The key to the success of a any good party is simple -- happy guests. It doesn't matter if we're talking about a backyard BBQ 4th of July event, a children's birthday, or a swanky New Year's Eve gathering -- one of the keys to having happy guests at your party is ensuring the food is good and that there's enough of it to go around. Whenever I plan a party I always like to lay out the menu of what I'll be serving well in advance, and I do it to a tee. I find this level of planning goes a long way to set up the party menu for success, and to manage my stress on the day of the event. In the case of a New Year's Eve menu, my keys to success are simple. 

  1. Small plates/appetizer dishes - We're not throwing a dinner so food can be kept light 
  2. Easily assembled and managed - I want to enjoy the party too, and don't want to be cooking
  3. Mix of warm, cold, and comfort - It is winter outside
  4. Finger foods are best - Most guests will also have drinks the whole night
  5. Alcohol a plenty and other drinks too - It's a New Year's Eve party -- 'nuff said

Following these few rules I can put together a menu for a New Year's Eve event that is filling, festive, fun, and consists of many party favorites. The following are my tried and true inclusions for a great late evening party. If all goes well, your friends will put on their best party dress and end the night looking like this.

Cheese Plate

Who doesn't love cheese? A simple and easy formula for creating a crowd pleasing cheese plate is to include a soft cheese like brie or goat, a hard cheese like an aged/smoked gouda, and a blue cheese, such as gorgonzola. 

Photo Credit: President Cheese

Surround the cheese with thin slices of bread, one or two varieties of crackers, and fresh or dried fruit like sliced pears, dried apricots, or a large bunch of grapes. For a special touch, add toasted walnuts, a small dish of chutney, and drizzle the blue cheese with honey. 

Shrimp Cocktail

This is a simple, go to menu item for any party, and it's all in the assembly. Pick up a bag of large frozen, cleaned and deveined shrimp, along with a bottle of good cocktail sauce. Follow the instructions to thaw the shrimp in a timely manner prior to your guests arriving. Arrange the shrimp on a platter in a very organized fashion, tails out. 

Photo Credit: Cha Cha

They should surround a dish filled with the cocktail sauce in the middle of the platter. Be sure to place a spoon in the cocktail sauce to encourage guests to spoon the sauce onto their plate rather than dipping the shrimp. Assume roughly three to four shrimp per guest. 

Barbecue Meatballs

This one's a no brainer, yet is always a crowd pleaser. I pick up a big bag of frozen meatballs and a large bottle of barbecue sauce. An hour or so before the party starts I empty the meatballs into a crockpot or sauce pan (depending on the size of the party), pour barbecue sauce over the meatballs, and set the stove to low. 

Just before guests arrive, I arrange the meatballs in a beautiful serving dish with toothpicks nearby, and I'm all set. In the photo above you can see them to the left of the drink.


This is an item I always have in my entertaining arsenal, and by that I mean my pantry and freezer. I periodically pick up a fresh sour dough baguette, slice it into 3/4" slices, and freeze the slices inside a large freezer bag so I have them on hand at all times. When I need a quick appetizer, I pull them out and arrange them on a cookie sheet sprayed with olive oil cooking spray, and lightly toast them on either side under the broiler. 

Photo Credit: Weeknight Gourmet

Once the bread is ready, I top it with a pre-made bruschetta, olive tapenade, or roasted red pepper spread for a quick and easy party pleaser. We have some great selections available at our local Trader Joe's.

Olives and Nuts

To round out the menu, fill several small bowls with a variety of nuts and olives. My go to selections of nuts are almonds, cashews, and peanuts. You can get fancy and grab the nuts with flavoring, like the wasabi almonds or honey roasted peanuts, but simple salted is usually just as much of a crowd pleaser. 

Photo Credit: Horchow

For olives I like to mix and match items like plain olives and green olives stuffed with interesting bits like blue cheese or sun dried tomatoes. Again, set toothpicks nearby so guests can easily pick the items up (without dipping their fingers into the bowl).

Various Alcohols & Other Drinks

A New Year's Eve party wouldn't be completed without a few options to ring in the New Year. As the ball drops you want to be sure to have a person on your arm to kiss, and a glass in your hand to toast with. There's obviously the old standby of Champagne/Sparkling Wine. Personally, I like the bubbly quite a bit, and I like to make sure I have several decent bottles on hand for the celebration. My favorite party sparkling selections include Mumm Napa Cuvee Brut and Domaine Chandon Brut. Both California made, both pair well with cheese and the other items I've mentioned, and both will not leave your guests with serious headaches (because the bubbles are naturally occurring from fermentation and not CO2 injected, but that's a whole other blog post).

If you serve sparkling, assume one glass per guest at a minimum if you plan on popping the corks just before midnight, one glass per hour per guest if you plan to have it open all night long. The typical 750ml bottle will pour roughly five standard champagne glasses per bottle.

Beyond the sparkling wine, stock your bar with your favorite beer, a few bottles of red wine (pinot noir is a good safe bet), and white wine (stick with sauvignon blanc). If you make a "signature cocktail" for the evening, keep it simple and clear/light, like a vodka tonic. Something that will keep the night moving with minimal interruption. 

Don't forget about the designated drivers, non drinkers, and people who just want to stay hydrated throughout the night (that's everyone, really). I always like to stock sparkling water, plain water (flavored with citrus), and even something like the San Pellegrino orage/lemon/blood orange flavored beverages. There's no reason someone who's not drinking should be made to feel like they're missing out.

There you have it. That's my advice on how you setup your menu for a simple, no fuss way to throw an enjoyable party. Just turn on some music, enjoy the company of your friends, and celebrate as we say farewell to 2012 and welcome in 2013.  

If you're looking for tablescape ideas, be sure to check out my post on setting a festive table for New Year's Eve.

What are your plans for this New Year's Eve? Are you throwing a party, or will you be attending? If you're going somewhere, is it an organized event, or are you headed to a friend or family member's home? Any idea what's going to be on your menu? I'd love to hear.

Comments 7


Karin K
12/28/2012 at 3:52 PM
Can I just say THANK YOU? We have thrown a NYE party for the last four years, and I always go WAY overboard - either buying too much prepared food (and then feeling like a slacker) or by trying to cook too much food, which results in spending the entire night in the kitchen. Either way, I have leftovers galore. This year I am following your lead, plus asking some people to bring a dish, and calling 'er done. Now, I will be looking forward to that no-headache-bubbly post. :)
You're welcome, Karin! So glad this is helpful, and good luck. I'm sure your party will be a smashing success!
12/28/2012 at 10:56 PM
Hilarious because this is pretty much the menu I served on Christmas Eve this year for a little late afternoon fun with about 10 families. Perfect for people coming and going at different times. I do meatballs with grape jelly and chili sauce (crazy combo but so yummy!). I also do a veggie tray for those who might be attempting not to gain 10 lbs during Christmas week like I generally do! I think I'm doing enchiladas for NYE this year though - small group :)
Ahh yes, the veggie tray. I should have included that! I did a cheese plate and veggie tray with a feta spinach dip for Christmas Eve (eve) with Alex's parents. Despite the veggies, I think I'm still on track for a 10 lb gain this holiday! :-)

Enchiladas sound great. I hope your party goes well!
Karin K
12/29/2012 at 6:49 PM
That feta-spinach dip sounds pretty damn tasty right now!
Old School Dave
12/30/2012 at 11:01 AM
Great post Wendy! For everyone who is throwing a party don't forget your gluten free friends!! Gluten free crackers are a must if you will be serving a cheese plate!! We will be attending a party this year. And, I will probably bring my own gluten free crackers to munch on.

Good point, thanks Dave!
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