"Ceviche is a starter-must, especially in Miami with so many great local fish. There are many options for guests' varied preferences, all of which are light and fresh, which make for a perfect beginning to a long-form event."
—Laure Hitzig, Director of Catering, Four Seasons Hotel Miami
"I have found and seen this served hot, cold, in layers, and in tarts, on most appetizer menus and as starters with meals — the tried and true tomato and mozzarella salad. Bottom line is you can’t go wrong with this. If you have vegetarians, it works; if you are serving a mix of kosher and non-kosher, it works. It's not messy, and it's easy to pick up whether it’s in a tart form or on skewers. Chefs get creative with using yellow and red tomatoes to pop color and some drizzle varies unique sauces, from wasabi to a basil mix to old fashioned vinegar and oil. I wouldn’t call it a crowd-pleaser but it never fails the crowd!"
—Leslie Short, KIM Media
"As basic as it sounds, chips and dip is the ultimate, easy, crowd-pleasing appetizer. Everyone — no matter how sophisticated they are — always makes their way toward the chip and dip bowl. Now, as a true Southern hostess, it doesn't mean that we are throwing ranch dip and ruffles on the table! My "go-to staple" is always "Low Country Caviar." It is a black-eyed pea, stoplight peppers (red, green yellow), red onion, and a balsamic vinaigrette drizzle that hands-down wins everyone over — no matter where they are from — every time. To elevate the simple, Southern, black-eyed pea to something more sophisticated is also very "Southern." It is the recipe that is most requested from my kitchen. It can be served with Tostitos, Carr's crackers, Ritz crackers, etc. I have dressed it up, dressed it down, but it is my favorite appetizer. As the ever-prepared hostess, I also make batches in bulk (it can keep for two weeks). That way, when the unexpected guest pops in, you can pour some into a charming dish, with some crackers and you have an instant appetizer."
—Lizz Akerman, Owner, Southern Protocol Wedding & Event Design
"The one thing you should have at your cocktail reception is fun foods with a wow factor. For example, serve mini fish tacos with margarita shots or pop champagne splits as guests walk in with a straw. Make it fun — minis are in and it’s also a great conversation piece!"
—Heather Lowenthal, Posh Parties & Paper
I think Shrimp is an appetizer must-have! Whether served hot or cold, shrimp is a crowd-pleaser, and is very often easy to eat. When standing around having cocktails, guests prefer to be able to use one hand, and shrimp allows for that.
—Cassandre Snyder, Owner, Cassandre Snyder Events
"Hands down, it is the Pig in a Blanket. No matter how fancy the party is, it is amazing to see how happy guests become at the appearance of this little hot dog treat. We call it the 'Blanket Stalk' when a party guest follows the waiter carrying the trays of pigs around the party. It’s a true timeless classic that never disappoints. I also like to make a version I call the 'skinny pig' using whole-wheat phyllo and chicken apple sausage."
—Mary Giuliani, Mary Giuliani Catering & Events
"Personally, I love when guests get to 'open' the food. Since I'm a wedding planner specializing in Asian fusion weddings, one of the things we like to serve are Asian noodles in a takeout box with chopsticks. I find that it's really a conversation starter when people starting talking about and wondering what is in the box because they haven't had that experience before. We can then put different types of noodles (rice, thick, etc.) and different flavors of noodles (sweet, spicy, curry, etc.) so that the guests will talk about which noodle and in what flavor they got."
—Wendy, Director of Events, Asian Fusion Weddings
"The finest appetizer to please a crowd — from little kids to the pickiest gourmand — are classic gougères. I use Alain Ducasse's simple recipe: it's just pate a choux with cheese involved, and doesn't require any special tools beyond a strong wooden-spoon arm. The crispy little cheese puffs are so addictive I've had to butler them around to keep people from hovering up the entire tray (I mean, that's what I'd do.) The best part is you can make these ahead of time, freeze, and reheat moments before your guests arrive with no ill effects."
—Felicia D'Ambrosio, Consmr.com
"One of the first appetizers that comes to mind are crab cakes. Everyone has seen them at an event, but it's something people know and love from coast to coast. It's not something most people make themselves, so it's a treat in that way and most people love the taste. Because it is a pretty standard appetizer, it's also hard to screw up, which means by picking it you're almost guaranteed a tasty appetizer people will love.
Coming from Hawaii and California, I'd say another crowd favorite is raw fish. Sushi is a huge winner with my clients and their guests. Guests are always really excited about hand-rolled sushi and can't wait to get in line to get some. Similarly, if you have a sashimi type of appetizer (like poke style or ahi tartare) that is also really popular and makes people happy."
—Jamie Cheng, Mango Muse Events
"Shrimp cocktail is, as my mother would say 'an oldie but goodie.' It's a real crowd-pleaser and helps to kick any event up a notch. Personally I like to see shrimp cocktail served with a variety of dipping sauces for a new twist on the traditional."
