Hors d’oeuvres, anyone? Whether it’s a casual TGIF with best friends or a formal holiday gathering of work associates, having folks over for appetizers and drinks is a lot easier than hosting a full-blown dinner party, and it’s just as much fun. My secret to party success? Keep the food simple; make the display sensational. You’ll wow your guests and save yourself lots of time and stress.

Some hostesses can do it all: Prepare amazing culinary delights and create a killer food display. Not me. I hate to cook. So when I entertain, I keep the menu super simple (usually things I can grab at the grocery store on the way home from work!). Then, I display the food so beautifully that no one notices I didn’t slave over the stove for hours.

It’s easy to design a gorgeous appetizer display if you have the right tools and know a few tricks of the trade:

Platters: I can’t get my hands on enough platters. And if you like to entertain — or just present your daily diet in a more delicious way — you’ll need a few, too. Instead of putting our dessert pastries on a plain old plate, our design team tried a beautiful double-decker treatment, stacking a white platter on top of a silver one.

Tiered servers: The key to making simple food like cheese and crackers, fresh fruit and shrimp look amazing is to display it with Drama with a capital D. Nothing helps you achieve this in a jiffy like a tiered server. Our easy-peasy food picks look fit for royalty, thanks to this gorgeous server. Put on a plain old plate, the same food would seem boring.

I like to mix up the selections on each shelf of the server so that guests slow down and drink in the display as they decide what yummies to try. To make the selections even richer, add in individual serving bowls.

Drink dispensers: No matter what the beverage, it just tastes better when it is dispensed from a lovely urn. Cut glass servers are among my favorites. I use them when I entertain for gatherings large and small. Urns are great because they allow guests to serve themselves, so you don’t have to play bartender all evening, freshening drinks.

Caddies: Caddies are a great tool for collecting items that might otherwise spread across the top of your food bar. Plus, they are cute! An adorable Mason jars inspired collection, snuggled into a vintage looking tin caddy, gave us the perfect place to present the forks, knives and spoons on our buffet. You could also fill the jars with different sauces for a BBQ, fresh veggies for a picnic or breadsticks for a pasta bar.

Ice bucket: If you are serving chilled beverages on your buffet, keep them at the right temperature in a gorgeous ice bucket. When you’re not entertaining, use the bucket in your decor. Fill it with flowers or use it as your catchall for the daily mail.

Trays: Trays are one of the most essential tools for entertaining. And, if you ask me, for life! I use trays all over my home, in lots of different ways. Depending upon how formal you want your appetizer display to be, you can use a host of different kinds of trays, from silver gallery trays to chopping boards.

Serving pieces: Nothing spoils the look of a lovely food service like tossing in your well-worn everyday serving pieces. I keep a separate set of serving pieces on hand just for entertaining, so they look fresh and beautiful.

Be sure you have the right pieces for the food you’re serving, like a special cheese slicer or cake server.

Linens: I recommend having a supply of several different kinds of cloth napkins, cleaned, pressed and at the ready for entertaining.

Decorative finishing touches: Finish off your appetizer buffet with a few beautiful accents. Put a few hurricanes on risers, insert pillar candles and you’re done! Or, fill the hurricanes with fresh flowers or fall branches.

We wanted to make a big fall statement on our sample buffet, so we placed an iron urn on the table and filled it with fall branches and florals. You could do the same with any kind of holder, like a temple jar, cachepot or apothecary jar.

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at She can be reached at

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