Do help yourself! (The language of party food)

by Kate Woodford

Maskot/Maskot/GettyImages

The Christmas season is once again here and around the world, people who celebrate this festival are going to parties and gatherings with family, friends and colleagues. One important feature of most gatherings is food so we thought we’d take a look at the language in this area.

When you are hosting (=organizing in your home) a get-together of any type, you have to make decisions about catering (=providing food). How much and what type of food will you offer your guests? You might plan a proper dinner for people. This is sometimes called a sit-down meal, meaning that it is the sort of meal that people eat while sitting at a table: a sit-down meal at a wedding A meal in someone’s house in the evening used to be called a dinner party, though this now sounds a little formal. Nowadays, most people talk about having or asking their friends round/over for dinner: I thought I’d ask Jamie and Luisa round for dinner.

Bigger parties rarely feature sit-down meals but instead provide the sort of food that people can help themselves to (= get themselves), often while standing. This might be a buffet, a meal where people choose what they want from various dishes on a table: I helped myself to a plateful of food from the buffet. A buffet might include the sort of food that can be eaten without using knives, forks or spoons. This is sometimes called finger food.

At some parties, trays of canapés are taken to the guests. Canapés are small items of food, usually with a pastry or bread base and a topping of cheese, fish etc. At many parties, bowls of crisps and nuts, etc. are placed around the room for guests to pick at (= eat small amounts of). In UK English, we sometimes refer informally to such food as nibbles: I thought we’d provide nibbles rather than a full buffet.

Sometimes dips (= cold sauces) are offered that people dip items of food into, such as (UK) crisps/(US) chips: chips and dips

Small pieces of raw vegetables for dipping in this way are sometimes referred to as crudités

A different approach to catering is to ask guests to bring dishes with them: Alice has asked me to bring a dessert. A US term for this (that is now sometimes heard in UK English) is pot luck. If you have a pot luck, all the guests bring a different dish that is then shared with the other guests: We’re having a pot luck on Saturday.

We hope this post hasn’t made you feel too hungry!

19 thoughts on “Do help yourself! (The language of party food)

  1. Thank you, Kate, for the informative article.
    I am thinking of a camping activity I joined several months ago.

    Now we don’t really go camping, the poor sleep quality frightening, but camping is a great social event.
    Several months ago, we attended a camping activity and a pot luck. What to bring to the pot luck was allocated to the attending families, one of which made glorious crudites in glasses, the glasses packed into the already crammed trunk just for the event. The most impressive one was ‘fire on chicken:’ the family put some cooking oil on the chicken, set it on fire, and served it while it was still on fire. The effort by everyone turned the pot luck into a luxurious buffet.
    Children tend to help themselves to nibbles and picked at their dinner. On that day, however, they all had a voracious appetite for the buffet.

    Do I use words correctly?

  2. Reblogged this on Glyn online and commented:
    From the Cambridge Dictionary blog, you essential guide to function al Christmas meal vocabulary. So, go ahead and help yourself to a feast of essential verbs and expressions.

  3. Julius

    Useful Posted! I like such blog Especially the Christmas day is coming soon. So that I can practice and review what I learned in this blog soon therefore I can enhance my memory.

  4. Wiz lee

    Hi Kate, I’m…sorry, for being so long out of touch. Do you still remember me?
    It’s 2018, I’m twelve and currently being buried by Taipei ZhongZheng junior high schoolwork.
    I can’t say it’s the best in Taiwan, but it’s definitely in the top three. However, the stress and workload is really more than you think. Still can cope with it though. Merry Christmas.

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