Q. Got any ideas on how I can update a champagne punch?
A. Instead of your mom's traditional champagne-and-cranberry concoction, rethink the whole idea of punch: It's really just a juice-based cocktail prepared in quantity. So serve your favorite sip. How about a crystal bowl filled with Cosmopolitans, mojitos, fuzzy navels or sloe gin fizzes? Jazz it up with ice cubes containing edible flower petals or slices of fresh fruit.
Q. What's the one definite sign of a top-notch caterer?
A. Attention to detail. A great caterer will do more than just make delicious food. He will take special care in the way the food looks on the plate, check the temperature at which it is presented, and suggest choices of wine to accompany the meal. He will also supervise the manner in which the servers present the dishes and see that no server is responsible for too many tables. He will even worry about how often the water glasses are refilled. These are all small but extremely important matters. Don't be afraid to ask the caterer how he deals with these details. It is the mark of a high-quality caterer that he will take all of these things into account.
Q. What's the difference between paying per consumption and having an open bar?
A. Paying per consumption means you're charged only for the alcohol your guests imbibe. It's an economical option if your guests aren't big drinkers. If they do like their martinis and mojitos, however, opt for an open bar: You'll be charged an hourly fee per guest rather than per drink.
Q. I love the trend of serving hors d'oeuvres on spoons. Which foods work best?
A. Spoon-served hors d'oeuvres offer a clean and chic way to nibble—no clam smell on your fingertips, no stuffed-mushroom filling on your lapel. What foods are a boon to the spoon? "Those that work well with a spoon's oval symmetry," says Derek Morgan, executive chef of the Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix. His suggestions: butterflied shrimp with a flavorful garnish like mango relish, mussels stuffed with Boursin cheese, smoked salmon rolled into a rosette and dressed with a dollop of caviar and crème fraîche, and figs mixed with blue cheese and prosciutto. "I wouldn't recommend anything square like pork tenderloin or lamb loin. Circles just don't occur naturally in those foods."
Q. Got any tricks for saving on liquor besides serving just wine and beer?
A. If your caterer will allow you to buy the beverages on your own, shop around for sales and start stockpiling. And rather than purchasing standard 750-milliliter bottles, buy half gallons, which can be poured into carafes for a more sophisticated look. Also ask about discounts when buying by the case. If your venue or caterer will be charging you by consumption, request that the waiters only refill glasses when they're asked.