Graduation Party Planning 101

Posted by Annette Bellisari on



Today’s graduation party is much different than when I graduated. It seems now that multiple kids/families get together and have one party instead of multiple parties. That doesn’t mean that there still aren’t a lot of parties to attend, it just means there are not quite as many. What it means for the host is that many guests make the circuit to all those parties and don’t tend to eat as much when they do come. Keep that in mind when planning the menu. There is no need to break the bank. Plan your party accordingly and remember these tips.

When it comes to finger foods, expect that each guest will eat between 6 and 10 hors d’oeuvres. To keep things within budget, plan to serve larger quantities of inexpensive apps, such as dips and crudités. Multiply your number of guests by 5 to calculate how many servings to make. Homemade bean-based dips—great served alongside pita chips and crudités—can be made for less than $4 for a batch that feeds 12. Hearty and healthy, chips and dip are perfect for filling up a crowd—plus, dips can be prepared ahead of time, and you can never make too much.

Having saved some money by going the chips-and-dip route, you can now splurge on smaller quantities (about a quarter of all hors d’oeuvres) of more luxurious apps such as sushi or tenderloin bites. Because there are fewer of these, and chilling is required, serve them sporadically throughout the duration of the party to make them last. Meatballs are a killer dish that can be made ahead, and they are incredibly easy to prep. Make turkey, pork, beef, or even vegetarian varieties and serve them with a trio of sauces. Guests will get full fast.

Roasting a chicken or pork shoulder for pulled meat sliders is an easy and budget-friendly way to feed a large crowd: Meat sliders can be made ahead, or the meats can be served buffet-style so people build their own sliders and stuff them with a custom selection of condiments. DIY sliders are fun to make and will also keep guests busy rather than overeating.

For dessert, I recommend baking batches of cookies and brownies. Both are speedy make-ahead options, and they’re easy on the wallet, too, at about $5 a batch. Most importantly, they’re huge crowd-pleasers. To make the brownies a touch more glamorous, use cookie cutters instead of a knife to cut them. Seasonal fruit makes a colorful, budget-friendly complement to a spread of brownies and cookies or other desserts.


Often a multigenerational gathering, a graduation party can present some challenges when planning the drinks menu. The best (and most affordable) option is to forgo a full bar, and instead set up a table with punch-style drinks that can be made ahead of time in big batches. Best of all, these can be served either alcohol-free or with a splash of wine or spirits. A keg of your favorite brew is an economical way to appease beer drinkers, but cans or bottles can also be offered in ice-filled buckets or tubs. Supplement the options for nondrinkers with pitchers of lemon and cucumber-flavored water, or iced tea. And regardless of what you serve, keep in mind that you can never have too much ice, so be sure to stock your freezer.

You can expect that within the first hour each guest will have about 1½ drinks, and then one drink after that per hour. It’s safe to assume that each guest will end up using up to three drinking glasses, so buy or rent glassware accordingly. A smart way to keep track of glasses is to ask guests to use a drink marker. Not only will these funny little figures help guests keep their eye on their drink, but they’ll also add a little more character to the party. Most importantly, don’t forget to place a big sign in the yard so guests can easily find the house.


Guest food and drink estimates and data via Epicurious

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