— Lynn Caputo, Owner & Designer, Dear LC
"To me, the ultimate appetizer is one that is elegant enough for a black-tie affair, yet simple enough for the home cook to master — crostini. My personal favorite is my Moo's (aka my Mom's) Cherry Rhubarb Goat Cheese Crostini. When invited to a party and asked to bring something, I have one rule: your contribution shouldn't take up any oven or refrigerator space. As a city girl with a single, petit oven I know that serving a group can quickly become a mathematical algorithm of temperature, time, and space that no gracious guest should mess with! The Cherry Rhubarb Goat Cheese Crostini can be made and assembled ahead. For a more formal affair, I love to pass a variety of crostini options that together create a colorful presentation."
—Lo McShay, LoLo Event Design
"The key is to use locally grown and organic ingredients! When you use fresh ingredients everything tastes better. For spring, I love avocado and local strawberry salsa with crisp tortilla strips."
—Kate Harrison, Owner and CEO, Green Bride Guide
"For cocktail hour, you should really tailor the food to the style of the event. There are some universal crowd-pleasers that can fit a variety of event styles — from black tie to a rustic affair — and our favorite would be pommes frites. French fries, whether they are sweet potato, regular, or tossed with truffle oil, are always a huge hit with guests. We recommend serving them in cones with dipping sauce at the bottom so guests can enjoy!"
—Candice Coppola, Owner and Creative Director, Jubilee Events
"I think tomato and basil bruschetta are the perfect appetizer for any party or event, especially this time of year as we head into the warmer months. They're light, refreshing, easy to eat (no utensils required!), and showcase fresh, seasonal produce, which is something we always do here at Madrona Manor since we source many ingredients from our own, organic garden. Bonus points for being vegan so every guest can enjoy them! Tomato and basil bruschetta allow the natural ingredients to shine through without filling guests up before the big event."
—Kacie McGranahan, Director of Special Events, Madrona Manor
"Every wedding that I have done, guests have loved the mini grilled cheese and tomato soup shooters. Something about comfort food that is always a hit. In that vein, I also love the spoonfuls of mac and cheese with truffles or lobster on top. People cannot get enough!"
—Eileen Kaden Dean, An Affair to Remember Weddings
"Hors d'oeuvres can be a little more complex than you would initially think. I try to offer at least three different options and I always consider the taste palate of the masses when making your selection. Avoid any unfamiliar foods so guests won't be uninhibited to nibble. If we're talking about the ultimate crowd-pleaser, I always opt for an abundant antipasto table. Now I don't mean open a pack of Cheddar cubes and put them in a bowl. Rather, offer guests a high-end assortment of sharp to mild cheeses paired with fruits, nuts, and cured meats. Perhaps Brie drizzled with honey and garnished with toasted almond slivers. Slice up some figs and wrap them in prosciutto. This starter menu will be less filling and leave guests wanting more as the night moves on."
—Christopher Confero, Christopher Confero Design
"My all-time favorite and most-requested conversation piece starter would my bite-size Caprese salad skewered with a small pipette and filled with fig-balsamic and olive oil.
The reason it's such a hit is because it is an unexpected presentation and it's interactive. I find that when it comes to events, an interactive food element makes your guests remember your event and has your guests talking about it after the event ends! Treat guests to something unexpected. The most important thing to remember is presentation. The food may be simple, but if it has an elaborate or artistically creative way it's displayed, that is all the guests will talk about that night and even days after!"
—Ameera Leguex , Celebrity Caterer
"For me personally, there is no one specific appetizer that I feel should be served at all parties and events. I believe that these selections come from determining what the caterer specializes in — what they do really well. From there, you can pepper in the host’s favorites to help create a more signature taste and feel. You should also take into account who will be attending the event, where it will be held, and the type of beverages that will be served alongside the hors d’oeuvres, as they all should be cohesive with one another. I do not believe in sticking to one favorite dish and using that as a go-to just for the sake of tradition or a generic crowd-pleaser as every crowd and every event and every caterer are all vastly different."
—Kristin Banta, Kristin Banta Events
"I would say the one appetizer that should be served is a cheese and cracker station. As simple as it sounds, most everyone loves some variety of cheese. It is also something that pleases both vegetarians and meat eaters alike. Cheese has come a long way from the standard 'cheese and crackers' as well. You can have a more upscale version with imported cheeses (and not just the standard Cheddar and Swiss). You can also pair it with breads, not just crackers and incorporate grapes — it's so simple but can be the biggest crowd-pleaser based on what you choose.
Most events/parties I have personally attended have had some sort of cheese and cracker station — from a casual get-together to the most upscale gala. It is something I always recommend to clients who are having any sort of appetizer/hors d'oeuvres at their event (if they don't already include it in their list of choices)."
—Emilee Tran, Anthem Events