Planning a New Year’s Eve Menu? Start Here
Food, drink and party-planning tips to help you ring in the new year as a great host
What are your New Year’s Eve plans?
You may want to share the holiday with loved ones. You may also want to dress up and break out special foods and drinks. And if you feel inclined to host a celebration, you’ll want to start planning now.
Whether you’re hosting or helping plan a New Year’s Eve party, here are 6 menu and party-planning tips to get you on your way.
1. Finger foods are festive
Holidays call for special foods. And there’s no better way to pack your menu with party favorites than by thinking small—small bites, that is.
“A cocktail party of hors d’oeuvres lends itself extremely well to New Year’s Eve parties, which tend to be mainly open-house formats, as opposed to scheduled sit-downs,” says Los Angeles-based event planner Hovik Harutyunyan.
If you live near the coast or have access to fresh seafood, consider one of Harutyunyan’s favorites: a seafood bar. Pair shrimp cocktail with oysters and crab legs, and you’ve got yourself a solid base for a holiday spread.
His other seafood recommendations include smoked salmon and caviar blini.
“New Year’s Eve is all about celebration,” Harutyunyan says. “This is why we tend to splurge on delicacies that we don’t enjoy normally throughout the year.”
If you’re on board for a luxe menu, Harutyunyan has other ideas too: truffle pate mousse with apple slices, brioche toasts, and prosciutto-wrapped arugula and gruyere. And for dessert? His New Year’s Eve picks are gourmet chocolate truffles and champagne jellies.
Looking more for meat and potatoes? Harutyunyan suggests cocktail meatballs with dipping sauces like spicy cranberry sauce or garlic-lemon labneh. And to dress up the spuds? Consider a mashed potato bar with an array of toppings: scallions, sour cream, cheddar cheese and bacon are a good start.
2. Sit-down dinners can be intimate
If you’re keeping your gathering small—and all your guests can fit around 1 table—there’s something to be said for a seated meal. It can be an intimate and leisurely paced affair—the perfect atmosphere for celebrating with loved ones.
Social foods like fondue can be great icebreakers, says Matt Robinson of the blog “Real Food by Dad.”
“It’s the kind of experience that gets a party started, with everyone getting right to being friendly with one another,” he says. “I mean, who can be shy and reserved when you’re all about to dip into a communal pot of hot cheese?”
New to fondue? Check out Robinson’s recipe and tips.
And if you like the idea of communal cooking, raclette and hot pot are great options too.
Maybe you’re picturing something more formal. In that case, consider a 3-course meal—it’s elevated without being over-the-top.
A classic Caesar salad is a solid starter, says Harutyunyan. But if you’d rather serve soup, he recommends seasonal favorites like butternut squash, creamy tomato bisque or clam chowder.
And for the entree? Harutyunyan’s picks are classic celebratory cuisine: prime rib, pork tenderloin, grilled rack of lamb, Dungeness crab or pan-seared duck breast. (Dealing with dietary restrictions? Consider how you’ll accommodate everyone’s needs.)
When it comes to dessert, Harutyunyan’s not backing down. Butterscotch pudding, cheesecake, and apple crisp with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce are 3 dishes he thinks you should consider. (But maybe not all at once.)
Pro tip: “With a sit-down menu, still plan to have an hour of hors d’oeuvres and cocktails for guests to enjoy,” Harutyunyan recommends. “Since guests will be up until after midnight, you also want to have goodies and treats available after dinner as well.”
3. Some foods might bring you luck
Want good luck in the new year? If you ask someone from the American South, there are a few foods you should add to your plate—regardless of whether you eat standing up or sitting down.
“For as long as I can remember, my grandmother made pork chops, collard greens, Hoppin’ John—black-eyed peas and rice—with stewed tomatoes, and cornbread on New Year’s Day,” says Richmond, Virginia-based event planner Nadia Anderson.
“Folklore suggests the meal encourages good luck, prosperity and wealth in the new year,” she explains. “Peas—or beans—symbolize coins. Thick leafy greens bring to mind folded money. Cornbread represents gold. And pork is for progress.”
