Menu Planning

Detailed menu planning is a great help when organising a party. It not only makes the business of shopping easier and prevents a haphazard meal at your party, but the table lay-out, the serving plates and platters that you will need get sorted out too.

Basically there are 3 types of menu plans: the Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner menus which are proper meal plans. Then there are the High Teas and Brunches which are heavy snacks in lieu of meals and then the Coffee and Tea menus which are light snacks for in-between main meals.

To plan a menu you should make a checklist which goes something like this (but of course you should add your own points):

  • How many adults/children are you inviting?
  • Who are your guests: friends, business associates, office buddies?
  • How many vegetarians and non-vegetarians will be there?
  • How long will the party run? Is it formal, within a time limit or is it a freewheeling evening with friends?
  • Will the party be indoors or outside?
  • What type of party will it be? A Dinner, a Brunch or a Cocktail party?

Once you have these kind of details, then you know what to make, as well as how much to make.

If you are inviting families with children, do keep in mind that those children are equally your guests. So your menu should reflect something that they consider party food.

If it’s a formal dinner, with say maybe a chief guest, then your menu (and table) must reflect this formality. And your menu must cater to your chief guest’s food preferences.

A few small tips when planning and shopping for your meal:

  • Plan the menu well in advance based on your cooking skills. Start with simple, easy to do recipes.
  • Work within a budget and what products are easily available.
  • Put together a shopping list specifically for the meal, so no last minute rush to the shops.
  • If you are inviting 6 or more guests, consider the buffet. With larger groups, a buffet is the way to go, but that doesn’t mean you have to make it a traditional menu.
  • You can have a buffet focusing on one main course, which can also help you save money.
  • Don’t overlook the seasonal vegetables which can be prepared in interesting ways.
  • For a buffet, keep meat pieces boneless as it is awkward to balance bones at one end of the plate.
  • Fish should also be filleted and boneless, as far as possible
  • Food must be served at the temperature it is eaten. So salads must be in the fridge till they are ready to serve, soups must be heated just before serving and so on.
  • And don’t forget to offer paan/supari/saunf at the end of an Indian meal or coffee and liqueurs after any meal!

If you plan a freewheeling evening with friends, likely to stretch into the early hours, then keep to heavy snacks through the evening and put some food on the table which people can help themselves to.

Check if any of your guests have food restrictions and then plan accordingly. This is where a detailed guest list comes in handy.

If you do have something which a guest should not eat, be sure to point that out and tell them. In fact set that dish separately at a prominent place so no mistakes can happen.

If you are trying out an experimental menu, don’t spring it as a surprise on your guests: they may not like it. And be sure to have tried it out yourself at least once before.

But, if you are trying out a new cuisine or dish, make sure you have some fall back foods like eggs, boiled potatoes, salad makings etc. in case of any mishap!

Keep to a similar kind of a food palette. Of course you can marry different cuisines, but try and keep the tastes similar so that the flavors don’t clash with each other.

Try and avoid repeating the same ingredients in your menu, as far as possible. So aloo samosa, aloo tikki and aloo tamatar gravy cannot form part of the same menu!

It is better to make a few well-cooked dishes than many mediocre ones. Personally we find an overloaded table with too many different cuisines and flavours a sign of an insecure host!

When planning the menu, keep a judicious mix of gravies, sauces and dry preparations.

Keep the snacks light if you are planning a heavy meal menu but you can have heavy snacks if you plan a simple meal.

Vary the flavors and consistencies of the gravies when planning your menu.

If you plan a buffet, keep thin runny gravies far away! Keep thin gravies for sit downs when you can eat from katoris or bowls. For buffets, a thick gravy is best, as is a thick raita.

Plan your menu such that it is also a feast for the eyes. The table must look lively, which means that the food should not look more or less the same. This is sometimes difficult for an Indian meal, but then use interesting garnishes, serving dishes and table decorations to liven up your table. Try having as many colours, and textures and complementary flavours as possible.

But finally and most importantly: your menu should be such that it doesn’t need for you to be in the kitchen all the time! Remember, your guests come to spend time with you.

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Krishna Sahai
Krishna Sahai

Krishna Sahai took voluntary retirement as a senior Commissioner of Income Tax of the Indian Revenue Service to follow alternative paths. A multi-talented person, she is a trained Bharata Natyam dancer and has also published a book on the subject. Krishna has imbibed the old traditions of Avadhi culture from her family and is concerned about preserving the vanishing cuisines of India. She consults on financial and business matters apart from running a not-for-profit organization.

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