What are Canapés?

If you’re planning a party, wedding or other types of event, knowing your canapés can help you create the perfect atmosphere where the food speaks for itself. Read our ultimate guide to canapes find out more...
Selection of canapés

History of Canapés

It might surprise you to learn that the word “canapé” actually refers to a sofa in its native French. The word was applied to a new type of hors d’oeuvre when the chef created a portion of food that looked – so the tale goes – like someone sitting on a sofa.

Canapés originated at some point in the mid-1800s and found their way over to the UK in the 20th century. Since then they’ve been a staple of dinner parties and events, with their origin as something that looks like a French sofa all but forgotten.

Canapé equals 'Sofa' in French
Canapés do not require cutlery

Hors d’oeuvre & Canapés: What’s the Difference?

People sometimes get confused over canapes meaning. It’s a subtle distinction given that many people use the two interchangeably, but canapés are actually a type of hors d’oeuvre. Essentially, hors d’oeuvres are appetizers that can be served hot or cold before a meal without the need for cutlery. “Hors d’oeuvre” literally means “outside the work” in French, meaning that it is a supporting element of a meal rather than being a part of it.

So, canapés are a type of hors d’oeuvre that are very specific in nature. They consist of a piece of a base layer such as toasted bread which is topped with something savoury and designed to be consumed in one bite. One of the reasons why party canapés and wedding canapés are so popular is because they’re both convenient and attractive – the perfect accompaniment to a gathering or to sample before the main meal.

Canapés number per guest

How Many Canapés Do You Need Per Guest?

When working out how many canapés per person you’ll need for an event, you first need to understand the nature of your event. For example, exhibitions and galleries often serve canapés as these events are comparatively short compared to parties or a wedding. One assumption is that you need 4-6 canapés per person for the first hour of an event. After that, you might need 2-4 per person for each hour after that.

So, if you were choosing dinner party canapés as a precursor to a meal, 6 per person would be adequate. If you were opting for canapés at a lunch meeting that was going to last up to three hours, you might need up to 12 per person. Our best advice is to always have too many canapés per person than too few!

Arabella canapé selection

Hot vs Cold Canapés: What’s Best for My Event?

Whether you opt for hot or cold canapés depends on the style of your event. Ideally, you want a selection of both hot and cold canapés to offer choice to guests and leave them with different flavours and textures. However, this isn’t always possible if you don’t have access to cooking facilities at a venue and are bringing canapés from another location. Heating up canapés can also be a distraction when there are other elements of a dinner party to contend with, so you might choose to simply have cold dinner party canapés.   We can advise on the best birthday or wedding canape ideas, whether hot or cold.

When are Canapés Served at an Event?

Again, the timing of canapé serving depends on the style of event you’re running and how long it’s going to go on for. If you’re looking at party canapés for a birthday celebration or something similar, there’s no reason why canapés can’t be served throughout the event, with latecomers getting their share of the later plates. However, for a networking event, there may be a definite break in proceedings where canapés could be consumed as part of a social interaction process.

Canapés on wooden serving board

What’s the Best Way to Serve Canapés?

Eating canapés is only one part of the experience! The way canapés are presented is another pivotal element that will dictate how successful your party canapés are.

So, ensure that you display canapés effectively, using serving platters and plates that show off the food at its best rather than simply being a place to hold the food until it’s eaten. Slate boards and platters are a popular choice for serving as they provide a stylish backdrop to gorgeous canapés.

Canapés on tiered slate display

What are the Parts of Canapés?

Canape food design can be an interesting area to consider, and the sky really is the limit!  There are 4 distinctive elements of a canapé – the base, spread, a topping & a garnish. Canape base ingredients are usually bread, puff pastry or crackers, allowing a solid foundation for the rest of the canapé. Then there is spread followed by the topping. The canapé is finished off with garnish and sometimes a glaze for the full impact.  Using this four-part formula, canape ideas are unlimited, the only limit is your imagination!

Not all types of canapés will follow this formula – it depends on the ingredients used and the intentions of the chef.

Parts of a canapé

Tips for Creating the Perfect Canapés Selection

Planning a canapé selection, whether you’re looking at dinner party canapés or wedding canapés doesn’t have to be daunting.
There are a few elements to consider which will make the whole process easier. Think about these:

olive on a stick canapé

Mouthful Size

One of the major reasons people choose canapés is because they are easy to eat and don’t require cutlery. So, think about your specific event and work out what constitutes a reasonable mouthful size for your guests!

This varies more than you might think – guests networking at a business lunch will probably need smaller mouthfuls than guests at a lengthy party who might not be speaking as much while they eat.

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Dietary Options

Remember that some of your guests are likely to have food preferences or intolerances which impact the types of canapés you should serve. For instance, there are vegetarian canapés and vegan canapés that will ensure you cater to all your guests.

In addition, try and find out about food intolerances ahead of time or, if that’s impractical, give some options just in case.

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Creative Displays

It isn’t just about how the food tastes, it’s about how it looks. So, be sure to think about presentation and how the display of your canapés could enhance the party.

Remember that canapés have the power to make or break an event. Everyone loves quality canapés, so don’t ignore their importance in your party preparation.

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Choose a Theme

While canapés are great on their own, if you choose to combine the types of canapés you choose with an overarching theme for your party, wedding or event, the overall impact will be stronger.

Canapé themes can include; Christmas, seasonal produce, ingredients from land, ingredients from the sea, oriental options or even ‘Best of British’.

Arabella Reeve logo

About Arabella Reeve Catering

With more than 10 years of experience in the catering industry, we know a thing or two about what makes the perfect canapé selection! We can cater for a wide range of dietary requirements including vegan, vegetarian and gluten intolerances. Our clientele includes the Queen and other members of royal families from around the world. Whether you are looking for canapé catering for a special party, your wedding or business event, Arabella Reeve can offer a canape service second to none. Simply choose from one of our previously designed menus or let us help you design your very own canape menu. All of our canapes are freshly prepared and we try where possible to source from local suppliers.

Contact our friendly team for more information.

Events we cater for:

  • Weddings, Celebrations & Dinner Parties
  • Shooting Parties, Garden Parties & Buffets
  • Cocktail Receptions & Corporate Events