How caterers can clear up the canapé conundrum

When Picky Nicky won’t bite: say no to canapés (unless they are monogrammed, of course)

illustration titled Picky Nicky by Danae Diaz shows faceless waiters holding canapé trays
When Picky Nicky won’t bite: say no to canapés (unless they are monogrammed, of course). Illustration: Danae Diaz
(Image credit: Danae Diaz)

You work in luxury goods, your brand or client is hosting an important event and you have hired a great catering company to serve champagne, wine and canapés. Why would you think that it is OK for you and your team to welcome guests while munching a mouthful of food?

Just recently, I was introduced to the new communications director of a luxury house by the CEO at an in-store event, and the new boy greeted me with a gobful of filo pastry. All that visible munching and masticating while speaking is just yucky.

On another occasion, at pre-dinner drinks for a very smart Mayfair restaurant that was launching its new private dining salon with an A-list crowd of tastemakers, I met with the company’s PR, who was very happy to meet Picky Nicky – but would not shake my hand as he told me he had a chewed olive stone in his fist.

Illustration by Danae Diaz of the ‘Chin Chin’ cocktail napkins which is a 1950s design appliquéd by hand in Florence by TAF Ricam

Cocktail hour: the ‘Chin Chin’ cocktail napkin is a 1950s design appliquéd by hand in Florence by TAF Ricami, a purveyor of fine linens. tafricami.comIllustration: Danae Diaz

(Image credit: Danae Diaz)

Rule No 1: If it’s your event, leave the canapés for the guests, eat beforehand to make sure you have the stamina for the night ahead and tell your team that a no-canapé rule applies if they are working.

Jeremy Langmead, our editor-in-chief when I joined Wallpaper* in 2003, was a champion of the no-canapé rule, not only for hosts but for W* team members out and about. I must say I quite liked the idea and adopted it. In those days, you might pack in 20 events a day. Today, it’s a lot fewer, but on average there could be three to five a week (and hundreds during Salone del Mobile each April in Milan). I just drink water, and pass on the snacks, although I will Instagram a good-looking Prada tray with signature anchovy, lemon and butter sandwiches.

As to what to serve, I turned to the high priestess of party planning, Fiona Leahy of the eponymous London-based creative event agency, to double-check the rules. We discussed and agreed: offerings should be bite-sized – a canapé is not a meal. Avoid anything that leaves guests with a stick or a stone, and anything on a fork or a spoon, as the last thing people need to do is to spend the evening gripping the remains of something or distracted by the search for an empty tray. No foam, no froth, no crumbling filo pastry; just keep it simple – no one needs an exciting canapé. Leahy served up my favourite bite (the one I break the rule for), a truffled cheese toasty, at the launch of the Louis Vuitton Windows book at Assouline. Hers, naturally, were LV-monogrammed on a custom-made grill.

Napkins are a must, and should only be linen or cotton, and not much more than 15cm square. Black paper napkins are naff and finding discarded paper napkins of any colour among fine watches (as I did recently) is as bad as open-mouth masticating.

Illustration by Danae Diaz of an 1970's aluminium & brass tray designed by David Marshall

Tray chic: my current obsession is used 1970s pieces by David Marshall, who casts aluminium and brass into brutalist and abstract forms. pamono.comIllustration: Danae Diaz

(Image credit: Danae Diaz)

How to get canapés right

Almonds are always a good option for the plant-based purists, though they must be offered in a dish with a scoop to serve yourself, and with a napkin to hand.

Cheese toasties, with or without truffle, should not be more than 4cm square. And should be served warm.

Chunks of good Parmesan. The best is the Vacche Rosse Parmigiano Reggiano, made from the milk of an ancient breed in Emilia-Romagna.

Crudités are fine, but avoid cherry tomatoes as they might squirt.

Avoid anything too greasy.

Cakes, tarts and chocolates are not canapés. There is no need to offer sugar.

Focus on the quality of the ingredients, rather than the quantity of canapés.

Make sure that you have enough waiters with empty trays to take dirty glasses and used napkins away. Guests should never feel they must put them with the new drinks or canapés. 

As originally featured in the October 2019 issue of Wallpaper* (W*247)

Also known as Picky Nicky, Nick Vinson has contributed to Wallpaper* Magazine for the past 21 years. He runs Vinson&Co, a London-based bureau specialising in creative direction and interiors for the luxury goods industry. As both an expert and fan of Made in Italy, he divides his time between London and Florence and has decades of experience in the industry as a critic, curator and editor.