Does anyone actually like eating canapés at parties?

Can I just have a piece of pizza?
Can I just have a piece of pizza?
Image: Reuters/Amy Sussman
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The other day a polite waiter at a professional party offered me a prawn slider from a tray. I examined its size: It was too big to be eaten in one bite, but still small enough that it was served without a plate. I looked at my wine glass, and then back at the slider, calculating if I could pull it off. I took a risk, and then a bite. A prawn promptly fell down my shirt.

Therein lies the problem with canapés and hors d’oeuvres passed around to standing party-goers. They are often delicious, but they are more often impractical. They require you to master the art of eating standing up, usually with the use of only one of your hands. They basically guarantee you will have to speak with your mouth full, or awkwardly pause during the already awkward exercise of dutiful small talk. In other words, they are laden with stress in exchange for minimal caloric payoff.

I do realize that on the sliding scale of the world’s injustices, canapés are nowhere to be found. After all, what kind of privileged monster would complain about being offered a bacon-wrapped date, a mozzarella tomato skewer, a pork gyoza with yuzu dipping sauce? But as a conceit for serving guests a snack at a party, I find them an abomination.

Give me a cheese plate, a table of nibbles, a bowl of chips and salsa—literally anything to avoid the inelegance of an elegant food being served to me one-handed, while I pinch a napkin between my left pinky and ring finger, trying to negotiate a visit to the dangerously stainable dipping sauce in the middle of the tray.

I realize my distaste for something generally considered tasty may put me in the minority, but social eating anxiety isn’t the only reason I abhor the tray-passed canapé dance. There is also the very real (and increasingly common, in my experience) etiquette breach of holding a dinnertime party, and then serving guests only a shot glass of gazpacho with a microscopic but extremely crumbly crostini, while plying them with booze.

Recently, at a event where I was met with a surfeit of wine and a dearth of carbs, I ducked out of a party for a bagel from the shop next door. I then returned the party secretly victorious, having scarfed it with two hands in peace—and lessened my fear of a terrible hangover the next day.

Spare a thought, also, for the catering waiters, stalked by hunger-crazed guests, who lurk by the kitchen door, waiting to pounce upon them as they balance large plates and try to smile? These unfortunate souls probably hate canapés even more than I do.

I gripe, but I have no fix for the canapé conundrum. With the rise of small-plate eating, I’m sure that innovation in the category of complicated two-bite canapés will continue. Next time I go to a cocktail party, I’m eating a bowl of pasta first.