When to Serve Hors D'Oeuvres

When it comes to menu planning for an event, one of the most common questions people have is about hors d’oeuvres. First, event planners may question whether they should serve them at all. Then, if they decide they should serve them, they may wonder which hors d’oeuvres they should offer.

In this post, we’ll cover the types of events where people most often serve hors d’oeuvres, along with ideas for hors d’oeuvres to serve at each type of event.

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What are hors d’oeuvres?

Hors d’oeuvres, pronounced (or-DERVZ), are small, savory appetizers served before or apart from a meal. Typically one or two bites in size, hors d’oeuvres can range from more formal canapés to a casual display of seasonal vegetable crudités.

Depending on your type of event and how many guests you have, you can either serve hors d’oeuvres by themselves, as a substitute for a meal; or you may choose to serve them as appetizers prior to a meal.

As for the question of how many hors d’oeuvres to serve, Jim Wharton, a caterer with New York Food Company offers the following advice:

Typically, for hors d’oeuvres with a meal service we plan 3 to 5 bites per person; for hors d’oeuvres instead of a meal, we suggest 12 to 15 bites per person. This could include an antipasto display where the average guest may sample 3 to 4 items, tray passing with a variety of offerings, or event stations preparing miniature portions of entrée-style foods.

Source: Here Comes the Guide

Which events are appropriate for serving hors d’oeuvres?

Wedding Receptions

Hors d’oeuvres are regularly served at wedding receptions. A “cocktail hour” is appropriate for occasions where the bride and groom need extra time to get to the reception after the ceremony, or for longer receptions which include a meal. This gives the wedding guests plenty of time to socialize with light hors d’oeuvres and drinks while they’re waiting for the newlyweds to arrive. On the other hand, with smaller or shorter wedding receptions, or when there is no gap between the wedding and reception, a “cocktail reception,” where you’ll only serve hors d’oeuvres, might be a better fit.

For either type of reception, your guests (and you!) will appreciate having something to eat while they mingle. If you’re also serving alcoholic drinks, having enough food to absorb the alcohol is essential.


The following are a few suggestions from our wedding and hors d’oeuvres menus:

Receptions with a “Cocktail Hour” (Light hors d’oeuvres):

  • Pecans and Cream Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Chorizo Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Chicken Skewers
  • Beef Meatballs
  • Apricot with Basil Goat Cheese


Cocktail Receptions (Heavier hors d’oeuvres)

  • Mini Bao Wows: Grilled and Marinated Steak with Soy Ginger Mayo on Mini Buns
  • Ahi Nicoise Canapé: Roasted Potato Slice, Seared Ahi, Olive, Shaved Egg and Balsamic Reduction
  • Local and Artisan Cheese Board: Choice of Cheeses from Local Cheese Makers and Fine Cheeses from Around the World
  • Antipasti Platter: Grilled and Marinated Vegetables, Olives, Assorted Italian Meats and Cheeses
  • Cascading Fresh Fruit Display: Fresh Melons, Pineapple, Grapes and Seasonal Berries

Cocktail Parties

Whether you’re planning a formal or casual cocktail party, your guests will enjoy having hors d’oeuvres. Ideas for the types of hors d’oeuvres and how many you choose to serve are similar to those of a wedding reception.

Martha Stewart shares the following variety of scrumptious cocktail party hors d’oeuvres ideas, along with the recipes, on her website:

  • Grilled Scallops Wrapped in Prosciutto
  • Shrimp Cocktail
  • Caramelized Onion Tartlets
  • Spicy Pecans
  • Pot Stickers


Corporate Events

Are you planning your company’s kickoff meeting or an end-of-year holiday gala?  Once again, your employees and guests will enjoy having something to nibble on between meetings, or before dinner.

If your corporate event is on the elegant side, you can choose the same types of hors d’oeuvres as you would for a wedding reception or cocktail party.

For a more casual corporate event, you might consider these ideas:

Array of Mini Tartlets: Assorted Blue Cheese and Bacon, Mushroom Artichoke, Quiche

Quesadillas: Chicken, Steak or Cheese with Salsa and Sour Cream

Caprese Skewers: Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella Caprese Display

Spanikopita: Spinach and Feta Cheese in Phillo Dough Triangles

Bruschetta Bar: Assortment of Italian Toppings with Toasted Baguette Slices




Are you planning an event in the Portland-Metro area? Give us a call and let us help you plan your hors d’oeuvres menu, or answer any catering questions you have.


Related Resource:

Zuppas Fresh Inspirations Catering Hors d’oeuvres: taking the mystery out of the small bite