For a modern spin on a traditional meal, Anderson recommends a kale salad or roasted brussels sprouts with pork loin and rice.
And if you’re planning on finger foods, Anderson suggests mini cornbread muffins stuffed with pulled pork, ham biscuits on a sweet potato roll, spinach and artichoke dip, or a personal favorite of hers: black-eyed pea hummus. “There’s a great recipe in Chef Carla Hall’s new book Soul Food,” Anderson says.
4. Your drink menu matters
“Keep the drink menu simple, yet elegant,” Harutyunyan advises. “Start the night off with a signature cocktail, wine for dinner, and champagne for the midnight celebration.”
“Unless you’re planning to hire a professional bartender for the party, offer 1 or 2 cocktails that can be made in batches,” he recommends. “Cosmo, Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Sidecar are all examples of cocktails that can be made in advance.”
It’s also a good idea to have a nonalcoholic drink for designated drivers and at least one good beer option, he says. And if guests are drinking, be sure to have plenty of water. New Year’s Eve can be a long evening, and your guests need to stay hydrated.
Instead of a signature cocktail, you could also serve punch. Anderson has a favorite recipe that can be served hot or cold, and with alcohol or without.
Anderson’s Apple Cider
- 1 part orange juice
- 3 parts apple cider
- Cinnamon stick (1 per glass or 6 per premade batch)
- Ginger ale or tonic water for bubbles
If you’re adding alcohol, choose your favorite. (Anderson likes bourbon.) And you can put the punch in a slow cooker to serve it warm.
5. From slow cookers to catering—there’s an easy button for every budget
Running short on time? There are energy-saving tips for parties at every budget.
Anderson recommends a slow cooker because of the many winter-friendly recipes it can handle with ease.
“Beans, soups and chili are all cold-weather foods that are great for an intimate New Year’s Eve gathering at home,” she says. “They’re comforting and customizable, and you can bring the fun with the toppings.”
If you’re willing and able to shell out a little more, you can outsource or supplement your cooking.
“Ordering from restaurants and local spots is a great way to save time,” Harutyunyan shares. “This way, the host can focus on decorating and setting the stage without having to worry about the grocery shopping, cooking or cleaning.”
Even if you’re a master of the kitchen, Harutyunyan thinks it’s smart to supplement your menu with some premade dishes.
Slightly more expensive—but potentially worth the cost—is catering. Think it’s outside your budget? There are ways to save.
“To reduce the cost of catering, pick the food up or request drop-off service so that you’re only paying a delivery fee rather than the staffing cost for a server,” Anderson recommends.
6. Get your space (and yourself) ready in advance
Now that you’ve got your menu planned and your guests have RSVP’d (You did send invites, right?), there’s plenty you can do to make your day of hosting easy—or at least easier.
“If you’re making things yourself, shop in advance and chop a day or two ahead of the gathering. That way, all your ingredients will be ready when you begin cooking,” Anderson suggests.
Harutyunyan echoes her advice. “You never have as much time as you think, so the more you can get done in advance, the better,” he says. “The day of the party should only be reserved for making those things that can’t be made ahead.”
“Buy all nonperishable groceries well in advance,” Harutyunyan recommends. “Check expiration dates to get products that have the most extended shelf life. Buy all fresh ingredients 2 days before and properly store them in the refrigerator.”
Harutyunyan’s Pre-Party Checklist (One Day Out):
- Pre-cut and assemble all foodstuffs so you’re ready to make your recipe the next day.
- Set out trays, platters and glassware you’ll be using, with sticky notes designating what the item will be used for.
- Decorate the house and set the dining table. This is an easy thing that can be checked off the list!
And when the big day is finally here, you’d be wise to remember this last bit of advice from Anderson: “Plan your day so that you can make the food, take a nap, wake up and get dressed just in time to reheat foods and welcome your guests. Late night parties require rest and planning.”
Now it’s time to enjoy and celebrate with your guests. You’ve got this!
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