How to: Plan a Party Menu + a Bonus Martini Recipe

How to plan a party menu - A Side of Fabulous blog

Today is the last day in our week of holiday planning and organizing. Thank you so much for being here!

The schedule:

Today is my favoritest (I'm making it a word now) part of holiday prep and planning - food! These tips will help you serve up a menu that's balanced and delightful.


Make sure your menu has a balance of flavors with not too many of any particular type of food. I always start with a couple of types of protein, a couple of vegetarian options and a delicious cheese tray.


Pro tip: Skip the veggie tray. They're usually barely touched. If you must have a veggie tray, get the smallest one available. I typically advise that it's better to have too much food rather than not enough, but nobody has ever complained that they couldn't get another raw carrots.


What kind of party are you having? Is it a sit down meal or cocktail party with lots of mingling? If it's a cocktail party, the ideal are appetizers that can be eaten in one bite. Nobody wants to have their hands too full or get messy while they're eating and chatting. Food on sticks is always a great option.


Think about how your food is presented. We eat with our eyes first and you want your food to be pleasing to the eye and palate.

As with the decor, use a variety of heights to add drama to your food presentation. Flip deep bowls upside down and cover with a linen. Cake stands are great for added height. You can even get a milk crate or sturdy box to cover and use.


You have four options to choose from:

  • no alcohol
  • beer and wine
  • beer, wine and a specialty cocktail
  • full bar.

For parties in the home, my preference is beer, wine and a specialty cocktail. The specialty cocktail adds a luxurious touch to the party and is perfect for reflecting your theme. I'm sharing one of my favorite specialty cocktail recipes below.


Plan the menu and pull the recipes.

Look through the ingredients you already have in your pantry. Make a list of what needs to be purchased.


Pro tip: List items by store, and then order them by where they are in the store. Seem excessive? Totally. But you're going to save a lot of time from not wandering around through the store. Not to mention the money saved from not making impulse purchases because you weren't wandering.


Now look at what can be made ahead. Block out time in your calendar for when you'll go to the grocery store (when they first open is the best time to go) as well as when you'll cook the things that you're cooking ahead.


Brownie Points: Make a day of prep list with a timeline of when things need to be started, popped into the oven, etc. I've seen it. I've done it. It gets everything out of your head so you don't have to think about it any more. It's glorious. Embrace the list.


Get to cooking.

Overwhelmed? Hire out.

If this all seems like waaaaay too much effort or beyond your skill level, don't be afraid to employ professional help. You can pick up trays from your local grocery store, order appetizers from your favorite restaurant, or even go fully catered.

One of my mom's favorite Christmases was when she threw a turkey breast in the crock pot and bought all the sides from a restaurant. Mind you, my mother makes a fabulous, Christmas meal but that year she didn't want to. And you know what? Nobody died. Nobody freaked. Matter of fact, we all had a better time because she wasn't stressed or stressing anyone else out.

If you are going to order out, put in those orders to your favorite places ASAP. There's only so much time that they have, and I'd hate for you to get turned down because they were full. So order up today!

And a note on traditions - it's OK to change a tradition...ESPECIALLY if you hate it. You never know, you may learn that others didn't like it either but were afraid to speak up.

Now that we've put in a TON o' planning work this week, let's have a drink!

I first came across and made this cocktail once upon a time as an event planner. I made it for a department Christmas party I planned, that was being hosted in the home of the office manager.

An instant way to make any party a little more special is to serve a specialty martini. This cocktail's bright red color along with the contrast of the green sugar rimmed glasses makes it perfect festive touch to any Christmas party. Plus, it's not overly sweet so it turned out to be a real crowd pleaser with everyone who attended.

Mistletoe Martini

Mistletoe Martini - A Side of Fabulous blog


  • 3 oz Vodka
  • 1 oz Cranberry Juice
  • Splash Chambord
  • Green sugar for the rim
  • Skewered frozen cranberries for garnish


  1. The night before, skewer fresh cranberries on toothpicks and freeze. Also put the vodka and Chambord in the freezer. Make sure the cranberry juice is well chilled in the refrigerator.
  2. Rim martini glasses by rubbing on a wet, lint-free cloth and then rubbing in a plate of green sugar. Set aside.
  3. Put all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake within an inch of it's life, strain and pour into martini glass.
  4. Garnish with cranberry skewer and enjoy.


  • These can be made ahead and in larger amounts by multiplying the amounts by how many servings you want to make.
  • Use the best quality ingredients you can afford. In a simple recipe like this you can really tell the difference. Personally, I love Monopolova vodka for parties and recipes like this because it's a smooth potato vodka that's really economical. 

Cheers, and I hope this week's series of holiday planning helps you!

What are your favorite foods and/or drinks to serve at parties? Share with us in the comments below!

Melinda Massie - A Side of Fabulous

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