cream cheese
  • Mayonnaise
  • Fruit spread, honey
  • Hummus

Dessert Finger Food

Since appetizers are eaten with hands, picks or small forks, you’ll want to follow suit with small desserts. These are some of our favorites.

PARTY TIP: Add a twist to your appetizer party and turn it into a dessert party with small bites, or a charcuterie party with different boards.

More Party Ideas

As much as we love an appetizer party, here are some more fun ideas for build-your-own, or interactive food bars.

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  1. I’m way behind on reading emails, but just want to let you know this is ~awesome~! I would love to put together a spread like this. Thanks so much for all the details–it actually does look easy enough even for me to do!

  2. Love it, especially since I have most of the same servingware, got my own wheels spinning!

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