Entertaining Basics: The Appetizer Rule from Ina Garten

So far in the entertaining series, we haven’t really covered a very important part of parties - that is, food.

Although people talk about alcohol being social lubricant, nothing brings people together faster than food. Whether it’s a fancy rehearsal dinner or a simple meal with friends, food is the bond between relationships and brings us all together.

Knowing this, it’s important to ensure that people have good food - the correct food - to bond and to relax and be happy.


Let’s start with appetizers. Also affectionately referred to as nibbles, small bites, nosh, and snackies by various members of our friend and family circle, they are some of the most looked forward to foods of a party.

When planning appetizers, we follow this rule - roughly paraphrased from party muse and goddess Ina Garten

For every four people, you should have two different appetizers

For every nine people, you should have three different appetizers

There’s a couple reasons why the math works out here.

First of all, if you only have four people, then it’s fairly easy to have one appetizer. Maybe a cheeseboard, or empanadas for everyone to snack on before dinner.


When you start adding in more people, it becomes more of a traffic issue - you don’t want everyone clustered around one appetizer, darting their hands in between people to try and grab something to eat.

Instead, create three different stations for people to partake from - a cheeseboard on a table, pita chips and hummus on another table, and crudites out on the counter, allowing people to easily flow from one station to another.

An added bonus of spacing out the appetizers is that it gets people circulating around the room by trying the different stations. Circulation is great, because it means that people are forced to interact with each other (sorry introverts!) and will be more likely to strike up conversations with each other that way, as opposed to camping out by the queso and one bag of chips.

If you have a smaller space like us, try and position them in a triangle. We usually place appetizers in more open areas, so that guests are better able to access the food and mingle. We try not to have anything on the stove due to it usually being already occupied for dinner, and also not wanting to have to shoo anyone away if we need to check on anything in the oven.


Three appetizers also allow you to cover your bases when it comes to dietary restrictions or preferences. Have a vegetarian/vegan option, a naturally gluten-free option, and then the third can always be a wild card - that should cover just about everyone.

We usually try to have at least one hot and one cold option as well - think crudites with ranch in contrast with a crockpot full of buffalo meatballs - so people’s palates are stimulated by the temperature differential as well. It keeps people naturally coming back to the different stations - again, improving circulation and interaction between the guests.

Try to keep really finicky appetizers to a minimum. To be honest, we mostly use ready-to-serve items. For instance, putting out blocks of cheese with charcuterie and pickles is so easy to do. Laying out sliced and julienned vegetables with a dip or hummus is super easy as well. Let the ingredients do all the work.

If you want to get fussy, that’s what a main course and dessert are for! Keep it simple on the appetizers, you’re going to want to ensure that you’re not expending all your time and effort and oven space on them.