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The spring and summer party season is upon us, with graduations, birthdays, backyard parties and holiday barbecues just around the corner. Save yourself some stress and aggravation by taking a few minutes to really think about the kind of party you’re hosting.

First, consider your guest list. Is this a party of mostly adults, mostly kids or teens, or is it a pretty even mix of both? Once you figure that out, then it’s time to plan the menu. What do you want to serve to wow your guests? Two words: food stations.

Food stations are the best and easiest way to serve a crowd. You can incorporate a multitude of options that are “mingle-friendly.” They increase your chances of pleasing everyone and achieving the “wow” factor.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s not necessarily what you serve your guests, but how you serve it that can really impress! Think of creative ways to display your dishes, like mason jars, terracotta pots, crates and other unusual serving vessels. Use height to bring attention to your displays. Use risers, such as crates, trays on stands, wood slices and baskets, to make an eye-popping display. We love to put together food stations — here are some tried-and-true favorites. You can mix and match according to your tastes and guest list.

Beverage Bar

Greet your guests with a festive beverage bar, and include both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks. On a warm day, tasty infused waters, with flavor combos like raspberry and pineapple, cucumber and mint, lime and basil and strawberry and kiwi, are a refreshing treat. For the over-21 crowd, flavored champagne or a signature cocktail is a perfect start to any party. Check out some of our favorite summer drinks and recipes.

Raw Bar

Oysters, clams and shrimp on a chilling table or ice sculpture can take your event to the next level! A beautiful raw bar will impress your guests immediately. One way to set up a raw bar is to get a six-foot chilling table with a wooden frame, fill it with cracked ice and seaweed, then place a variety of seafood on top. Include anything from oysters on the half shell to jumbo shrimp to stone crab claws — what are your favorites? Don’t forget condiments, such as cocktail sauce, hot sauce, mignonette sauce, summer peach salsa, horseradish, lemon wedges and oyster crackers.



Offer your guests assorted dips with accompanying “dippers,” which can be anything from vegetable slices to a variety of crackers and breads. Try putting out your favorite creamy dip (ours is chef Danny’s chipotle ranch!) paired with homemade potato chips. Fresh salsas and guacamole pair with homemade tortilla chips. And cheese sauce is always a big hit! A cheddar cheese sauce paired with mini pretzel bites or a white cheese sauce paired with crab fries is sure to be a favorite.


Sliders are so much easier to eat than a regular-size burger or sandwich, especially at a cocktail party type of affair. If you offer a variety, then your guests can enjoy sampling different versions. We like offering traditional hamburger sliders, grilled chicken sliders, barbecue pulled pork sliders and Philly cheesesteak sliders.


What’s the perfect accompaniment to a sliders station? A french fry bar! Offer assorted cuts of fries with creative toppings such as cheese, bacon, chili, specialty ketchups and spices. If you’re into the poutine craze, you could also serve gravy and cheese curds.

Mac and Cheese

Dress up everyone’s favorite cheesy pasta dish in a number of ways. Serve it plain and then allow guests to choose from a range of toppings — anything from lobster to bacon to peas will allow your partygoers to customize to their heart’s delight.


Who doesn’t love a doughnut? A fun, and very simple, dessert is to create a customizable doughnut display. Show off plain doughnuts on a mini wall or on a multilevel cupcake tower, then set out an assortment of goodies such as chocolate glaze, rainbow sprinkles, shredded coconut or even colorful cereal toppings. Guests will have fun making their own delicious creations.


If you need more ideas for dishes to serve, take a look at our Ultimate Upscale Picnic menu!

Ready to start planning your party? Schedule a consultation with one of our event managers today!

Robert Ryan Catering and Design plans and executes over 400 events each year, boasts a five-star rating on WeddingWire and has received WeddingWire’s Couple’s Choice/Bride’s Choice Award seven years in row. Learn more about Robert Ryan Catering & Design and tour our venuesSubscribe to our e-newsletter for exclusive offers, up-to-date news and recipes from our executive chef.

Kim MacKinnon

Featured photo: Josiah & Steph Wedding Photography & Films; all other photos: Fringe Fox Studios